“Just Sayin…” An Editorial Piece

By Kirk Winter

Those of you that have been reading my columns in The Kawartha Promoter the last two years have probably come to the correct conclusion that I am a political junkie.

One of the things that has always attracted me to municipal politics is the quality of the discussion and debate on important issues of the day that you used to find at CKL Council meetings.

The last 16-member council was obstinate and unwieldy many days, but they were not afraid to debate and take the Mayor and senior staff to task. Councillors Junkin, Martin, Stauble, and James asked the hard questions and wanted to know answers.

Junkin, Martin, and Stauble had, more importantly, done their reading, understood the briefs being discussed in depth and asked supplementary questions until I am sure some people wished they would just sit down.

I don’t believe Councillor Junkin ever asked a question to which he didn’t know the answer, but he wanted that answer read into the public record. Councillors Martin and Stauble were passionate advocates for their communities, and I don’t think any Councillor better understood the arcane rules of municipal debate than Stauble.

James and Junkin both decided to challenge for the mayoral position, split the opposition vote along with Peter Weygang and lost. Neither Martin nor Stauble won re-election in their home wards facing bruising contests with as many as six other challengers.

The most important safeguard of our democracy is an open and transparent process, and well informed and meaningful opposition. CKL Council is certainly open and transparent, but meaningful opposition is truly struggling to find their sea legs.

It is very clear that the current Council is split between “progressives” made up of Mayor Letham, Councillor O’Reilly, Councillor Veale, Councillor Richardson, Councillor Seymour-Fagan and Deputy Mayor Elmslie and the “conservatives” made up of Councillor Dunn, Councillor Yeo and Councillor Ashmore.

On most CKL business, the “conservatives” find themselves outnumbered 2 to 1, and debate suffers because of that ideological reality. If Councillors were paid strictly for their daily participation and engagement at Council meetings some would owe the City money. We can’t just be hearing from the same three or four Councillors every meeting. On many issues worthy of discussion, half to two-thirds of Council sit on their collective hands, nod their heads and vote. There must be some wards in this City that abound with “sunshine and unicorns” for all their Councillors speak.

I was concerned that fewer voices in the Council chamber would lead to less intellectualizing and less debate. That has most certainly happened. I am also sure that an empty public gallery for almost every Council meeting indicates to the elected officials and City staff that there is wide spread support with all City policy. I question that only because of the thousands of people who voted for the other three mayoral candidates in October – those who had radically different platforms than Mayor Letham.

I know it is early in a new term, but I am worried for the future of civil discourse and political oversight on CKL council unless the human dynamics change, and change soon.