I recently posted a city press release announcing that the Mayor would be hosting her own Guelph Community Wellbeing Initiative townhall, albeit a phone-in townhall, with a randomly drawn selection of Guelphites.
It's quite the difference from the ones city councillors were hosting at public locations throughout the city, and I jested that maybe the Mayor's staff had security concerns if they've read some of the same stuff I have on the 59 Carden St. blog. Not the actual content written by Scott Tracey and others, but the comments posted by the general public. One such poster, the prolific and engaging Craig Chamberlain, offered this comment about my remarks on the Mayor's safety:
Hoping your comment about security considerations for the phone in, based on 59 Carden St. posts was tongue-in-cheek. Citizens should be able to critical of how things are being run without being vilified, as has been the case, with concerned citizens made out to be scary people. These are citizens, Adam, and they are saying they deserve better.
Well, for the record it was tongue-in-cheek, or at least I thought so. Everything that Craig said there is right: citizens should be critical, citizens do deserve better, and citizens should be able to engage with their elected officials in person. This was always at the heart of my critique of Marty Burke, an elected politician (or one running for election) should be able to be reached by anyone they are (or will be) representing, including people they politically disagree with.
But Craig's response to my snark provided the perfect segue to something that's concerned for a while now. I draw your attention to this comment posted to a Mercury story about a mortar being found in a downtown antique store:
But to be fair, this kind of comment is extreme. Most of the time, the tenor of the debate looks more like this:
But to bring this 'round full circle, I direct you to a recent post about the potential increase for traffic at the site of a proposed Costco. One perfectly ignorant poster called "GuelphiteW6" said:
When a couple of people corrected him or her that it's a Sikh temple and not a mosque, the author of my first example, "LouiseM" had this perfectly disgusting comment to offer:
But really, that's just straight up racism, which no one in their right mind finds acceptable. The thing that concerns me is the level of discord. Take the above comment about Maggie Laidlaw. She's the second longest serving member of council, so clearly the people of Ward 3 (or at least that ones that vote) like the job she's doing. It's not up to "The K-Man" to decide that she should be put out of office, it's up to her constituents. And if Maggie Laidlaw runs in 2014 and is re-elected, then that's the prerogative of the people of Ward 3, not K-Man no matter what his feelings on her fitness for council are.
Laidlaw's a frequent victim of scorn and derision, and yes, she sometimes brings it on herself with a judicious lack of self-editing. But if you're tuned to the broader picture, you know that Laidlaw is part of the "Gang of 8," a nebulous group of councillors who do the exclusive bidding of Mayor Karen Farbridge, like the Baseball Furies from The Warriors or the Joker's henchmen in clown masks from The Dark Knight. First, I have yet to get a complete list of who the "Gang of 8" are, and their general make-up seems to change depending on the issue. But one thing's for sure, when Farbridge says jump they fall over each other to get on the trampoline first.
It used to be, or at least it seemed, that we would take it a bit easier, personal attack wise speaking, on our local elected officials versus those at higher levels of government. After all, you have a better chance of running into Bob Bell or Cam Guthrie while out and about as opposed to Frank Valeriote or Liz Sandals, who spend their days split between two cities. But the anonymity of the internet offers a kind of cloak of invisibility, or at least a mask. Newspapers still insist that if you write a letter to the editor, it be accompanied by your full name, that way you have to take some kind of credit for your words and choose them carefully. Those were the days.
This is by no means a piece by me saying to take it easy on our city councillors, by all means, lower the boom as hard as you can. But let's keep in mind that people elected to government office and the civil servants they work with are human beings, most of whom are doing the best job that they can under enormous pressure, and equally great time restraints. To vilify them on the basis that their politics don't align with yours is childish at best. If you have a differing opinion as to the direction our city should take, then you need to be persuasive and argue why those ideas are better, not call someone worthless because they can't see your point of view. From two opposing points of view compromise is reached, but politics is not total warfare, and for progress to be made then I must be willing to give up something for you, and vice versa.
Now will this Shangri-La become a reality sometime in the near future? I doubt it. The alternative is just too easy. But the thing of it is that we all made a choice to live in Guelph together, and while there are some things to be improved on, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and I think the majority of people in town would agree. The most read post on this blog is the one titled "50 Reasons to Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Live in Guelph," which also solicited addendums from readers who had their own reasons to be euphoric.
Now I'm not one to say, "If you don't like it, leave," but I have to admit that when it comes to some people that post online, I'm getting there. Our best politicians have always been able to use positivity to rally people, and I'm talking about politicians on all sides of the political spectrum. Negativity will always galvanize the base, but more nonpartisan voters are won by visioning, by the presentation of what a government or politician intends to do with the power of their office. Barely 33 per cent of people eligible to vote in the last municipal election cast their ballot. If the movements of the current council are so toxic, and their implications so damning, then critics have two years to convince people of this and present an alternative. And if they should win, the critics will be harsh, but I hope they'll at least act like adults.