“Audi Alteram Partem”
May 25, 2017
Turning Parliament Inside Out is a recently published book on practical ideas for reforming Canada’s democracy. The book comprises eight essays authored by current backbench Members of Parliament from the Liberal, Conservative, New Democratic, and the Green parties. It opens with three forewords contributed by Ed Broadbent, Preston Manning and Bob Rae.
I was galvanized by what these MPs had to say and wanted to write a column on their thoughts. My problem was that Terrace Standard offers column space to local writers not for book reviews, but for topics of interest to the community. I searched in vain for a compromise, a way to write about the book in the context of a community issue. The solution to my problem came in the form of a front page article in the May 24 Terrace Standard.
The bickering among local politicians about the form, content, and location of a Welcome to Terrace sign goes to the heart of the ideas presented by these eight MPs and the introduction to their book by three elders of Canadian politics. Ed Broadbent writes about the need for “Citizens to be actively engaged”. Preston Manning calls for “Changes in our attitudes”. Bob Rae notes that “An excessive partisanship is what Canadians see. And they don’t like it”.
There was the connection to the Welcome to Terrace sign dispute. The time has come to ditch excessive partisanship, to change our attitudes, and to actively engage citizens.
Our region is home to a rich and diverse artistic community. Why not invite our artists and challenge them to design a Welcome sign that embraces Thornhill, Terrace and the many nearby settlements in Electoral Area C? I believe that our artists could create a sign to extend a warm welcome to visitors; a sign to reflect our all-embracing community and not just the limited territory of narrowly defined local government jurisdictions.
Our community is home to several organizations with the skill and capacity to establish a Community Sign Task Force. This task force could be charged with the responsibility of organizing a welcome sign design contest. It would have to write terms of reference for the design of a welcome sign including, for example, general specifications on maximum or minimum overall size. The terms of reference should allow for submissions by individual artists or groups. It should establish a deadline for the submission of designs.
The Task Force could develop a scheme by which citizens in the region could voice their preferences on the submitted designs. If we were to embark on a process along these lines we would eventually find ourselves with a sign designed by local artists and endorsed by the residents in our broader community.
Once that point has been reached, the organizations who cooperated in establishing the Task Force could jointly present the work to City Council and the Regional District with a proposal to provide the necessary funding to construct and install four identical Welcome signs: two for Highway 16 and one each for Highway 37 and the Nisga’a Highway. Let the City and the Regional District deal with the political argument as to which government should pay what share of the total cost.
This brings me back to the ideas presented in the book. We could provide backbench MPs – and MLAs – with an example of how lingering issues that confront political leaders stuck in their respective jurisdictional ruts can be resolved by engaging the citizens who will be most affected by the solution to the problem. The subtitle of the book is Practical Ideas for Reforming Canada’s Democracy. Citizens of Terrace, Thornhill and nearby settlements could use the Welcome sign dispute to show the authors that their ideas are being taken to heart.