Forget old ideas about who's 'worthy' of public office
RE: NEW COUNCIL, NEW CONCERNS FROM FORMER MAYOR, LETTER, DEC. 4
Much could be said in reply to Paul Ayotte's letter of Dec. 4, but I will limit myself to his reference to Edmund Burke's claim that "the duty of an elected person is not simply to communicate the wishes of the
electorate but also to use their own judgement in the exercise of their powers, even if their views are not reflective of those of a majority of voters."
Burke, writing in the late 18th century, was a member of what was later called the Unreformed House of Commons. As Wikipedia put it, "[t]he House of Commons consisted entirely of men, mostly of substantial property, and since 1688 entirely of Anglicans, except in Scotland. Women could neither vote nor stand for election. Members of Parliament were not paid, which meant that only men of wealth could serve. Candidates had to be electors, which meant that in most places they had to have substantial property, usually in the form of land."
A contemporary, James Mill (father of John Stuart Mill), was alarmed by the shameless patronage and corruption in the House, but was convinced that no larger set of concerns needed to be considered in representation than those of men of substance, excluding those whose interests could be safely included (women and children, with the age of 40 being Mill's preferred boundary between minority and majority). Catholics did not have the right to vote and were excluded from office until 1829.
We have moved beyond the 18th-century conception of who could be judged worthy to participate in politics and make policy decisions.
It strikes me that at least one of the concerns expressed by the electors in our recent municipal election was the perception that a narrow majority of "men of substance" had been conspicuously and flagrantly indifferent to the wishes of some of their constituents. The election produced a set of candidates who were committed to a fresh look at long-standing policy issues within the city.
Since we do, in fact, have a representative government, I would encourage Mr. Ayotte and others to allow members of council, new and old, to open the debate and start making the "tough decisions" before judging their qualifications and performance. Jim Driscoll, Huron Street