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Knowing where to draw the line

Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell

Sorry for the long absence … it’s been a hectic year. I have completed cataract surgery and I highly recommend it to everyone, even if you have no eyesight problems. I can now see clearly – visually if not mentally.
Due to the delay, I hope I’m in time to make some comments on the Great Council Size debate. It may be a done deal by now, but I will insist on still working in Bloomfield, no matter where they decide to move it.
Here’s my take on it.
People are checking in with a variety of opinions. Leave it to County Weekly News, who seems to get their editorials shipped in from somebody who has not crossed the Bridge to visit the County, to chime in with: Sure get rid of this useless, antiquated township/ward system, and the sooner the better.
I don’t consider it to be as simple as that.

First of all, you are not going to erase the traditional County township lines. Anyone with eyesight (which I now have!) knows this. Mike Harris (one of what seems to be a growing chain of Premiers who decided to remake Ontario according to their personal hair-brained schemes) told us we can’t use township names. We are now Ward Numbers.
Ask around, as I have. No-one knows their Ward #. Several people did not know we had Ward #s, much less what it  was.
The only time we see it is on election ballots, above or below the township /village/town name. Even then we don’t memorize it – we’re too busy with the gruelling task of voting for someone who might possibly be a good councillor.

My second point is this: the township lines are not imaginary, arbitrary lines.
Most of the get-rid-of-them crowd don’t get this. But I do. Because I travel all over the County all summer long, delivering BreakAway magazine.
The townships reflect a settlement pattern here, which goes back to the earliest days. Over the years, the ups-and-downs of boom and bust times have created an identity in each of the local communities.
Today, you will find that South Marysburgh people are nothing like Ameliasburgh people. Both experienced growth as a result of their respective shorelines, whereas Ameliasburgh tends to be more Belleville and Trenton oriented, due to proximity, and South M. tends to be more community-oriented, within its boundaries.
I’m sure I’ll take flack from both groups for saying that, but I find it to be true.
Further, South M. residents differ from North M. residents, and Wellington from Bloomfield, and so on down the line.
Look at the increasing activity in Hillier – the village and the township. Community events are back, and they are carving out a new identity, neighbour working with neighbour. They are no longer the place tourists drive through, really fast, on their way to the Sandbanks.
That identity belongs to them. It belongs to Hillier. A new electoral district will not change that.
This is why these lines won’t be erased. They can’t be erased, because they are what they are.

Re-naming, re-distributing, pretending to eliminate, substituting new lines, creating new ‘wards’ – none of these will work. You can call a shovel a hammer, but you still can’t use it to drive a nail.

The ‘Citizens Assembly’ has put a proposal on the table, and it may indeed call these old township lines into question. It is touted as ‘democracy in action’ by some, but no group chosen by random can be expected to understand the diverse sensibilities of the County from corner to corner.
And I suspect (though I don’t know for sure because I wasn’t a Citizen), that the chemistry of the group and the leader had a lot to do with the outcome. Working with paper, but not travelling around the County to absorb the similarities and the differences.

Gary Mooney came up with an ideal plan to ‘overlay’ an electoral grid, which roughly divided the County into quadrants, election-wise, but left the townships intact. I happen to think this is a workable plan, for a number of reasons.
Foremost, though I am not in favour of a councillor-at-large approach, I have talked about issues with councillors from every township, and I have never been refused consideration. I have never been  deferred to the councillor of ‘my ward’. My questions have always been asked and answered, and this shows the integrity of the people we have voted for, and their willingness to listen.
The thing is, we do not need to trash townships to create a 10-councillor system, anymore than we need to destroy a church to create a nice modern vacant lot. Okay, granted, if you want a vacant lot, you pretty much need to trash the church, but I think you get my point.
Just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to exist.

In fact, in the County – where history and heritage go hand-in-hand with our lifestyle – it is essential that these things exist.
No-one asked me for my plan, since I wasn’t offered the courtesy of being a ‘Citizen’ and being bounced out of the group as being ‘not a team-player’.
But I have one.

How about we look at each of the townships, and have each of them elect as many councillors they deem necessary. Say, somewhere between two and four. These people can choose someone to be the ‘chair’. Let’s call him a Reeve.
These guys meet when there is a problem in the township that needs to be solved. Tell them they have to solve it before they can go home to supper. We’ll call that group Township Council.
I know this is ‘thinking outside the box’, but let me develop this a bit more.

