Democracy Begins With Us

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Chris Schnurr, The Windsor Square

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Apathy.

It comes in many forms – whether ignoring our right to vote; to shrugging our shoulders with indifference to aiding the erosion of our democratic rights both big and small by attempting to bring disrepute against those who dare raise their voice in opposition.

When I read the July 28th column entitled, “Apathetic Canadians have allowed their government to trample freedoms — but opposition is mounting” in the Ottawa Citizen I drew both equal and lesser parallels of our experiences here in the Rose City.

While there have been no mass arrests or detaining of opposition in the City of Windsor,  there are several lesser examples  that demonstrate our democratic institutions in the City of Windsor are not in the best of shape.

Consider the opinion column written by Gord Henderson this past weekend.

The mainstream media is our self-proclaimed watch-dog of government – and they sometimes do a bang-up job of defending the democratic process; access to information or unearthing corruption and scandals.

And sometimes they simply do a bang-up job – as was Saturday’s column.

Of course there was the usual fear mongering touched with anti-union sentiment I have come to expect of the columnist – but never before have I read such an attack against every single municipal candidate. 

And using the same strategy as he did in 2006, Mr. Henderson hasn’t even spoken with the dozens of candidates lining up offering their service to the public.

He writes:

REMOVED BY REQUEST OF THE WINDSOR STAR

This is classic fear-mongering that paints every candidate with the same “REMOVED BY REQUEST OF THE WINDSOR STAR” brush from a source we are supposed to believe is credible but lacks the cahoonahs to be named.

Sure, perhaps some of the candidates are labour friendly – however, labour issues are but one of many  issues facing Ward 3 (as well as our city) including but not limited to crumbling infrastructure; blight; poverty; and a host of social issues that have some residents living in fear and some seeking relief through a syringe discarded a stones throw away from a children’s playground.

Incumbents have done a very poor job of addressing these issues – however, the most important issue to Mr. Henderson is ensuring every single one of those candidates who may have a new and different approach to things is not elected in favour of the status quo do nothing but talk a lot approach.

For me, the sign of a healthy democratic institution is robust and welcomed debate. 

But not according to Mr. Henderson’s anonymous “insider” who says of Mayor Francis:

REMOVED BY REQUEST OF THE WINDSOR STAR

This is no Parliament – wow.  I can name a handful of countries I would expect those words to appear – and be praised – and Canada nor Windsor appear on this list.   It may be unknown to some, but parliamentary procedure – the crux of our national democratic institutions –  governs our city council.

Opposition is a fundamental aspect of any healthy democracy and it takes a skilled leader to navigate through this and bring together opposing factions through a simple ten letter word:  Compromise.

And if one accepts Mr. Henderson’s revision of history with respect to his flip and flop regarding Greenlink – it is that same type of compromise that ended the impasse between the Province of Ontario and the City of Windsor the columnist now celebrates. 

Paraphrasing Ursula Franklin, a “celebrated physicist, pacifist, author and Companion of the Order of Canada,” the Ottawa Citizen writes:

And when she hears the prime minister saying he does not “trust” the Opposition, she sees contempt for democracy itself. “Who wants to live in a country,” Franklin asked, “where those who don’t think like you are deemed untrustworthy?”

Indeed – and this points to another sign of our ailing democratic institution in Windsor – the apathy of a good majority of city councillors who turn to more and more bloviation, snippy sound bites and shirking their responsibilities by passing off those same responsibilities  to the “voice of council.”

Or consider the unreported event during our city’s annual birthday celebration over 2 years ago at which Windsor resident, Matt Ford was threatened with arrest for protesting against Mayor Francis at Festival Plaza.

Arriving just before Mayor Francis was to take the stage, Ford claims that an individual approached him and told him to leave the area.

Ford alleges he was told the event would not start until he left and the media would not be covering his protest. He claims the volunteer stated that the “mayor will not speak until you leave” and demanded to know who he was.

When he produced a tape recorder, according to Ford, he was told he was “trespassing” and that is when Windsor police intervened threatening to arrest him.

In council chambers the threats are of the  less obvious though the intent clear:  to silence or intimidate opposition.  Whether it be strategic interpretation of the Procedural Bylaw or the presence of several uniformed police officers the message is loud and clear.

