On PRATAC, advocacy, and the needs of Miss Mills  

by C.H. Wells

Guess Who?

What group in our local dominion,
Is pledged, to its very last minion,
To argue and fight,
For each citizen’s right –
Just so long as they share its opinion?!

Sorry guys, but ya kinda earned it ya know! … And there’s no one who reads The Millstone who will not be able to identify the group in question. But that says one thing, if nothing else:  PRATAC knows how to get attention. They must be doing something right!

Though I’m not connected to social media at present, myself, and will not be able to pass further comment on this article, I welcome comment, and pose this question:  Do we need an advocacy group in Mississippi Mills? Are there so many injustices, here, that we need a watchdog/watchcat? Or should all forms of government come with citizen advocacy groups?

And what exactly is an advocacy group? When does an advocacy group become a lobby group, as, I fear, the aforementioned PRATAC has. The Canadian Oxford dictionary defines advocacy as: n  1  verbal support or argument for a cause, policy, etc;  2  the function of an advocate.  Advocate is defined as:  n  1 a person who supports or speaks in favour;  2  a person who pleads for another;  3  a lawyer.  v  1  recommend or support by argument (a cause, policy, etc);  2  plead for, defend.

Lobby, in this sense, is defined as:  n  2a  a body of persons seeking to influence legislators on behalf of a particular interest;  b  an organized attempt by members of the public to influence legislators.  v  1  solicit the support of (an influential person);  2a  (of members of the public) seek to influence (the members of a legislature);  b  attempt to persuade a politician to support or oppose changes in the law.

One primary difference, I think, is that the former seems chiefly defensive and the latter, offensive. As well, the word “legislators” isn’t used once in the definition of an advocate/advocacy. Not that an advocate can’t speak for someone before a legislature, but the emphasis, in this case, is on the supporting and defending of citizens, as opposed to the influencing of politicians.

PRATAC has a right to exist. If anyone tries to suggest they don’t, I think they know – from past experience – that I will not hesitate to stand up in their defence. In fact, to advocate for them, as I am doing here, and as I have done before, in the group’s infancy. They have organized lawfully, they have gathered together lawfully, they have shared their opinions with one another lawfully, have duly elected or appointed officers, and have publicly expressed their collective opinion – and their dissent – lawfully. [They’ve also done some pretty danged impressive signage.]

This is Canada. They have every right to do these things, here. And I, for one, strongly support that right. What I do not support is anything hinting of slander, libel or defamation of character, or the fomenting of hatred against individual elected officials or Town employees. If you have a legitimate complaint of dereliction of duty, conflict of interest, or grossly inappropriate conduct, then bring it to the appropriate authorities. [Hint: a website is not an appropriate authority. It is a place where you may express your personal opinion.]

In my opinion, PRATAC has lost its right to call itself an advocacy group, or to state that it speaks for – or welcomes – all citizens. It is not, and it does not. Of four main issues in town over the last few years, I have shared the opinion of PRATAC members only once. How would they have represented me in re the other three? Answer: they wouldn’t have. I would have been barred from membership. This is not a citizens’ advocacy group; this is a special interest group – a lobby group – with a very specific agenda.

If PRATAC members have their way, they will rid the town of the current slate of councillors and replace them with their own members. They will then … What? Run a free, open and democratic society, where every citizen’s dearest wish is fulfilled? [Impossible!] Hold public meetings/referenda every time a decision has to be made? [Impractical!] Allow hours and hours of endless debate over time-sensitive decisions? [Unsupportable!]

Given the organization’s unwillingness to brook differences of opinion in their own group, my guess is that PRATAC would soon become the very same kind of government they accuse the current one of being … and then there’d have to be a new citizens’ group! I know that I will not vote for any member of PRATAC. Not because I think they’re “bad people” [I don’t];  not because I think they’d be worse politicians than anyone else [I don’t]; not because I think they’re ‘crooks’ or ‘bullies’ [I don’t]; but simply because I know, from the things they’ve promoted in the past, that, in the majority of cases, what they want for this town is not what I want for it, or for myself.

It’s time to stop hiding behind the mask of advocacy, PRATAC:  You speak for one group of citizens alone – yourselves, and those who share your opinion. And, hey, ya know what? That’s perfectly acceptable! No problem. Just stop pretending you do otherwise. And please, when it comes to Council – try to stay focused on the issues, not on the individuals.

As for a genuine advocacy group, I ask again, do we need one, here [I’m not suggesting we don’t – just asking], and would it actually be possible to do what PRATAC felt it was doing, or was going to do, when it started? When we speak of an advocacy group, are we really thinking of an ombudsman? Do we want someone to intercede for us, to investigate our complaints against government; or do we just want to feel like we’re being heard?

Would this advocacy group take the concerns of, eg, downtown citizens, to Council; would they intercede for the little guy who feels he can’t get the Town to listen to him while he’s trying to get a “minor” variance. Would this group suggest new projects for Miss Mills, based on the expressed interests of urban or rural citizens? Would they form a bridge between residents and Council? Do we need/want that bridge? Does Council? Would this provide a workable solution to what we currently perceive as a problem, here?

If you think you would want to run or be involved in such a group – if you think it would be easy to achieve such a goal – then I have a suggestion for you. Think of some issue that’s a ‘biggie’ for you, personally – capital punishment, abortion, climate change – and then imagine being tasked with the job of representing someone who holds an opinion on that issue that is exactly the opposite to your own. Could you do it? Would you do it?

On a smaller scale, would you be willing to represent someone who was petitioning Council for something you, yourself, didn’t want done? A genuine advocacy group must be one that is truly willing to listen to, and to represent, any and every citizen’s concerns. [Just like we expect Council to do!]

But unlike Council, which must, eventually, make a decision one way or the other, and unlike PRATAC, which promotes the concerns of a specific group of people, a true “citizens’ advocacy group” cannot prefer any citizen’s concerns over any other citizen’s concerns – unless there is a legitimate reason for doing so [eg, one of those citizens wants to commit an illegal act].

Could such a group represent both the pro citizens and the con citizens on any given issue? [If both sides felt they were not getting a fair hearing.] Surely, to make a choice to represent one side over another is to risk becoming another PRATAC, with set opinions and vested interests on specific issues and with hopes of influencing Council to accept its agenda, and not someone else’s: ergo, another lobby group.

… Or, as suggested by the Friends of Mississippi Mills, do we just need to remind ourselves that we’re “The Friendly Town,” and start acting like it?