I was looking forward to some genuine democratic consultation with Council and fellow citizens at the Town Hall meeting last week. We expected our hardworking councillors to weigh in with their diverse opinions and expertise on various agenda items, but their primary role was to stack chairs and serve coffee. We also expected to bring forward our own items for discussion, but the process for raising issues was so baffling that no one managed to do so.
Instead, we entered the Aggie Hall to be handed a ‘clicker’, stickers and some coloured paper and then we got a three hour illustrated lecture from the mayor.
Some discussion was allowed, and occasionally we were invited to ‘vote’ with our clickers, but only after we had been primed on how to respond. For example, a picture of a cat with a bird in its mouth was shown just ahead of a vote on whether cats should be licensed.
We could choose between dumping sewage in the harbour or ‘expanding and updating’ our current facilities, but we couldn’t say yes to upgrading, but no to a costly and unnecessary expansion. We could vote for or against an RV park at Transfer Beach, but a more eco-friendly and budget-friendly option like a tent site was not offered. And so it went, issue after issue.
This is politics Facebook-style, where participation is channelled into yes/no responses to narrowly framed questions, public input is tightly controlled and the spin and framing attached to the issues pretty much guarantees the outcome.
And every time we fell into the seductive trap of clicking our clicker, we provided the Town with a ‘mandate.’
No doubt these shambolic voting figures will be translated into impressive looking percentages that will disguise the fact that a roomful of hot, tired people were briefly persuaded that cats pose a grave threat to Ladysmith or that chickens need to be licensed.
Engaged citizens and councillors that give up a summer evening to discuss what matters to them and their community deserve to be heard, not subjected to manipulation and a barrage of propaganda.