Comment - Freedom of speech is the base of democracy

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

October 28, 2009

A motion preventing councillors from expressing their viewpoints to senior government officials is curious, and begs the question: Dows such protocol muzzle the voice of local constituents at the provincial and federal level - the people councillors are elected to serve?

Government backbenchers and MPs of all stripes need not agree with their Party's decisions and sometimes they don't depending on their constituents and their own beliefs.

After all, freedom of speech is the base of democracy.

During the last municipal election a local group formed a slate of candidates with a party platform - similar to those seen during provincial and federal elections - and planned to run a least one candidate in all six wards. This strategy was apparently devised to get things done at the council table regarding 'Caledonia' issues.

At the time, a number of local councillors balked at that approach, calling it undemocratic, given the underlying principle that local councillors are elected to represent local constituents, not a platform mandate.

The difference here is that councillors forming the slate could come to the council table with pre-determined objectives of their own.

As Coun. Tony Dalomonte pointed out, municipal councillors have ample opportunity to bring the concerns and issues of their constituents forward at the council table and debate them. But once council has taken an official position on any issue, it should stand above all else.

Councillors Lorne Boyko and Craig Grice have said that the new protocol prevents them from speaking to ministers about contentious issues in their own wards.

Boyko has always been one to speak out on behalf of his constituents, no matter what the majority of his colleagues think. During the last term of council he was turfed out of his role as deputy mayor due to this outspoken views at a public meeting when the public utility was up for sale.

It was a slap on the wrist at the time, but the principle behind the reprimand remains the same.

There's really nothing that can stop a councillor from stepping outside of the new protocol and speaking their mind. Essentially the protocol has not teeth, but it drives at spirit.

Dalimonte said his objective was not to reprimand anyone, but to achieve a collective stance on the issues facing Haldimand without each elected representative holding formal meetings with ministers and expressing their views willy nilly.

This is a fair approach to achieve corporate goals and objectives, but then again it isn't necessarily warranted, given that Haldimand's code of conduct already addresses the dilemma, permitting councillors to speak their mind, as long as they make it known that their opinions don't reflect council's.

That doesn't seem like a hard rule to follow.

One can only conclude that someone has dropped their handbook along the way. If so, there should be a movement to ensure that the majority of council isn't undermined.