Sunday, August 28, 2016

Is There a Place for Party Politics at City Council?

One of the things that I like best about being on City Council is the fact that I'm independent - nobody tells me how to vote (or at least, not successfully), I'm free to express my own opinions, and there's no party line that I have to follow or support publicly.

Now I realize that at higher levels of government, provincial or federal, some sort of organization is necessary to coordinate direction, and that without political parties, trying to run a large government would be like herding cats.  The downside to that is the expression of individual opinions at that level is discouraged, and straying from the party line, especially in voting, is usually punished.  So while constituents elect their representatives, once elected, the constituents become less important to their representative than the party leader.

But in such a small group as council, nine individuals, we don't need to be divided into groups to ensure that we don't go madly off in all (or nine) directions.  Each member of council is free to form their own opinions, express their own ideas, and be influenced by others' good suggestions.  In fact, what can happen is that an idea, after open discussion, can morph into an even better idea that can get support from all members of council.  Of course, we all tend to one or the other side of the spectrum, but it's best when we can meet in the middle and come up with a solution that is best for the city, not for one political party or another.

Now, I understand that for some people on council, as for many individuals, they have firm beliefs that align with a particular political party, and they extend their support to being members, sometimes quite active, of whatever party they wish.  I'm not disagreeing with their right to do this, in fact, I've belonged to different parties over the years, usually after being asked by a friend to support them in a nomination battle.  But I decided a few years ago that tying myself to a particular party line wasn't the best way to represent Ward Three, so I no longer hold membership in any party.  Each party has ideas that I can support - this way I'm free to select what I see as the best option, without feeling that I should support a particular stance because I'm a party member.  It also means that I'm free to speak up about anything that I disagree with - open criticism is the first step in changing things.

Another reason for not belonging to a particular party is that, as a council, we have to be able to work with higher levels of government, no matter what the political stripe of the party in power.  We don't need additional artificial barriers to conversations that might block positive discussions because of misconceptions about where we stand on various issues.  One of the things that members of the public often say is that we need more cooperation, focusing on what we have in common, rather than holding fast to opinions based on what the party has decided.

One of the odd things that I've noticed is that sometimes, when we've had a vote at council that was unanimously supported, after the meeting, a council member or  two will disavow their support for the vote that they just made, perhaps because it didn't match the direction made by the party that they belong to.  Why they felt the need to vote with council, then try to take it back, is a mystery to me.  I think that in every vote, each council member should vote for what they believe is the best option, not try to sit on the fence in a vain effort to please everybody.

I know that some members of council will disagree with me on this - that's fine, they too are entitled to their opinions.  But over the years I've had many constituents tell me that they appreciate that I'm not afraid to speak up and ask questions, and that they value the fact that I stand behind my own opinions.  Frankly, I work for those constituents, not for any other member of council, or any political party.

"The most courageous act is still to think for yourself.  Out loud." - Coco Chanel

No comments: