Randy Voakes, an irascible member of the town of Essex’s council, is taking a stand for democracy. It is most likely unprecedented in a province with politicians preoccupied with shutting democracy down through a strategy of a thousand cuts.
At their January 16 meeting, Voakes was visibly upset as he talked of a voter being denied an audience with the council by the town’s mayor and chief administrative officer. The citizen wanted to discuss an undisclosed issue related to the continuing strike by the county’s unionized library workers.
The town’s mayor, Ron McDermott, had a number of excuses which he and the administrator found in by-laws. These by-laws conveniently barred the resident from addressing council.
Voakes would have none of it.
He demanded time at council’s next meeting to begin banishing any barrier-hampered people from standing before the people they elect. Voakes may not know it, but he might be the last defender of democracy.
Democracy needs its defenders. It is too easy for politicians and administrators to weaken what exists in the name of expediency.
Too smart by half, they know their chipping away at an open society hardly gets noticed.
At the provincial level, premier Kathleen Wynne says she can’t control the non-elected Ontario Energy Board. The OEB’s hydro rates are forcing many Ontarians into poverty, yet it operates with no elected oversight.
Natural gas bills are now burdened with a hidden, costly cap and trade tax. Wynne, reported the CTV on August 4 last summer, has no choice in the matter. Her government, she confided, “… doesn’t interfere with decisions made by an arms-length agency like the energy board.”
In Windsor, a courageous group of citizens is squaring off against the non-elected administrators, and a former politician, in charge of the future of the city’s healthcare. Although without public representation, they wield so much authority Windsor council refuses to even publicly discuss what they are doing.
Even rich, foreign swimming outfits can toss democracy aside.
On December 16, the Windsor Star filed a Freedom of Information request to find out how much the city spent on hotel rooms for that month’s FINA swimming championship. The city, after an appeal, agreed to release it, but then FINA stepped in with an appeal.
The information was kept secret.
In the once rosy city, the decline of democracy started in earnest with the passage of by-law 2008-208 nine years ago. For all intents and purposes, it was designed to remove the elected representatives from running the city.
Administrators now have unprecedented powers with very little council oversight.
This continuing reduction of democracy seems unstoppable. But, if Voakes can turn things around in his town, he might inspire other politicians to accept the responsibility they have to preserve democracy.