CFN – As we close in on 2014, we head into a municipal election year. For towns and cities across Ontario, there’s a lot at stake. For taxpayers, it’s the frustration of seeing tax increases year after year imposed by seemingly unaccountable politicians.
For politicians, it’s the classic battle between the tax-and-spend left and the fiscally conservative right, that often devolves into lunacy played out with kindergarten-like decorum in council chambers.
In a profession where our job is to create legislation to improve our communities, politics sometimes brings out the worst in our personalities in a most spectacularly public fashion.
Some of the tactics used to clamp down opposition and scrutiny should raise a red flag for all of us. I’ve learned this early in my career as a rookie Newmarket councillor.
After three years of challenging records and asking questions, the toxic atmosphere in council finally erupted with an unprecedented decision that has sparked outrage among many in our community. It began after I verbally apologized for calling the mayor a name in a council meeting last September during a heated argument. But council felt my apology wasn’t sincere enough. They wanted it in writing.
I refused because there is no stipulation in our code of conduct nor in parliamentary tradition that requires apologies be made in writing. I wasn’t going to abide by an ad hoc set of rules.
Council then decided to hire an integrity commissioner to investigate the issue. Council told taxpayers not to worry about the cost of the investigation. In fact, they requested I pay for it.
I was conflicted about writing a written apology because I was embarrassed by how silly things were becoming at council. Regardless, I e-mailed the mayor and the integrity commissioner, asking them to be available on the deadline date which council established for me to deliver a written apology. Neither responded.
(The integrity commissioner says she contacted Di Muccio about the council complaint, but never received a response.) Eventually council voted to suspend my pay for 30 days.
They made this decision just before Christmas, in one of the most bizarre council meetings I’ve ever attended, complete with what I felt to be coercion and bullying, and without allowing me the opportunity to speak with my lawyer.
Instead of basing their decision on whether I apologized, several members of council spoke about their disdain for social and traditional media being used as a tool for challenging their records.
A couple of them read out and complained about my tweets, apparently as justification for their decision to suspend my pay. I felt like I was sitting in a banana republic. Was it humiliating for me to witness? Yes. Is it an abuse of authority? I believe so. But am I running for the hills and never looking back? No. That’s the price one pays for challenging the status quo.
What happened to me is part of a deeper and alarming issue that’s happening in municipalities across Ontario to politicians who challenge the status quo. It’s a warning sign not to rock the boat.
Will Queen’s Park step in and right the ship? Not with the government of Premier Kathleen Wynne at the helm, not that they’re good role models for municipal politicians in any event.
The Ontario Liberals have had their heads in the sand on the sorry state of democracy at the municipal level for years. The sad result of people seeing their elected representatives bullied and marginalized is a general loss of faith in local government. So gear up for a year of battling it out.
Election time is coming in October, and we need to restore some faith back into the system — starting with accountability.