For decades, when the world was naive (without Facebook), I covered the monthly meetings of the MRC Pontiac’s Council of Mayors for this newspaper. I sat in the big council chamber in rows of chairs set for the public and media, facing mayors who were slightly raised around a huge semi-circular desk with the dignity they deserve. The audience filled rows of chairs. Each mayor had room to consult papers, reports and reference materials.
The warden presided from the middle of this semi-circle. The room reminded me, slightly, of a mini-United Nations, giving each mayor the space and respect befitting a municipal leader. The meetings were preceded by a closed session where the agenda was apparently set, files ordered and discussed.
The meetings were well-ordered, each mayor given time and space to be recognized by the chair and by the public. Wardens Lariviere, Ladouceur, McCrank and Durocher chaired these sessions professionally, making sure every mayor had an opportunity to speak – and ask questions.
These meetings seemed fine examples of local, living democracy.
Fast forward to today. I found myself back at the MRC Pontiac, not with the media but with a group pressing a community issue.
Pontiac does have a new MRC headquarters, I learned, despite the uproar a few years ago about spending millions on a new structure. The entrance is more official; there are corridors and offices in several directions, plenty of people at work! Heading for the council chambers, we were directed instead to a committee-meeting room.
No, not a committee room – the mayors’ chamber. What a difference! The mayors were seated at a long table, elbow to elbow, most had little room to even turn to find a document in a briefcase behind them. To raise their hands, each had to lean forward, even bump the next mayor in order to say a word. Turns out, almost none said a word.
As for visitors – the people! – chairs were squeezed into the end of the narrow room, but not enough. Many had to stand.
Is this the New Québec, I wondered, treating municipal mayors as committee-members, crammed together? Citizens seen as an intrusion?
When the session began, our first elected warden who had campaigned on more transparency and on opening up MRC government to “the people”, jumped into the Question Period. There was a strict time limit, the Warden warned. There were no questions from the mayors, although the presentation was made directly to them. Once finished, the Warden alone turned down the group’s request, and suggested we leave.
Is this transparency? Are “the people” given priority by cramming their representatives into a crowded committee-room which hardly has room for citizens? With no questions, no clarifications or deliberations…one person
standing, like a traffic cop.
Surely I’m exaggerating. I suggest every Pontiac citizen attend a monthly MRC council meeting. Go, judge for yourself…before the next election.