Elect a warden: higher taxes, no guarantees?

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan


Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

Once again, our mayors at MRC-Pontiac are debating an elected and full-time warden for the MRC. Those in favour cite the democratic benefits from a “universal vote” for warden; right now the warden has been picked from the mayors, by the mayors themselves. But what impacts us more in the long term is giving the warden a full-time job – and a big raise.
“We, the people” will have to pay that new salary via our taxes. It’s not clear who pays for each MRC election, but it will eventually be taxpayers. So there’s another way to phrase this debate: do we want to pay for a full-time warden, plus Pontiac-wide elections?
Associated questions: Why this change? What will a full-time warden do that a full time DG and part-time warden don’t do now? Work more hours? At what – besides Quebec City’s priorities? Apart from even more meetings in Gatineau and Quebec City, it’s difficult to pin-point what a full-time warden will give us, besides promises, rosy predictions, and higher tax bills
Pledge by the mayors?
Some argue this is a cash-grab by a few mayors who each think they have a chance at the warden’s new job. Right at the start, the mayors can disarm this criticism if all those mayors who will vote on this change promise they themselves will not run for the top job, thus eliminating any accusation of a self-serving vote. Let’s hear it from the mayors: Sign up to this pledge, honourable mayors!
And how will an elected warden assure us of better governance? Are those who argue this telling us we’ve had
only “poor governance”?  Where’s their evidence? Despite our MRC’s limited resources, I think we have a good team;
it’s adequate provincial resources we lack. How could a higher-paid warden improve this?
Right now, the candidate pool covers Pontiac’s 18 mayors. They are
experienced in municipal affairs – they know the Municipal Code. Will an outsider, someone who is popular but not a mayor, have this background knowledge? 
If not, we lose, every term, two months or so as each new warden learns the ropes; he or she will take up time from the DG, which should go to administrative business. How does losing two months benefit us?
The warden’s job requires governance skills – compromise, negotiation, firmness, total-Pontiac vision, etc. How will we know the candidates have these skills (not just promises!), unless they have already demonstrated them? Unless they have already served as a mayor? But that’s what we have now. The other mayors pick their leader; they know each other and the challenges, so aren’t they better equipped to pick a warden than the public at large, most of whom can’t name the current warden and likely their own mayor?
“Democracy” has its limits, Donald Trump is demonstrating. A democracy which yields poor decisions is not best even though it’s called democratic. Elections are rife with manipulation – single-issue candidates, those aiming to move up to other candidatures (MNA or MP), etc.
Introducing money will provide no guarantee of good work (or of our money’s worth), will attract those who want the money more than to serve, keep people in office past their prime, and will increase competition for the job which drives up candidate costs of campaigning (favouring those with money already).
We can improve our MRC’s efficacy; why give up? There are positive ways to tune up what we already have: see the next edition!