Acclaimed candidates 1, local citizens 0

One would have expected a little more grace at a recent Mapleton council meeting, rather than the pompous response given to a $135 request.

The fledgling Mapleton Chamber of Commerce is hosting a candidate night for this fall’s municipal election. On behalf of the group, Gina Dobben made a request of council to dispense with the $135 hall rental fee. As she noted, a candidate night isn’t a money-making exercise, but rather a function for the community.

Of course, this isn’t a one-off, Mapleton-only event.

Candidate nights are being held all over Wellington county. Chambers of Commerce and service clubs typically organize and host these evenings to give candidates exposure and the public a chance to make an informed choice.

A quick canvas in the Newsroom here suggested different customs for payment are found across the board.

In Centre Wellington, its chamber rents two Legion facilities due to size of venue needed. Guelph-Eramosa uses township facilities which we believe to be rent-free to the conveners. Minto also appears to have no fees, qualifying such a night as a “community event.” Other places have other traditions.

Residents and the candidates themselves owe a debt of gratitude to groups willing to host such an event. Great time is spent setting up the program and making sure the event runs smoothly and fairly for all concerned.

Arguably, candidate nights qualify as the most important citizen activity residents can attend because the choices that emerge from such events determine the composition of council and the future of the municipality for the next four years.

While confirming some information for this column, one mayor we spoke with was in a bit of disbelief that municipalities would go out of their way to make things difficult for such volunteer efforts. He wondered aloud what would happen if no one stepped forward to give residents a public venue to debate and learn about all candidates. Like lots of things in life, people don’t know what they may miss until it is gone. That is a startling thought.

This past summer councillors from Wellington attended the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference. A presentation of results from Nanos Research identified that municipal government has slipped significantly over the last four-year term, in terms of the public’s perception of its responsiveness to their needs. During the same time frame the federal and provincial governments have improved their scoring. This suggests to us that the level of government often thought of as the most accessible and responsive to citizens, is growing indifferent and flippant.

Perhaps the departing member of Mapleton council and the two acclaimed candidates who voted to still charge $135 would appear to be in keeping with their times. Policies, regardless of what common sense would suggest, trump consideration of the greater good in cases that show up from time to time.

Councillor Dennis Craven on the other hand, who is also acclaimed, cast the lone vote to support the chamber’s request. He is also old school, from a time when volunteerism and community betterment were considered priceless and worth supporting.

No wonder people worry for democracy and the future.