My View

Municipal governments continue to take on greater responsibility as senior governments, especially the provincial government, continue to devolve to the local level what were formerly provincial responsibilities. Municipal governments today seem left to "manage in the middle," a sometimes precarious place where they teeter between increasing public demand on one side and senior levels of government opting out on the other. Not an easy place to be, particularly when local governments sit squarely on the front lines of our communities and are the most visible, closest to us and with the greatest impact on our daily lives. With all of this in mind, it's no wonder that small municipalities like North Saanich need the support and involvement of the community to help get things done.

When ordinary residents who run for and are elected to political office (your local Mayor and Council), they can be your friend, your neighbour, attend your church, share your kids' carpool, belong to your health club, volunteer with you, work with you or belong to your service club --- this is certainly true in North Saanich and these relationships and personal connections are part of what makes this such a great small community. But when these ordinary relationships are tested by extraordinary circumstances, it may be unavoidable that personal dynamics take on a political dimension.

This is especially true in dealing with conflict where emotions can run high and people can arrive "loaded for bear" based on what they believe or think they know to be true about a given situation. Added to the fact that North Saanich residents tend to be passionate about land use and their quality of life, the potential for vocal public reaction to local government is always present. After all, public participation is the hallmark of democracy and in a small community; it's easier to get involved and to make a difference.

But when public participation is expressed by aggressive, demeaning or intimidating behaviour towards others, especially during Council meetings where issues and people often collide, I feel that we all share a responsibility to one another to demonstrate respect and decorum inside the Council Chamber, no matter how heated the argument or strong the disagreement. In fact, the Council Chamber is much like a Courtroom -- the role of Mayor and Council is quasi-judicial and decisions are guided by legislation, policies and procedures.

I am encouraged to see the public attending and participating in Council meetings. I am discouraged when anger and bad manners appear to overshadow the proceedings. All of us, including the public, the Mayor, members of Council and municipal staff owe it to each other to behave respectfully, no matter how much we disagree or how difficult or sensitive the issue is at the time. Eighteenth Century Irish-born novelist Lurence Sterne put it something like this: "Self-respect guides our morality. Respect for others guides our manners" -- worth remembering.