The problem: Many politicians have it backwards. They think that constituents elect them, and for the next four years, they get to do whatever they want regardless of input received from their constituents. Then, around election time, they do everything they can to make themselves look good, and if they get elected again, they return to doing whatever they want again for the next four years.
Some councillors have no problem acting against the wishes of their constituents. Take their decision to approve the relocation of the Acadian Bus terminal in 2009, for instance. The bus terminal used to be downtown, on the corner of Regent and Brunswick, which was ideal. Now, it’s on Woodside Lane, over five kilometres from downtown. As we would expect, there was massive opposition to the move. Almost no one wanted it to happen, because having the bus terminal so far away defies the point of having an inter-city bus service in the first place. Constituents called on Council to either vote against the motion to amend by-law Z-2 (which allowed the move), or to help Acadian move its bus terminal to another central location. Only three of twelve councillors listened.
Even more troubling than the fact that eight1 councillors voted to move the bus terminal was their attitude toward the constituents who protested the move. Take the following recording, for instance:
Councillor Dan Keenan said:
We make decisions here every week. And we will be held to account for those decisions. And if people want to challenge the directions we make of the city, they have every opportunity to do that every four years.
In other words, “We’re the bosses, and you don’t get to say otherwise until our four years are up.” I beg to differ with this narrow view of councillor responsibilities. I believe that councillors have a responsibility to represent the interests of their constituents at all times, not only during election season. Accountability is an ongoing process, not something that gets put on hold when it is inconvenient.
Proposed solution: Councillors who truly represent the wishes of their constituents. If the people overwhelmingly demand that a councillor vote “yay” on a resolution, the councillor ought to vote “yay.” If they demand a vote of “nay,” the coucillor ought to vote “nay.” It is desireable to have more people involved with city politics, and this can be achieved by making the democratic process more open and accessible while giving constituents more control over their government. After all, democracy is not a quiet, secretive process that happens in the back rooms of City Hall. Democracy is a meeting of many different people, often with very different backgrounds and ideas, who freely express their opinions and find ways to best serve the community. We should ensure that such a process flourishes.
- ^ This is often cited as a 9-3 vote, but it was technically an 8-3 vote, because Tony Whalen retired from the meeting before the vote was taken.