|Robinson and Reimer at their final council meeting earlier this year.|
The late US president Woodrow Wilson once said, “Democracy is not so much a form of government as a set of principles.” I believe he was correct, and this is why I voted last night in favour of staging a by-election to replace Coquitlam’s two departed City Councillors, Linda Reimer and Selina Robinson, who now sit in the BC Legislature. (Happily, my vote was part of a 4-2 majority to accept Reimer and Robinson’s resignations and set in motion the process to hold a by-election, which is likely to be held in October.)
Yes, there were practical reasons—most of which involved the saving of money—for not holding the by-election. But I believe the importance of the principles that are involved in the question far outweigh issues involving the city’s finances.
I am reminded that the world “democracy” comes from the Greek word, “demos,” meaning, “people.” And a democratic system of government is one in which a country’s political leaders are chosen by the people in regular, free, and fair elections. Thus, the holding of elections is of paramount importance in a functioning democracy.
Furthermore, the key role of citizens in a democracy is participation. It is significant that two of the more-publicized initiatives I have undertaken in my first 18 months on council involved citizen engagement. One initiative—the publishing of the names of those who voted in an election—did not receive council support; the other—the staging of electronic Town Hall Meetings—met with overwhelming success. It doesn’t really make sense, then, for me to be in favour of increased citizen engagement but opposed to a by-election.
A democracy also involves government by the rule of law. I believe the Community Charter, which governs the City’s actions here, does not intend to allow the type of gymnastics—going on an unpaid leave for six months and then resigning early in 2014 so as not to trigger a by-election—in which the opponents of the by-election would have had us engage.
After all, any definition of “leave of absence” with which I am familiar suggests that the person taking a leave has the intention of eventually returning to work. Neither Robinson nor Reimer has any intention to return to City Hall.
Those who keep focusing on the money that could be saved by not staging a by-election remind me of something Oscar Wilde said many years ago: “Nowadays,” he quipped, “people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Yes, democracy's price can be high, but its value is far greater.
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