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Hiding behind deaf ears

cartoon_july62016“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

That quote by revered novelist George Orwell rung true at regional council, and for all the wrong reasons.

Anyone who has been to a committee or council meeting at city hall or regional headquarters has more than likely seen a public delegation.

These delegations, brought forward by the public, provide councillors the opportunity to get some direct feedback, outside of the political bubble.

Such delegations come with time restrictions in order to keep things moving. At the regional level, that time limit is five minutes. However, some delegations require more time than that, and councillors will vote to extend their time. Typically, the longest the delegation will be extended is another five minutes before opening the floor to questions from councillors.

Things were a bit different at the final meeting of regional council before its summer recess. A hot topic at the regional level over the past few years has been the Durham York Energy Centre. Since the project was first announced nearly a decade ago, one can count on seeing at least one delegation when anything dealing with the incinerator is on the agenda. And while some delegations will see the resident berate the region for not doing a good job, others include very in depth scientific feedback.

Wendy Bracken, a familiar face at such meetings, is one of those delegates that goes for the latter, laying out detailed scientific information on things that she believes the region and those involved with the incinerator are missing. Her criticisms are backed up by hard data, gained by diving deep into the mountain of reports that have been filed on the incinerator.

Well, it would appear a number of councillors are tired of hearing bad things about their precious $300-million trash burner.

After Regional Chair Roger Anderson called for a recorded vote on extending Bracken’s time – itself an unusual procedure – he said that a two-thirds majority would be needed to give her a few more minutes. While a majority of councillors voted in favour, it was a close vote, but not enough to extend Bracken’s time.

It is truly shameful that this many councillors voted against hearing the rest of the delegation. A large part of politics is hearing from your constituents, and the reality of that is many times, they will be saying things critical of the powers that be. For such a large number of councillors, who were voted in on the premise of representing the people in their community, to turn around and say they would rather not hear any more criticisms is an affront to what democracy is supposed to be.

Speaking with The Oshawa Express following the council meeting, Anderson said the same delegates had already spoken at the previous week’s works committee, so their views had already been heard. Frankly, that is a weak excuse. Under regional rules, delegates can speak at the committee level and then the council level. It is not a case of “you can speak in front of a smaller crowd, but if it is in council chambers, you better hurry up.”

Residents of Durham should not forget the list of councillors – Oshawa’s Bob Chapman and Nester Pidwerbecki, Brock’s Ted Smith, Clarington’s Adrian Foster, Pickering’s Kevin Ashe, Bill McLean and David Pickles, Scugog’s Bobbie Drew and Uxbridge’s Gerri Lynn O’Connor and Jack Ballinger – who voted to cut off the voice of a resident simply because she was saying things they did not want to hear.