Citizen rights curtailed – by our own government?

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Given the state of public communications and assaults on news-media south of the border, it’s no surprise everyone is touchy about any infringements on citizen rights within our democracy. We Canadians can see the US anti-democracy flood waters as a warning.

Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Given the state of public communications and assaults on news-media south of the border, it’s no surprise everyone is touchy about any infringements on citizen rights within our democracy. We Canadians can see the US anti-democracy flood waters as a warning.
Our provincial Liberal government has just taken one of those very-slippery steps towards disenabling the democratic process.
It’s Law 122, rushed through to avoid public discussion – a warning sign that something’s fishy.
Law 122 does has its positives. It addresses problems municipal governments have wrestled with for decades: municipalities are kept under lock and
key by the provincial government, which also controls municipal purse strings. But this law uses these problems as excuses for restricting the democratic potentials within local government. 
Quebec City (and every provincial government) could have eased the restrictions on MRCs, cities, and towns directly. They did not. If that’s their intention with this law, why didn’t the Couillard government take an open and direct means to aid municipalities? They decided to close down several democratic rights under
 the guise of saving the municipalities money, and municipalities applauded. Anything to limit costs!
One of the candidates for Gatineau’s city council, Audrey Bureau (the capable administrator of MP Will Amos’ Ottawa office), has listed three of these outrageous sleights of hand. Let me summarize.
First, certain municipalities no longer have any obligation to hold public referenda – on zoning in particular. Doesn’t this save money! Cancelling elections would also save money. This move means that citizens no longer have the right to insist their
government poll them on significant changes to zoning and variances. Large developers can lobby for a zoning change, against the wishes of neighbours or cottagers, get their approval by the council—and leave citizens with no recourse. 
This measure alone opens up municipal governments to more collusion, not less, since a handful of councillors now have un-reviewable powers over zoning changes.
Second, Ms Bureau points out that now some municipal governments are freed from the tight limit on no-bid contracts. Now, all contracts over $25,000 must go through bidding – anyone can bid. With 122, it’s $100,000.  This is exactly what the Charbonneau Commission studying municipal corruption argued against. Any contract $99,999 or less can be given without public bids. This opens the door to more collusion, not less.
Third is the well publicized body-slam against local media (like this newspaper). Previously, public notices had to be published in media which reaches most tax-payers. Law 122 says the notices can be put on the internet instead. Isn’t this backwards? With social media, wouldn’t it have been wiser to expand, not limit, the reach toward all citizens?
Especially where many tax-payers are seniors with little interest in “social media” – and where there isn’t good internet reception – why remove the obligation to use a tried-and-true means to reach citizens? 
This opening the door to devious politicking was clear earlier this year when a Gatineau city notice – over the internet – was changed part way through the process, presumably to help specific bidders. There was no official record, nothing “in print”. Neat. So modern!
The Charbonneau Commission’s finding of collusion in so many city governments (and their estimation that this goes on in all provinces) makes us very wary of accepting Premier Couillard’s “money-saving” excuses. Mr Trump’s determination to shut down independent reporting – speaking truth to power – should make our suspicions stronger.
So, thanks, Mme Bureau, for your municipal clear-sightedness and principle.