Here in town there is some dissension about what to do about the current town hall (which is currently in a 50 year old schools that is in very bad shape). THere was a public meeting on Monday night. Here is a letter that grew out of my thoughts around that meeting. (At the meeting I spoke about the need for planning and how a lack of planning in the past has basically gotten the town into a mess in the present)
Friends, Neighbours, Fellow Atikokanites;
For three days now I have been mulling over the public meeting held on Monday evening, trying to determine what my response needs to be. And after careful thought I have come to realize that there is an issue of leadership at stake.
A couple times it was asked about why there was not going to be a plebiscite on the issue of a new/renovated Town Hall. My first response is that if people wanted a plebiscite they should have been asking in January February and doing what was needed to get it on the ballot – it isn’t only council’s job. But really I am glad there isn’t because I feel strongly that plebiscites and referenda are poor ways to govern.
It was also raised that there has been “so much opposition” that it is obvious that the town is saying no. Firstly, I don’t believe that to be true. Yes there was a survey but that can not be counted as a statistically valid tool. Yes there have been lots of letters to the editor but my memory is that many of them have been signed by the same few people. The only possibly valid tool of objection is the petition presented on Monday, assuming that the names of the signatories have been properly checked to see that they are voters in town and that they actually signed (versus someone signing for them – it happens). But even if the majority of the town is against spending $2 million on Town Hall it still doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be spent.
This is where leadership comes in to play. Leadership is that task of doing what is best for the community. In our system we elect representatives. Their task is not to poll the public and do what the majority wants. Their task is to receive and review all the relevant information and then do what they honestly feel is the best for the community in the long term. Will they always do what I would do? No, but as a left leaning social democrat from Alberta I am well used to my representatives not doing what I think is best. But I elect them to provide leadership, and leadership sometimes (or even often) means doing what is unpopular.
The problem with polling the population on every issue and doing what the majority says is that the majority doesn’t always have or take the opportunity to review all the relevant information. Also, sometimes the majority is wrong. The majority of the population once believed women shouldn’t vote or that First Nations people were inferior and needed to be “made like white people” and they were wrong. At present, even if the majority in Atikokan said we should live with the Town Hall as is the council would be foolish to follow their wishes. The best thing for the town in the long-term is to have a decent town hall, a more cost-effective to operate town hall.
But of course, if people don’t believe Atikokan will be around for the long-term then maybe they will never support planning and acting for the long-term. Given some of the comments I have heard in the last year I truly wonder if that is really what is at stake here. Someday I will rehash my Easter sermon to address some of that hopelessness and defeatism.