Or consider the heated “your arrogance knows no bounds” that erupted when it was revealed the Mayor went above councillor’s heads to the Federal Government with the $50-million canal proposal. 

Or to WeACT’s $350,000 tab to access information that belongs to you and I.

And this, our “free” press and defenders of democracy wish to see continue if Mr. Henderson and his “insider” opinion is followed through to the logical conclusion.

However, in the end, who is responsible for this?

The harsh reality – it is you and I – and it comes in the form of apathy.

Whether that apathy is the deafening silence towards those detained for 23 hours for leaving a restaurant near the G20 or to the wilful acceptance of a corporation’s written word under the auspice of “free press” or finally to foregoing our democratic duty and making an informed vote on election day – we have permitted this to happen.

We can accept Mr. Henderson’s insider logic and silence the opposition (another word for that is accepting a style of government known as a dictatorship) or we can each seek out new ideas and a fresh approach to begin the healing process in our much divided city and home.

As Ursula Franklin believes, as do I, democracy is “a potluck supper in which everyone brings something, even if only a willingness to wash dishes. 

Mayor Francis and a majority of council are “offering a closed-door dinner, and only to those who share the ideology of the host.”

Mayor Francis may win the mayoral seat – but we can win council if we each do our part – whether it’s getting to know a candidate; to volunteering to most importantly voting.

For if we do not we, through our apathy, support the continuation of the silencing of opposition and manipulation of residents.

That choice is only ours to make.

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3 Comments on "Democracy Begins With Us"

  1. Very well put, Chris. I myself have emailed the candidate in my ward and have asked him certain questions to find out where he stands. He was forthrite in his answers to me, and I now have a new candidate who will be receiving my vote. This coming election could indeed be a turning point for our beleaguered city.

  2. Remarkable thoughts Chris. Thank you for publishing them.

    Every time I watch that video of Matt Ford it reminds me that we are nothing when we are standing alone. And I imagine how different the outcome would have been if I were standing there beside Matt Ford? And what if I brought along a friend to witness too? And what if that friend brought along another friend?

    That year, 2008, Sunshine List payroll doubled. It went from $10 MIL to $20 MIL overnight. Matt Ford noticed and did what he could about it.

    Last year, 2009, Sunshine List trippled to $30 MIL. There were so many very concerned resident taxpaying union members at the birthday celebration that the mayor ran off with his security men afraid to face them to deliver his prepared speech.

    This year, 2010, who knows where the Sunshine List is at? What we do know is that the mayor has proven to us that he knows of technicalities that protect him from giving full disclosure of Sunshine List payroll to the finance minister so it could be anywhere but we know that it is well over 2009.

    It is time for residents to step forward. Together. No more Matt Ford alone & doing it for us.

    Matt Ford. Thank you for standing up and showing us the way.

    • Chris, great journalism. It’s a pleasure to read an inspiring article. Your writings remind me of articles written by my husbands Grandfather the late great R.M. Harrison who wrote for the Windsor Star until his death. I never met him but I have managed to find a few old newspapers with the “Now” column and “Starbeams” He was not afraid to speak the truth and most of all he was NOT afraid of City Hall. Democracy isn’t THAT what it is all about? We have to stop the biased behaviour.
      One other thing I might add, while unions have had some bad moments and I and others do not always agree with their agendas BUT; how many of us realize the benefits attained by our parents and grandparents through union negoitiations and of course strikes.
      It’s extended health care, drugs, assisted living, dental, mental health care , retirement and many more. Sitting on city council are several that have benefited from “unions” through a spouse or relative; Percy Hatfield, Joanne Gignac, Ron Jones, Brister, Lewenza, Valentinis etc. They came to city council with these perks, so stop slamming unions. They paved the way for private sectors (non union) to start offering benefits to their employees just to even the playing field. Where I use to work I was asked to bring in a booklet from Greenshield, the bosses were contmeplating benefits, low and behold they started some benefits when other companies in our field had not even started it. So YES, unions have done good things and they have never had to work so hard as they have in the last few years. Do they have all the answers, of course not, does anyone?

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