This past week, indeed this past year, we have watched the political process of a democratic society become a nasty, name calling street brawl. Certainly it was democracy in action. But it was a dirty uncivil process providing legitimacy to the very worst behaviours and instincts of so many citizens of what we have come to call ‘the leader of the free world’, our neighbour to the South. As Canadians we have watched in horror at the intolerance, the unkindness, the bullying, the divisiveness that has been front and centre of the American election. And we have, I am sure, felt with a certain degree of smugness, that we are lucky to live in a country such as Canada where such behavior would not find a willing audience, or be tolerated. We welcome tolerance, kindness, inclusion and civility. And yet.
Something has happened in our small town. We are changing. We are losing our kindness, our civility, our ability to understand the other. And here is my example. This week, many of us received, in our mailboxes, a two page pamphlet entitled “Attention. Voters and Residents of Mississippi Mills” What followed was a very reasonable primer on the role of citizens in the governance of their community, urging participation in the democratic process in order to make “informed changes for the future”. The document has no identifiable author or sender. It was anonymous. What followed were two signed letters to the Mayor and Councillors. The first contained personal attacks on most of our incredibly hard working Council members, naming each individually. It also included a totally inappropriate personal attack on an unelected member of the municipal bureaucracy (including reference to her children) who serves at the direction of an elected government. Government employees are prohibited from becoming involved in political discourse and are therefore not able to defend themselves . For that reason, directly targeting them is considered unacceptable and most media and citizenry respect that convention. The unkind and nasty characterization of seven councilors does not deserve comment.
The second letter entitled “The Compromise to Destroy” tries to stick to the issue at hand, namely the sale of parkland to generate funds for other parkland. Personally, I agree with the many of the points raised in this letter. What I find very disturbing is the need for sarcasm and personal attack which does nothing to enhance the writer’s legitimate concerns. Her comment that “The truth is not always found in what is said, written, alleged or carefully phrased and acted” is quite accurate.
In fact, there are always three truths – yours, mine and what actually happened. And there is also rules of order. As citizens, we may not like it, particularly when we feel passionately about something. An involved citizenry can be a sign of a healthy community. Our present Mayor certainly had his time as a passionate critic of the municipal government. But he decided that instead of just sitting on the sidelines, tossing opinions and criticisms, he would join the program and try and make some of the changes he so passionately believed in. That is democracy. And I would strongly suggest that the letter writers in this pamphlet consider a different approach to their obvious dislike of the present government. The best way to “fight very hard to see most of you are not re-elected in the next election…” is to run for a seat yourself. That will replace at least one present councilor. That is democracy.
Back to the pamphlet which turned up in my mailbox anonymously. There was a phone number which I called. After explaining that I did not wish this kind of vitriolic material in my private mailbox, especially when no organization or person was claiming ownership of the document, I was told to, and I quote “Go f!!k yourself”. So much for civil discourse.
I think it is very unfortunate that pamphlets such as this one have a place our community. We are not that kind of people. We are a town that may not agree on all things but we at least retained our small town values of kindness, politeness, civility, compassion and neighbourliness. To the man who answered the phone to and the Gloria Leonards and the Jan Maydans: there is no need for the personal attacks, the nastiness, the divisiveness, the vulgar language. There have been mistakes on all sides but continuing with this level of antagonism and hostility will achieve nothing. We are all passionate about our small town. But we only have to look south of the border to see what happens when this kind of intolerance and confrontation takes over.
Only in America, you say.