First published: December 04, 2005
As citizens brace for another election, it is difficult to blame anyone for being fatalistic about politics. Rather than feeling engaged and empowered by the process, it is more common to merely shrug and feel there is nothing to be done. But it is not just the most recent shenanigans by federal politicians that blunt the democratic sensibility, but from a long history of disdain for citizenry starting at the local level and going through to the highest.
Here in Northumberland, the abuses create a lengthy list, leaving behind many broken spirits and dejected taxpayers.
Valley Voice, a citizen’s group in Shelter Valley in Alnwick/Haldimand Township, sustained another brush off by provincial and local governments in its fight to have concerns about a proposed gravel pit addressed. Letters from its lawyer to the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources were fluffed off with a bureaucratic wave, leaving them disheartened. Worries over a closed landfill site located on Turk Road were dismissed and concerns over property ownership were addressed with the usual “we-are-investigating-this” brush off. Of course, the letter ends with the standard, if you-have-any-more-concerns-call-us.
And so the marathon continues in the midst of an air of distrust and frustration. Earlier promises by the township council about being inclusive never truly materialized. Private, closed-door meetings between the company, Shelter Valley Aggregates, and politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers, fuel anxiety. And while it may be justified under current provincial legislation (legal discussions are protected under the statues), it does nothing to allay feelings of distrust.
The same situation is building in Port Hope over development north of 401. A proposed amendment to the official plan will open up major tracks of land to industrial/commercial development. The debate is already intense as those who wish to protect agricultural lands and those with environmental concerns face off against individuals and companies pushing for economic growth. Already the consultation process is full of accusations of a debauchery, due to a recent public meeting where some felt there was insufficient notice.
This can only add to citizen’s cynicism. As ratepayers try to discuss this development, parents in Port Hope are leading their own charge against school closures. L.B. Powers and Central Public School are on the block and despite efforts to make a case, the Kwartha Pine Ridge District School Board ploughs ahead with its airtight policies, which only limit input and dampen discussion.
Cobourg residents are constantly reminded of the failure of the political process as they drive along King Street. As the construction of the Mr. Sub building at the corner of Spring Street is coming to an end, it is a bitter pill for those who tried to reach out to politicians in an effort get their concerns seriously considered.
Before going any further, it would be wrong not to mention those citizen efforts that yielded fruit. Certainly, the anti-SEU (slightly enriched uranium) battle lead by Families Against Radiation Exposure (FARE) was successful. So are the residents in Cobourg who protected Molly Baker Lane from a developer. And, parents where successful in fending off the closure of L.B. Powers once before.
Still these are small victories compared to the countless defeats citizens face when they come before supposedly democratic institutions in Northumberland.
So, is it any wonder citizens can’t muster themselves to rally against those in power? In a really dark moment, one wonders if politicians don’t play to this weakness in our system. In the backrooms, strategists might calculate the scenarios where citizens are expected not to show up and vote. And, locally, the politicians and bureaucrats turn off citizens because it is too much work to integrate input and stand up to developers or other factors.
Politician can’t totally deny this. Just look at all the local bylaws being created to stifle citizens. Watch how bureaucrats push process and procedure over people’s rights. It is amazing to witness how many times taxpayers will have lots to say, but rarely is it acted on. And action is the only measuring stick in a democratic system. Forget consultation, public meetings, survey, polls or any other devices, it is when this contribution is acted on that truly means democracy is working. It is the will of the people that must determine any outcomes.
An article in the Sunday Toronto Star drew interesting parallels between fascism in Germany and Italy in the 20th Century and the current political/economic climate. On the surface, it may seem extreme. But after careful examination, we watch as our communities are being handed over to commercial interests and economic-driven decision-making that dehumanizes all aspects of our governance. And, then it does not seem so far fetched. And when we put it in this context, then we see the incredible need to act swiftly and with all our strength.
And so we are back where we started. A federal election presents an incredible opportunity to send a massive message to those in power. Let them know how you feel. There are a host of ways to express dissatisfaction, pick one that is meaningful and let it rip. Meanwhile, remember municipal elections are less than a year away, too. If there is one soft spot in the underbelly of the system, it is power. Maybe it is time citizens of Northumberland expressed theirs with more zeal.