An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
IF YOUR SCHEDULE doesn’t allow you the time to take in Music in the Park or other local entertainment, the Public Inquiries section of City council meetings is a good alternative.
At each Tuesday council meeting, citizens are allowed to stand up and ask questions, which are supposed to be about “the business of the meeting,” though they often have nothing to do with it.
Nevertheless, the questions and comments are frequently thoughtful and informative. Things like housing, drug addictions, wildfires and the Trans Mountain pipeline come up. At one memorable meeting, a resident berated council for talking in camera about a proposal for a farmers’ market in the Heritage House parking lot — the project was a news flash for everyone but council.
At another, a young indigenous man talked at length about rights and title and consultation.
Topics don’t always have anything to do with the jurisdiction of City council and certainly not about the business of the meeting, and sometimes Mayor Ken Christian lets his impatience show. On at least two recent occasions he’s demanded that people vacate the podium. He doesn’t always answer their questions, either.
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what those questions are. A couple of weeks ago a gentleman went on for several minutes touching on a variety of things before it became clear he wanted to talk about the anti-idling bylaw.
When the mayor said that was a topic the previous week and no longer eligible for discussion, the resident wanted to keep talking, so Christian asked him to leave, twice.
Most exchanges are more pleasant than that one but the exceptions illustrate an important thing about local democracy — it’s a wonderful thing when somebody can feel free to talk directly to the people they elect, in the middle of their meeting.
Sometimes the privilege is abused, but the leeway given to those who do abuse the opportunity simply confirms what a great place this is.
And, as I said at the start, it can be darned entertaining.
Mel Rothenburger publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca forum and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.