Why Democracy has left the building and we are the less for it

By Gerry Barker

September 3, 2019

Opinion

When the underlying issues of a civilized society are endangered by a dictatorial and secretive administration, democracy, as we know it, vanishes.

It’s a natural instinct for those in power to withhold information that may reflect on their actions and management of the public assets.

Once in power the tendency is to surround you with friends and supporters who blindly follow.

One of the first tenants of political power is to control the message and give the appearance of serving the public stakeholders. Those controlling the agenda ignore disagreement and rejection of the controlling political organization’s policies.

This leads to anger and disillusionment on the part of the stakeholder, you and me.

So, thanks to a report by Carol Goar, a senior writer and columnist in the Toronto Star, some years ago that are even more important today. Here are three lessons to emphasize the theory of democracy discarded by those empowered.

* Lesson One: “Those with power – politicians, police and bureaucrats – don’t believe they should have to share that power. Basically, they dismiss the rights of citizens to share that power and don’t believe they have any role to play in their sphere of influence.

* Lesson Two: “Governments frequently slap pejorative labels on those who oppose and complain. Such methods are to use surrogates to attack those objectors labeling them as ignorant, dangerous, violent and out of touch.

* Lesson Three: “Citizens have to use the tools they have to keep democracy alive. These include solidarity, willingness to stand up to authorities and to reach beyond their own ranks.”

How do those lessons in maintaining democracy rank with what has been going on in Guelph for the past 13 years?

First, we have been governed by a civic dictatorship composed of a majority of councillors who, 99 per cent of the time, vote collectively their own agenda. The opposition – in the first four years consisted of just two councillors. Since 2010, the opposition has grown to five councillors who have voiced concerns about the operation of the city government but are defeated most times when votes are held

There is evidence that former mayor Karen Farbridge, the architect of Guelph’s public policy, along with a close-knit group of unelected advisors, created unrest among voters.

Democracy is no longer operative in this council. The results of the 2018 civic election only exacerbated the lack of public participation, transparency and open government.

The use of closed=session meetings has drained accountability to which the stakeholders are entitled.

It has become so pervasive that despite the absence of the four senior city managers between 2016 and 2019, little has changed in terms of controlling the operational details to the public

The administration works in two parts. The mayor and a majority of city council carry out the agenda and handpicked the senior bureaucrats. Policy rests with the mayor and his advisors.

It has beeb\n five years sunce the Farbridge elected supporters have influenced and received support from a number of community and neighbourhood groups supplying public funding, support in planning and social issues.

The offshoot of all this is the vast silent majority of voters who are not united, knowledgeable nor organized to question or oppose policies advanced by the city administration.

This has resulted in a perverted, participatory democracy failing to acknowledge the needs, will/ and interests, of the people.

Once again, here is Lesson Two: “Governments frequently slap pejorative labels on those who oppose and complain. Such methods are to use surrogates to attack those objectors labeling them as ignorant, dangerous, violent and out of touch.

I am one citizen who has felt the wrath of the Guthrie administration that has supported a dismissed employee who sues me for $500,000 for defamation by paying all his legal fees since August 2016.

I have had to spend a great deal of money to defend myself. And it’s not over yet.

This lawsuit seems to strech the meaning of “pejorative” describing the action of the City of Guelph government.

Still not convinced?

The ambition of this group has cost taxpayers millions in failed personal pet projects, dumb planning, excessive legal expenses and fiscal mismanagement aided and abetted by unqualified or now absent individuals,

those no longer responsible for maintaining the public interest.

Mayor Guthrie, democracy has left your building.

 

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