By Shaun McLaughlin
The first casualties of a new election are broken promises. Politicians at all levels do that. Some are understandable—like promising to lower taxes without knowing the complexities of governance. Sometimes, elected officials shouldn’t keep their word if a vast majority of people are against the initiative. In all cases, politicians should keep a promise if the majority supports that action.
In Council’s recent decision to appoint a new deputy mayor, the four new members broke an election promise that had wide support. They all campaigned on listening to the majority, but in the end listened to a vocal minority.
Note: Do not take this letter as any criticism of the new deputy mayor, Ricky Minnelli. I know him to be honest and an independent thinker.
I recently had a chance to see sixty-two emails sent to councillors on the deputy mayor issue. (The town released the emails in response to a freedom-of-information request. All senders’ names were redacted.) Twenty-five letters called for a by-election. Twenty-three wanted Jane Torrance, the runner up in the election, to be appointed. Twelve said they’d be happy with either a by-election or Jane Torrance. One asked that Council appoint Ricky Minnelli.
The majority of writers specifically said not to use the appointment process the previous Council invoked to replace Bernard Cameron. Just one letter signed by the PRATAC executive supported that process. That minority opinion reflected the final decision. (Mayor Lowry and Councillor Ferguson listened to the citizen majority.)
Many email writers seemed to anticipate the PRATAC influence. They specifically asked Council to avoid any taint of influence by holding an election. Here are a few quotes from the letters.
“At the moment we have an entire council with ties to the PRATAC movement which makes it a partisan council. In the spirit of healing this community, I believe that the process of getting a Deputy Mayor has to be, and to be seen to be, above reproach. Although it is expensive, I therefore strongly favour a by-election. You say you listen to the people so let us speak.”
“I am writing to implore Council to ‘listen to the people’ of Mississippi Mills when determining the next steps to replace the Deputy Mayor…”
“The process must be unencumbered by undue external influence — for example the letter from PRATAC to its members is clearly intended to influence the process.”
“In the interests of preserving our democracy I believe a by-election is the only reasonable choice moving forward. Especially with a position like Deputy Mayor. This cannot be an inside job.”
“I have seen the PRATAC position letter on the matter of filling the position of Deputy Mayor and would like to inform you that I would consider any action other than a new election, or the appointment of the runner-up in the last election, to be a denial of my democratic rights as an elector and a sham process.”
“I hope you have the intestinal fortitude to stand on your own, precluding the orders of your supervisors at PRATAC, and vote for a by-election to replace Mr. Levi, in order to let the public decide.”
In the end, the four new councillors ignored sixty of the sixty-two writers. Many residents responded with angry email. Here is one quote that sums up the mood.
“We all know that this decision was made, similar to the choice by the previous council, to keep a particular candidate out. The thing that really bothers me is that everyone was supposedly sick of the actions of both council and various citizen’s groups leading up to the last election. Now, only a couple of months in and we’re right back to where we were. There was a lot of campaigning on transparency last fall and now we can see how transparent it really is. Way to go council. I’m already looking forward to the next election. My only regret is I can only vote against 2 councillors.”
Responses to the negative feedback were lame.
Jan Maydan wrote, “I had a lot of people emailing asking for an appointment and almost as many asking for a by-election.” Maydan was legally obliged to provide copies of all emails she received on the subject of the new deputy major. Of the letters that recommended appointment, all but one asked that the runner up, Jane Torrance be appointed, as she had garnered a significant number of votes just behind John Levi and the election had been recently held. Only PRATAC suggested the appointment process that was used.
Bev Holmes explained why she did not support an election. “Unfortunately internet connection is very poor in the rural area and through my campaign I heard from numerous residents that they would not be able to vote on line.” The town has held three electronic elections. Staff always set up locations where people can vote who have poor internet or no computer. Anyone who wanted to vote could.
On the heels of the first casualty, the second casualty of an election is a loss of trust.