By Korie Marshall
In my last editorial I was guilty of what I was complaining about – not communicating well. Hey, I never said I was immune. I thank those who pointed it out – I am always interested in what people think of my work – but especially in this case. It gave me cause to think more about something I don’t understand, and to rethink some of my own assumptions. Let me see if I can explain it better.
I didn’t mean to suggest (as I may have) that anyone is being muzzled. It is just that I haven’t figured out a way to communicate with our local Councillors yet. I’ve gotten little response to the questions I’ve asked, and I assumed that was because of some sort of communications policy (that I’ve never seen). Maybe I should have tried harder, but I think it is an error on the part of Councillors and the Mayors if they don’t choose to talk to me about my questions. I am asking because I need clarification, and that probably means other people do too.
A good example is in the minutes from McBride’s last council meeting. Residents are asking for clarification about permissive tax exemptions and utility billing options, and Council resolved to include public education about the process in the future. I think journalists can help there, by explaining the issue to whoever wants to read the story, not just to one person at a time.
Journalism has a purpose – it is to ask questions and to share with other people what is going on. Maybe in some perfect world, people would never misunderstand, mislead or misuse others, and people would always know what is right, and do that. We’re not in that world. The police and justice systems are meant to protect society from the really bad stuff, but there is also a lot that happens that isn’t evil or illegal – it is just not clear, or maybe it’s not taking all views into account. The best journalism helps with that by researching, seeing what isn’t clear and asking questions, then helping to explain things. Maybe not all questions can be answered, but elected officials should respond anyway – even if they can’t answer the question.
When I spoke to Doug Donaldson, MLA for Stikine, a couple weeks ago, it struck me that he was so willing to talk to me about anything I might have questions for him about, not just about the classification of Highway 16. I thought it might be partly that he is not a Liberal, and he saw a chance to get the provincial Liberals to do something, which would look good for him and his party. But regardless of that, his job as a representative is to talk to people about what he thinks, what he wants to see, get feedback, and explain himself.
Any government that is representing us has a responsibility to explain to us their views, their thoughts on a subject. We can see much of it in how they vote in a meeting, but that doesn’t show us everything.
When they ran for office, each member stood up and said “This is who I am, this is what I think, I’m the best – vote for me.” Once elected, they should still be telling us who they are and what they think, not simply with their vote on a bylaw.
We might sometimes think that local municipal councils are not as important as provincial or federal governments, that their job might be easier or they should be held to lower standards. In small communities like Valemount and McBride, they certainly have less money to work with, which I think makes it more difficult. But are our Councils any less important that Vancouver or Prince George Councils? I don’t think so. And if every elected member is supposed to be representing us, should each Councillor be less important to us than Shirley Bond, Cathy McLeod or Bob Zimmer? Again, I don’t think so.
I respect local members of Council because their job is not easy. They probably don’t get paid what they are really worth, and it has to be tough to always face questions in their community. But I don’t think that excuses them from sharing those responses, either during discussion at a public council meeting, or in answering questions from the media.