Dissent and debate are healthy for our democracy
In the two years that I have been covering Victoria County Council meetings, I recall one vote where the tally was not unanimous. It was a 2016 meeting at which Former District 2 Councillor Athol Grant made a motion that was defeated 5-2.
Before and since that moment, I have witnessed complete and utter unanimity in the voting process. That does not mean I have always witnessed complete agreement amongst Councillors.
On Nov. 14, Council took up a request by the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS) to write a letter to the Chronicle Herald in support of its position on the province’s protected areas plan.
In considering the request, District 5 Councillor Fraser Patterson gave a spirited defence of protected lands and the county’s need to maintain unfettered landscapes in support of our tourism industry. He also alluded to potential environmental threats from mining activity and the disposal of byproducts in our waterways.
District 1 Councillor Paul Macneil then took the opportunity to remind council of the economic benefits that the county enjoyed during the long hay day of the Little Narrows Gypsum operation.
Just when things appeared to be getting interesting with a rebuttal forming from Patterson, Warden Morrison stepped in to end the debate. To be fair, Morrison appeared to be acting procedurally in reminding council that the task at hand was a decision on a request, not an open debate on the virtues of protected lands. However, with a light agenda in front of them, what better time to allow an open discussion on the pros and cons of protected lands? To date, Council is on record as vocally opposing any additional land being designated for conservation. At the Nov. 14 meeting, Council ended debate, agreed it was not their hill to die on, and unanimously passed a motion to table the request indefinitely.
In a political era where dissent and a ‘with us or against us’ mentality feels like the new norm, it is comforting to see a Council working so cooperatively. However, let us not forget the benefits of dissent and debate to our democracy. They ensure as many perspectives as possible are being considered before taking action. When a split outcome arises, it should not be cause for concern that our representatives cannot get along. Rather, it demonstrates true representation of the people. If, as citizens, we are content with a string of uncontested votes no matter the issue at hand, why have eight separate councillors to represent our voices?