By Stephen Vance, Editor
Meaford Councillor Deborah Young says democracy is dead. Perhaps the councillor doesn’t understand democracy at all.
Merriam-Webster defines democracy as a “government by the people” which is grounded in the “rule of majority.” Further, democracy is defined as “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
Young expressed great frustration at the April 23 meeting of council that in her view, the decision of her fellow councillors to put an end to the entertaining of a waste to energy facility in the municipality was the result of an undemocratic process.
Based on her comments, Young is convinced that little more than 0.5 percent of Meaford residents were against the proposed project, and she has said that the few members of the community that opposed the WTE facility have had council “shaking in their boots.”
It matters not that local activist organization “Meaford Against Gasification Group” (MAGG) have collected 2,000 signatures on a petition opposing the project. Young says that she has only heard from 63 residents – a number which incidentally she claims is generous – so in her view, the majority of Meaford residents were not opposed the proposed project.
In the last municipal election Young received 2,001 votes. Votes cast by the people of Meaford as part of the democratic process of electing a council to represent the best interests of the people of Meaford.
Young respected those 2,001 votes enough to assume her post as councillor for the Municipality of Meaford, however just 18 months later she has completely discounted the wishes of 2,000 residents who she has been entrusted with representing, by suggesting that there is no merit to the petition they have signed, or the opposition they have to burning waste in their community.
In spite of what Councillor Young might think, the entire waste to energy ordeal has in fact been a stellar example of democracy at work.
A proposal was brought before council. That proposal was reported by local media outlets. Residents who were concerned about the proposal began researching, organizing, and lobbying members of council who they had elected to represent their interests. Council discussed the issue, and members of council also carried out their own research. A public meeting was held by those opposing the project which was attended by some 200 residents. The municipality had planned their own public meeting but ultimately cancelled it just days before it was to have taken place. Council voted on whether or not to proceed with the proposed project and decided against doing so.
So an idea was entertained, the people of the community voiced their opinions, their elected representatives listened to the people they have been entrusted with representing, and they voted to support the will of their constituents.
How can what transpired possibly be characterized as undemocratic?
Councillor Young has been clearly frustrated throughout this entire democratic process. She has had little patience for hearing the views of frustrated residents as has been shown in her body language, heavy sighs, and the tossing of her pen when a resident shows the slightest bit of emotion while speaking to council. She has demanded that the Mayor strictly enforce the rules of procedure and decorum during council meetings to keep residents in line, yet she herself has repeatedly shown disrespect (recall her muttering “these people are just too frigging much” during a council meeting), and in fact she allowed herself to become agitated to the point that she had a major outburst in the council chamber in November which saw her with raised voice dramatically packing up the contents of her council desk and vowing to resign.
The process has not been undemocratic at all. Councillor Young, who has every right to her own view on the WTE issue, just seems to have a different take on what constitutes democracy. Just because the majority of council votes against her own position doesn’t mean that the decision is undemocratic.
Then again, it seems more and more likely that Councillor Young doesn’t really understand her role as a democratically elected representative for the Municipality of Meaford – all 588.61 square kilometres of it.
This is after all a member of council who back in November posted a comment on her facebook page which read “Sydenham needs me. Sydenham needs to get the hell out of Meaford.”
Young followed up that comment a few weeks later after she was democratically appointed by council to the Meaford Library Board. At her first meeting with that board she informed the members that the people “she represents” had asked her to look into the possibility of de-amalgamation.
Perhaps Young missed a memo, but given that Meaford does not have a ward system, she was democratically elected to represent the best interests of all residents of the Municipality of Meaford, not just the area of the municipality where she happens to live.
Obviously residents of Sydenham need effective representation – they have at times been given a raw deal in the amalgamation with Meaford and St. Vincent – however Young, who likes to characterize herself as a stickler for rules and procedures, was elected to represent the entire municipality, but her words and actions indicate that she does not feel it necessary to represent anyone who does not support her own views. That is not an approach that supports the spirit of democracy.
Democracy is not dead in Meaford. Democracy is alive and well, and we can all be thankful for that.