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Democratic rights not to be taken lightly

Posted on October 19, 2016 by Taber Times

The open house last week to give Taber residents a say in how part of the municipal budget is allocated, particularly through capital projects, came and went without a single resident showing up to have a say in what amounts to millions of dollars in budgetary considerations for the town moving forward.

Town council has voiced its frustration in the lack of participation in various open houses over the years that the town has hosted on several initiatives, only to see very poor to nonexistent participation from the public, despite ample promotion of such events.

The Times has certainly shared in the same frustration, writing numerous promotion articles of the open houses along with town advertising, only to see the fruits of their labour turn sour on what seems to be, at least on the surface, a degree of apathy among the public.

The town encountered the same apathy at an open house held back in May seeking input into the town’s municipal development plan, only to see a Times reporter and government officials show up to the event.

A pattern has seemed to form over the years for a lack of public participation at various open houses hosted by the Town of Taber seeking public input into how the town is run.

There are several theories floating around to explain this phenomena. One has been by Mayor Henk DeVlieger noting the lack of public participation could mean residents are happy with how the town is being run. Another theory by more glass-is-half-empty residents is even if residents gave input, that input would not be followed by politicians anyway. A third theory is the issues being brought forth at some open houses simply have not galvanized a public’s interest enough for them to participate.

The public has gone out to attend open forums issues involving the town’s recycling initiative, the splitting of the Town of Taber/M.D. of Taber fire service, the Community Standards Bylaw information session and the road funding dispute between the M.D. and the town towards a 50mm asphalt overlay of 50th Street between 64th Avenue and 80th Avenue in recent months.

Likely for the reasoning can be seen with a little bit from all three columns in ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’.

But for those complaining that town council would not listen to a resident’s input with concrete follow-up action anyway, and they have never attended a public forum in their life or approached council to voice a concern in council chambers, that argument falls on deaf ears. One does not know if council will not listen to its voters if the voters never make any effort in talking about their concerns.

The input process of the Recreation Master Plan has shown the town and administration following some of the top priorities identified in public surveys. The process, at least on the recreation side, has shown it works.

We should feel privileged we live in a country that is afforded these avenues to express our given rights with democracy, a responsibility that should not be taken for granted and can easily be taken away as shown in history by more dictatorial regimes.
Regardless of how ho-hum an issue may seem to be on the surface, it is shocking that a town of nearly 8,400 residents, not to mention the surrounding M.D. of Taber residents that a town prerogative may affect, not one person shows up to an open house.

Something that has happened on numerous occasions over the years.

If not at the very least, even if a resident feels they do not need input into a topic, they could use it as a part of an education process with how their town is run. An educated voting public makes for a better public in general.

This is a town we raise our families in, educate our children and tend to our elderly, do commerce in, share laughs with friends and enjoy numerous forms of recreation.

These are the roots from which all of us grow, we should all take a greater interest in how those roots are watered.

We live in a democracy, let us enjoy those privileges to the best of our ability. The Town of Taber will be better for it.

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