The Subtle Changes of Democracy

Article written in The Independent of Petrolia and Central Lambton. 

Editorial written by The Independent staff, Sept. 14, 2017

Who speaks for you?

We live in a democracy where we elect people to represent our views. It’s not a difficult concept. Generations of people have known this to be true.

But, we believe the people we elect are allowing that basic democratic principle to be eroded.

St. Clair Mayor Steve Arnold made that point at a recent county council meeting. He questioned a forum being hosted by the Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce. It’s billed as a State of the County event. The chamber hosts it it every year. Usually, elected representatives are the panelists. This year, the top administrators from a number of municipalities are the guests.

Arnold, while being respectful of the staff at the county, voiced his concern about the concept.

While administrators have intimate knowledge of their community’s affairs, it is the politicians who are supposed to set the course for the municipalities. They should be the people speaking on the State of the County. “My warden speaks for my council in any venue,” he says.

He’s right. But our democratic system is being twisted ever so subtly.

For the past 10 years, consultants – usually former bureaucrats – have been convincing elected politicians that you hire good people and take their advice. That can make the people we elect basically yes men and women.

There are some politicians who buck this sentiment. Around some council tables, administrators’ ideas are regularly turned down as politicians find a different solution.

But many politicians agree. At budget time, some will openly admit they don’t read the information provided to them. The administration, they say, know what they are doing. It seems it is far easier to go along with ideas than to critically examine things.

There is no doubt the administrators are well meaning, love their communities and have good ideas. But they are not elected to make the decisions.

Having competent administrators is good but the will of the people, who are represented by elected officials, is still paramount in this democracy.