Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Montague Township Election Diary

Well, they're off and running - nominations close on Friday this week, so it's possible one or two more candidates may yet show up, but the campaigns have begun in earnest so it's time to start blogging this little corner of democracy.

Let's start with some background. Montague Township is a rural township in Lanark County in Eastern Ontario. The township website,, is actually excellent and very informative and you can learn more about us there. Most of the township is rural, although some of the urban area of Smiths Falls actually falls within Montague's boundaries, and there are one or two small settlements scattered around. Farming is the principal industry and otherwise people are usually employed in Smiths Falls or in Ottawa. Montague is quiet, idyllic country living. Mostly.

The township is run by a council comprising a Reeve, Deputy Reeve and three councillors. Council is responsible for providing all the usual municipal services - road maintenance, fire services, policing (provided by the OPP) and so forth. In a small township such as this you would think this was straightforward and didn't afford too much opportunity for controversy or scandal.

The current election, however, takes place against a background of recent events that put Montague on the national political stage, albeit briefly. I've covered these events before, in this post.

As you might also imagine, a situation in which a Council sues one of its own citizens for defamation does not arise out of nowhere. There is, no doubt, much behind the scenes of these events. As just an ordinary citizen and a relative newcomer (only five years!) I don't know all the ins and outs, nor is it really relevant. The lawsuit failed and the particular issue at its centre is probably best left well alone for now.

This election is really not about the content of the lawsuit, but it is about how democracy works in such a small municipal government. It's about how much power and influence a small group of councillors can have; about how accountable, or otherwise, they need to be when their community is virtually invisible to higher levels of government and to the media. It's about how much cronyism is acceptable in local government and how much input residents should have into local decision making. There are many other issues of course, and we'll get into them through the campaign, but the overall themes of the election are transparency and accountability.

In keeping with this, I intend to blog the election here as an ordinary citizen. I will not go out of my way to 'chase' candidates. Those candidates that come to my door will get the chance to let me ask some questions and post their answers here. If I don't hear from them they won't get that chance. My identity is an open secret in this township where everybody knows everybody, so if candidates want to find me they won't have any trouble doing so. I'll be blogging only what I see and hear, and what I can find out readily from public sources such as Council minutes and the public meetings that will be held. What I hope is that this little spotlight will make things just a tiny bit more transparent in Montague.