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Public debate is essential to local government

Dear editor,

Your editorial in the Jasper Fitzhugh on April 20, 2017 (A Glimmer of Dissent) reveals why public debate is essential when it comes to local government.
Debate is when ideas are forced to compete in the public arena. It’s when the disagreement between elected officials is in view of all, and when the circumstances of the discussion will force the participants to publicly explain and defend their positions.
Only when this kind of back and forth occurs for everyone to see is the public afforded the opportunity to hold a ringside seat in the governing process. It’s how democratic governments are supposed to work.
Why is this important? It’s important because an elected body is not a management body. It’s a governing body. A management body and a governing body are two very different vehicles, and the processes they must employ are very different. Their responsibilities are very different.
Management means the carrying out of policies. Governing means debate over and about the policies, and then subsequently passing the outcome of the debate into law.
We all realize that many people think an elected governing body is a team. But in fact, it’s not. Nor is it supposed to be.
The Municipal Act says absolutely nothing about “team.” Instead, in very clear terms, it talks about the responsibilities of individuals who are elected and how those responsibilities must be discharged.
My own view is that the desirability for informed public debate is one of the reasons plebiscites should be utilized far more than they have been. Whether it’s a multi-million dollar arts centre or an expensive sewer replacement, public discussion is a process that serves the community.
And the fact of the matter is that public debate, and even public disagreement, are the essence of what democratic government is supposed to embody. It was designed to be that way.

Stuart Taylor, Hinton
Member of Hinton’s town council

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