Wednesday, February 28, 2024

In Defense of Those Who Complain

By Stephen Vance, Staff

Members of Meaford’s council are no doubt frustrated and weary these days after weeks and months of being bombarded with complaints from rural residents who have been beating the drums of discontent with the municipality.

It is one thing to be frustrated and weary, however it is quite another thing to be distant and disrespectful.

When members of our council asked Meaford voters to cast ballots in their favour in 2010, they did so knowing that the job of councillor is not an easy one. They asked for our votes knowing that members of council almost exclusively hear from residents with issues that they feel need to be resolved, and sometimes those with unresolved issues become angry – those who are content have little reason to phone or email a member of council to let them know just how happy they are.

But I wonder how many of our members of council campaigned for a seat on council when they should have campaigned for the chance to represent their community at the council table.

There’s a difference.

Some elected representatives do a fantastic job of fighting for, and representing, their constituents, while others do little more than keep a seat warm during meetings. Our current council seems to have a lot of seat warmers on the roster.

Frustrated or not, members of council have a duty to perform, and granted, at times it can’t be easy, but the unwritten agreement between a candidate and voters is that in exchange for our votes, the elected candidate will fight for what is in the best interests of the community.

Can you imagine a candidate campaigning on a promise to sit at the council table and say nothing, to question nothing? Could a candidate possibly get elected if they promised to not return email or phone calls? Would you vote for anyone who told you that they wouldn’t bother to attend community meetings involving hundreds of unhappy residents?

I think we all know the answers to those questions, yet in Meaford we have a council that seems to have nothing but contempt for those who complain. You know, the troublemakers, the squeaky wheels.

Two public meetings held in Woodford and Bognor last month were attended by just a couple of members of council. Hundreds of residents wanted to explore the possibility of separating themselves from the municipality: our Mayor was nowhere to be seen, and the councillors who did attend declined an opportunity to speak. Is that leadership? Is that representation?

Then, on August 12 council voted in favour of assuming control over community halls in the very communities that are already bubbling with discontent. A meeting is held in response in order to hear from residents as to what should be done next, and not a single member of council or municipal staff attended the meeting. To be fair, this is the week of the annual Association of Municipalities in Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa, and some but not all members of our council are rightly attending that conference.

But what about those members of council who aren’t in Ottawa this week? Certainly they should have attended the meeting in Bognor on August 20. And perhaps council should have directed the CAO or the Treasurer to attend, because if they had attended, what they would have found was not an angry mob looking to lynch a politician, but rather a room full of tax-paying residents who were more confused than angry, and had a member of council or senior staff been present, perhaps some meaningful discussion could have taken place.

Instead council and the municipality were visibly absent.

The argument has been made many times in recent months that staff, not council, are running the municipality. I have said before, and I still maintain, that staff aren’t the problem. Staff only run the show if an impotent council allows them to do so. Staff only roll roughshod over a council that lacks leaders, that lacks councillors who actually have a desire to represent the best interests of the folks they will be asking to re-elect them next year.

And if contempt is what Meaford councillors feel toward those who complain, I would suggest this – A complaint is often the beginning of positive change.

Injustices are often accepted by a society until somebody works up the courage to complain. Would we have a minimum wage if nobody had ever complained about employers taking advantage of workers? Would we have paid maternity leave if nobody had ever complained? Would we have government run healthcare if somebody at some point hadn’t complained that not everybody could afford a visit to the doctor?

Oh those damned complainers, they’re nothing but trouble.

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