Rothenburger: Activists or just council members

Mel Rothenburger / Kamloops Daily News
October 31, 2013 01:00 AM

When I saw the video of Deputy Mayor Nelly Dever and councillors Tina Lange, Ken Christian and Arjun Singh parading along with Barnhartvale residents who were protesting the condition of Todd Road, my first thought was "what were you thinking?"

In effect, they were protesting against themselves, since they're part of the council that's responsible for what residents were protesting about. City Hall staff sets priorities for road rehab, but they do so with the agreement of council.

Then, a day later, there was Lange again, and Coun. Donovan Cavers, speaking at the anti-Ajax rally.

Council members aren't natural activists, though some take part in the Walk for Peace and the AIDS Walk for Life, neither particularly controversial. Cavers and Dever were at the first gay pride parade at TRU.

It doesn't surprise me that Cavers and Lange were at the Ajax protest, since they've both declared their opposition to the mine.

But is it right, or smart, for council members to participate? After all, they're supposed to be representing all Kamloops taxpayers, not just the ones they agree with.

And where to draw the line? Dever and Cavers didn't like letting a pro-life banner hang over a city street. Is the line really so clear between one form of expression and another? My issue's OK but yours isn't?

Here's what I think. People should be less afraid of public engagement with all its warts and in all its forms including banners and marches but excluding rioting in the streets.

Singh, who's very strong on public engagement, questions a comment I made in last week's column. While I tipped my hat to the seven people who came forward to sit on the council remuneration committee, I also commented that they held only "a little public consultation."

In a post on his Your Kamloops blog, Singh writes that 413 people answered questionnaires, and that's pretty good. I agree that's good for questionnaires, but the committee rejected the idea of public meetings because it "may not represent the feelings of the community as a whole."

Ajax started out on a similar tack, and seems to be reverting to form with its invitation-only neighbourhood meetings. Why is there all this concern about how Kamloops people will act when crowds get together to talk about things?

The City is doing some good stuff with engagement. Its budget consultations keep getting better and better. The input session several months ago on the performing arts theatre was excellent. Singh's own Ideas Festival was fun and enlightening.

Now, council has in its hands a proposal from staff for "effective community engagement."

Written by bureaucrats, the report is full of phrases about the need for input to be "organized and facilitated" and frets about how to "legitimately extrapolate findings." It's all about structure.

It's a start, and maybe Singh's commitment to engagement is beginning to rub off on City Hall but ideas can't always be structured. Sometimes democracy has to be more spontaneous.

Maybe marching on Todd Road was a little off the mark but not by much. If councillors want to take to the streets with protesters, good for them.

At least we'll know where they stand.

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