Thursday, November 02, 2006

Montague 26 : Re-Framing The Discussion (Again)

There are a lot of comments coming in from people concerned about allegations of fraud and/or corruption. I'm not sure what these allegations are, or who is supposed to have made them. However, I thought I'd step in to redraw the boundaries of debate in the hopes that we can stick more to politics.

I've said this several times, but let's try again. Two issues are being confused, that I think ought to remain seperate. First, the rights and wrongs of the actual Riceville fire matter. As I've said before, I don't know who's right and who's wrong. Nasty things were said about the firefighters. To anyone who was defamed or wrongly accused of anything, you have my sympathy and my support to go ahead and defend yourself individually. Again, I don't doubt I'd get an excellent response if, God forbid, I ever needed the fire department. I don't know who's right and who's wrong about the facts. But I think the time has come for those individuals who feel defamed to either sue Mr. Page, or leave the matter behind them. That's just my opinion. I don't doubt they were hurt, upset, angered and embarrassed. But holding on to those feelings is, in the end, only going to hurt the person doing it.

Entirely seperate from the Riceville incident is the issue of Council's response to the situation and the lack of leadership and maturity that they have exhibited throughout. Reeve Doyle immediately over-reacted to the situation, when he fired off his threat of legal action just three weeks after the fire. Just as Mr. Page should have let the official investigation take its course, so should Reeve Doyle. What was he doing, pre-judging the investigation with such a threat of legal action? At that point he could not have known the facts as the investigation was ongoing. But he still fired off the threat. It was not his last resort, it was his first response.

When an extremely contentious issue arises in a community, to my mind, it's the Reeve's job to try to bring people together and to resolve the issue as effectively as possible. Reeve Doyle made no effort to resolve the situation, except through legal threats. To me, that's pouring gas on the fire, not helping to put it out. A real leader would have risen above the situation, taken charge and brought the parties together. We should expect a higher standard from our elected leaders than from citizens at large. Gary Doyle immediately sank to the level of an acrimonious dispute between individuals, instead of standing tall above the situation.

Then we come to Council's decision to sue. This was simply a mistake. They were not entitled to do this; that's what the judge found. Doyle still doesn't get that. He still thinks the Charter is an 'interference'. Why is it so hard for him to stand up and say 'We made a mistake'? Again, real leadership includes knowing when you got it wrong and being prepared to admit it. Instead, Reeve Doyle hides behind the firefighters and deliberately confuses the two seperate issue of the alleged defamation itself and his own political actions. Even if Mr. Page was entirely wrong and the firefighters were indeed defamed, Council's lawsuit was still a grave mistake.

That's my position. I don't make allegations of fraud, or corruption, or incompetence, or anything else in relation to the Riceville fire. But our current Reeve and Council failed dismally when called upon to show leadership in this situation. They might even be able to salvage something if they would admit to that, and show some respect for concerned citizens. But in their complete arrogance there is no chink of openness to questions or other opinions. Doyle thinks he is right. Period. Until he learns humility he can't function as an effective leader of our community.

This attitude and this way of doing politics in Montague is not unique to the Page matter. This is how Doyle and council run the township, whatever is the issue at hand - with contempt for citizens, wilful ignorance and refusal to hear questions, and deliberate use of in-camera sessions to hide much of their deliberations from the public.

This is why I am 'partisan'. I want open government where everyone can be heard equally. I want my local government to be transparent and to be able to understand what they are doing and the reasons for it. I want them to be leaders who can take charge of difficult situations and resolve them, rather than sink straight into the mud and start flinging it themselves. In short, I want the same standards from them as I would expect from a provincial or federal government - the improvement of which is a work in progress right now, and remains the raison d'etre of this blog.

The firefighters need to understand that an attack on Reeve Doyle and council is not an attack on them. The fire department and council are seperate. There is the widespread perception in the township, created and encouraged by Reeve Doyle that the two are one and the same. If this were true, it would mean that there is indeed an unhealthily close relationship between the fire department and the political process of the township. If it's not true, then the firefighters need to realise it and keep their own personal issues with Mr. Page seperate from the political level of discourse.