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Opening comments:  More at the end.

To the Public Question Period Index page.

The Westmount Examiner - April 7th 2009 - Editorial

Free speech taking beating in Pointe Claire

A bylaw amendment adopted by Pointe Claire city council Monday night will allow the mayor to slap residents who speak too long or ask too many questions during city-council question periods with fines starting at $300 for a first offence and rising all the way up to $2,000, depending on the severity of the transgression.

The modification to the existing bylaw allows speakers to ask two questions: one of the questions may have a preamble of no more than one minute and the second may have no preamble at all.  Pointe Claire Mayor Bill McMurchie defended the changes, saying that he didn't foresee ever having to use the fines as a way to get unruly speakers to quiet down adding that future mayors would probably do things the same way he has by being patient with question-period speakers and occasionally dancing around the topic (he admitted as much when being questioned about the new laws).  But what if they don't?  What if thin-skinned politicians finally decide that being derided by every Pointe Claire resident who has a legitimate gripe is not as much fun as they thought and suddenly decide to start levying fines left, right and centre?

It's not as far-fetched as McMurchie may think.  Starting to create laws and saying 'we don't plan on enforcing them, so don't worry about it,' makes people nervous, especially when it comes to their inalienable right to express themselves to their elected officials.

Mayors and councillors, you got into politics of your own volition.  As hockey referees, baseball umpires and newspaper reporters and editors all know, when you go looking for that job in the public eye, you've got to expect the certain amount of criticism that will come along with it.

Question period can be a tedious time, and last night's Pointe Claire question period clocked in at just over an hour but tedious is better than no question period time at all, or even a snipped, sanitized version of question period.

The new fines are an affront to democracy and shouldn't even have been allowed to see the light of day, no matter how much McMurchie assures the public that it will not have to be enforced.  If there is no need for this law, then why was it passed?

McMurchie denied the new rules were a reaction to troublesome question-period speakers who use the open microphone as a soapbox for personal agendas, but to use a question from Old West, why have bullets in the gun when you don't plan on using them?

City councils have long sought to restore levels of civility to question periods, and laws allowing them to fine unruly speakers might prove too tempting. Here's hoping Pointe Claire comes to its senses before everybody else starts following suit.

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