Your recent editorial, “Democracy moves further away” (Jan. 24) lamented the loss of democracy should the provincial government decide to amalgamate, or even eliminate, regional or lower-tier municipalities. There was much truth said in the piece − and we all should be concerned. At the all-candidates meeting for ward councillors and school trustees last fall, the issue of democracy came up repeatedly, and candidates stressed that residents and voters deserve to be heard and well represented.
But the residents of Goodwood are wondering just how well the current system of democracy is serving them. They are asking the question, “Why hasn’t our councilor, Pamela Beach, come out strongly against the Grainboys proposal?” This proposal to build an industrial scale grain-processing mill will forever change their lives − the most consequential change to their hamlet in years. Opposition from the residents to the mill is nearly universal − it only takes a walk through any of the neighbourhoods in Goodwood to discover that.
At a recent emergency meeting of residents held in Goodwood, organized on short notice and attended by more than 80 people, many expressed their concerns about the mill and wanted to know what can be done to stop it. To some it may seem that their councillor has forsaken them in a modern day “Let them eat cake” moment.
Why would the councillor risk antagonizing so many voters? This question just won’t go away, and some residents have decided to investigate. While poring over publicly available material, including the councillor’s election website, a possible reason jumped out: the councillor’s family is farming grain on the family farm.
Why does this matter? The company behind the mill has said that it will buy grain from local farmers. The mere possibility that the councillor and her family might benefit from voting for the mill puts her on questionable ground. Under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, the possibility that a councillor’s family could benefit financially from a decision before council is what is defined as a “deemed pecuniary interest.” Under the Act, a councillor is required to declare all interests, even deemed interests. And he or she is required to refrain from voting, and is prohibited from discussing the proposal with other councillors. Failure to comply can result in a range of prescribed remedies, including removal from council.
If democracy is important to us then we need to be vigilant and make sure our representatives are working for us. And, we need to make sure they are aware of the laws designed to protect democracy.