Friday, November 08, 1996

Welcome back to town hall Democracy

Among the most abused phrases in the modern language of democracy is "town hall meeting."

The words refer, in their original sense, to a meeting of citizens -- before the notion of elected representatives had even been invented -- to make laws and distribute taxes.

It is an honorable tradition that can trace its roots to the early days of the United States, but one that has fallen into disuse.

Only a few small towns in New England still hold true town hall meetings, and few of them are well attended.

Instead the phrase has been commandeered by partisan politicians and candidates for public office eager to talk to the voters, rather than listen to them. In Canada, the Reform Party has been the most frequent abuser of the term, although just about every other party on the continent has followed suit.

Even CBC Television has hosted so-called "town hall meetings" with the prime minister, further bastardizing the concept by stacking the audiences with carefully selected, demographically representative and politically correct, "ordinary" Canadians.

How refreshing, then, to see four Yellowknife MLAs offer to listen the thoughts of their constituents on the draft constitution this past Tuesday. And how refreshing it was to see more than 150 of those constituents give up their regular Tuesday night television, curling or cocktails in favor of talking politics.

Now that was a town hall meeting.

Whatever the outcome of the next few months of negotiations over the shape of the western NWT's new constitution, we can take a good deal of comfort in the knowledge that the process will a democratic one. (November 08, 1996)

Curious MP visits

Two groups of MPs were here in October on fact-finding missions, so one would think they would like people to know about their visits.

It is curious then that the Justice Committee did not give lots of time for submissions to be prepared on what Northerners think about the Young Offenders Act.

Also, it was a closed shop for a select few groups when the Standing Committee on Natural Resources came for Northern views on developing a rural Canadian economic development framework.

Both issues are of great importance to Northerners with problems unique to the North. Not giving enough notice to prepare submissions and only inviting certain groups, denies opportunity for all views to be aired.

It would seem to indicate that Ottawa cares more about the appearance of consulting Northerners rather than really consulting them. (November 08, 1996)