THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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Random Access BLOG - Mississauga News - Aug. 8, 2008 - By John Stewart on the notable and the absurd
That was a short, fascinating exchange at City council Wednesday between Mayor Hazel McCallion and Mayor-in-Waiting Carolyn Parrish about the powderkeg subject of public question period.
It was a topic fraught with tension even before Donald Barber's celebrated arrest for assault after a council meeting June 7, 2006, a charge which was later dropped by the Crown for lack of evidence. That event followed an animated exchange between Barber and council about changes made to council's long-standing open-podium policy.
Although it was made clear at the time that council's official policy on question period was always that questions should refer to specific topics on that day's agenda, council has reverted once again to the perfectly realistic practice which has prevailed for years — which is that citizens should be able to stand up and raise just about any topic under the sun.
It was after Barber made a lengthy presentation to council Wednesday that Parrish weighed into the mire.
She told him, and council, of her concerns that public question period is being abused by participants. She pointed out that Barber had exceeded his 10-minute time limit by about 15 minutes.
While he sometimes raises legitimate issues, Parrish said that his insulting manner and, in particular, his personal attacks on the integrity and reputation of specific staff members, were inappropriate.
Barely had those words emerged from the Ward 6 councillor's throat than none other than Mayor Hazel McCallion came to the defence of Barber, noting that there is a price to be paid for political accessibility. Politicians, "are paid well to sit there and to give citizens the opportunity to be heard," said the mayor.
Barber could barely believe it, I'm sure. The thought of the mayor he loves to castigate rushing to Barber's defence on a point of democratic principle must have made him weak at the knees.
The mayor, of course, has made the same points as Parrish did more than once in the past when various people have abused question period. It usually happens in the run-up to the municipal election when declared and undeclared candidates and their supporters rise on their haunches to try to embarrass the incumbents.
Trying to sort the wheat from the chaff in this entangled matter is a tricky business.
The rules of order are so rarely enforced on delegations that if you suddenly cracked down on them by limiting them to 10 minutes, it would certainly smack of personal discrimination.
You can't let a scheduled deputant who is theoretically limited to just 10 minutes of bluster, go on for half-an-hour and then turn around and expect Joe Citizen to follow the rules.
Parrish points out that she introduced the public question period when she chaired the Peel District School Board. But it was actually enforced, she points out, so that there were only questions permitted, not speeches.
It is far too late to try to impose such logic on council's question period.
Democracy is, by nature, a messy business and question period is the front door to the mayhem.
It has value for both citizens and politicians. You'd think elected officials would be anxious to maintain it because it provides the illusion of instant access to citizens while allowing politicians to pretty much maintain control of the agenda, since they always get the last word.
It is valuable for citizens because, if they know their stuff, they get the rare opportunity to stand up, and make real, direct points to politicians in a public forum where they can't just be shirked off.
As McCallion has said many times, Mississauga's is one of the very few big-city councils that affords the average citizen such a rare privilege.
Having said all that, the most important message to emerge from Wednesday's little contretemps and McCallion's instantaneous reaction to Parrish's comments is this: in case anyone hasn't figured it out yet, the mayor really, really, really doesn't want Parrish to be her successor.
Comments by others, 3, to this web-page;
#1 Submitted by The_Mississauga_Muse on Fri, 08/08/2008 - 20:18.
#2 Submitted by The_Mississauga_Muse on Sat, 08/09/2008 - 12:29.
I'm back, John and have composed myself now enough to comment. I'll address just one.
"Parrish said that his insulting manner and, in particular, his personal attacks on the integrity and reputation of specific staff members, were inappropriate."
Talk about Parrish posturing. I've been sending the Mayor and most of Council (including Parrish) numerous emails regarding what I've learned about specific staff members through Freedom of Information. Good Lord, I've even shared actual staff emails that got snared by Freedom of Information. Parrish sniffing about Barber's "personal attacks on the integrity and reputation of specific staff members, were inappropriate."
Excuse me, John
HEY COUNCILLOR PARRISH! I SENT MAYOR MCCALLION (CC'D TO YOU) AND ALL COUNCILLORS (AND EVEN SENIOR STAFF) EMAILS WHICH ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS GRANTED YOU THE AUTHORITY TO LOOK AT MY FREEDOM OF INFORMATION RESULTS (includes some choice staff emails revealing their Trust, Quality and Excellence, lady!) I EVEN OFFERED UP ALL MY PERSONAL INFORMATION SECURED THROUGH FOI --SO ELECTED OFFICIALS CAN SEE WHAT'S GOING ON!
I'm back now, John.
That Carolyn Parrish would sniff at The Donald that his "personal attacks on the integrity and reputation of specific staff members, were inappropriate." suggests one or more of the following:
1. Parrish isn't interested in facts and therefore didn't read the vast Freedom of Information "library" I offered McCallion et al to show them the inner workings of the Corporate (staff) bowels.
2. Parrish DID read my Freedom of Information materilal and is posturing for the public and what with elections drawing closer, merely sucking up to staff.
3. Parrish is using the MISSISSAUGASPEAK meaning of "inappropriate" (as in "inappropriate" -- for The Corporation, "inappropriate" for Staff.)
I emailed Donald Barber and asked him how many ema--EEEEEEEK! I just thought of sometihng! EEEEEEEK! (I hope that I'm not too late!)
Love ya, John! Laughing
#3 Submitted by Fayclis on Thu, 10/30/2008 - 23:49.
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