For­get old ideas about who's 'wor­thy' of pub­lic of­fice

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion -


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

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