If the township council is approached by a resident who is having trouble with his neighbour, tell him to go home and talk it out with the neighbour. If approached by someone in the provincial government, tell them to go back to the city and fix their billions of dollars of deficit before they start ordering us around.
For things like garbage pickup and road work, the reeves can get together occasionally to distribute the County’s tax money. We’ll call that group County Council, and no-one gets paid for driving there.
The system looks flawless to me.
Or maybe it’s just an idea that is too many years ahead of its time.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. judy kennedy says:

    Like any multi million dollar business organization–and that is what a municipal government is–there will always be issues of one kind or another.
    However, because municipal government is “public” by definition, everyone can throw in their two cents.
    Perhaps as taxpayers we should concern ourselves with the qualifications of candidates to deal with the challenging issues of the 21st century, at election time, rather than “who” they are, or what “cause celebre ” they espouse.

  2. Brian says:

    Doris,
    Exactly, a lot of councillors are absent during meetings not to mention when they have to leave early or are napping around the horseshoe… I was just told the other day that us taxpayers paid for a lunch that cost over $600.00 because two meetings ran back to back! Well here is an idea run across the street, reach in your OWN pocket and buy a sub or brown paper bag it, because we shouldn’t have to pay for this. Or, this one continues to stick in my craw, there is policies for NOT taking the county vehicles out of Prince Edward County and yet they are continuously seen in Kingston, Belleville, Napanee etc.. I don’t know about you but who gives there employee a ride back and forth to work? NOBODY!!! So why are we still seeing this happen? I guess what I am saying is that if the present council can’t follow their OWN policies (do the job they were hired to do) then why are they there? Its been obvious for sometime now that they only enforce the policies that THEY want and if it happens suit them at the time.It doesn’t matter that the public has been outraged about this for what seems forever at the end of the day the Mayor/Council do exactly what THEY want and at the expense of the taxpayers.

  3. Marnie says:

    Right on Doris. There was a time when people served in public office because they wanted to make a contribution to their community. It was about what they could give not what they could take. Sadly, those days are over.

  4. Doris Lane says:

    Yes Judy the 70’s but council jobs were looked upon more as a volunteer job much like the people who work for the hospital and other volunteer jobs.
    If you check the council records you will find that some of the councillors miss a lot of meetings.
    We need to have dedicated people in these jobs not people who are there for the pennies.

  5. Mark says:

    I have no problem with councillors being paid. You can”t take that job on for nothing. It’s up to the electorate to ensure we put the best folks in those chairs. I just would like to know my vote was as important and powerful as the voter in a larger ward.

  6. judy kennedy says:

    So how many years ago was that? definitely over 25, I bet. Seems to me that wherever one shops, that which cost $500.00 a year that long ago, would cost much more now—-
    For one thing, minimum wage has risen to over $10.00 an hour(which isn’t that great) Not sure exactly what it was then, but I think $4 or $5 dollars would seem about right.

    Isn’t there a biblical reference: “the labourer is worthy of his hire.” ?

  7. Doris Lane says:

    Before the amalgamation of the councils in PEC and the amalgamation of the school board, my husaband served on both boards, People then served in a volunteer capacity and maybe got a stipend of $500 a year.
    I t was like other volunteer jobs. You did it for the good of the County
    It looks now as if some of the councillors are afraid to reduce council as they might lose their positions which pay around $1800.00 a year plus travel and accomodation for out of town meetings.

  8. judy kennedy says:

    I was under the impression that councillors in all municipalities were given a stipend and compensated for travel, etc. Was that not the case here? It’s asking a lot for people to give up considerable time and be available to constituents for nothing.

  9. Doris Lane says:

    Steve as you know your idea of what will work is the system we had before amalgamation and it worked fine and councillors were not paid
    It cost a lot less money–each township had a clerk etc.
    Too bad good things were done away with–like the hospital

  10. Cheryl Anderson says:

    Glad to have you back, Steve.

  11. judy kennedy says:

    Good one, Janet. However, I found Richard’s intent to be clear.

  12. I am once again reminded that in this age of the internet, writers desperately need a new tool along the lines of “Font Sarcastica”.

  13. Richard Parks says:

    @Wolf Braun: Sorry, my sarcasm does not transfer well from my brain to the page. I am agreeing with my friend Steve 🙂

  14. Wolf Braun says:

    Can you please elaborate Richard? Why won’t something so simple not work?

  15. Richard Parks says:

    Way to simple, Steve. Nobody will go for your idea. It will never work.

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