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COMMENTARY · 3rd January 2012
Merv Ritchie
Sometimes it simply does not matter what a writer writes. Some people will love it and others will hate it. The important thing about writing is conveying ideas and information so the readers engage in the concepts. Journalists, those who write about political and social affairs face the most difficult criticism. In todayís world of politics there are generally two very strong and stridently opposing sides. It is this polarized environment news reporters face everyday. Being objective is always a struggle, especially when most reporters understand the depth of the issue in much greater detail than most of the public.

In the tiny hamlet of Terrace, BC, one can encounter any number of people on the streets and in the coffee shops arguing and debating the current issues of the day. Whether it be about the way the City is run, the positions the City takes on issues, the economy of the region, the potential new developments, industrial projects or on the numerous City run organizations such as the Tourism or the Economic Development Board. (Today it is snow clearing or the lack of) It is the same in every community from Coast to Coast. The coffee counters and bar rooms become almost debate central. Sometimes the arguments get out of control but generally people are respectful offering criticism on almost every political organization. Some refer to these as "Bitch Sessions"; where people get the opportunity to complain like it is a free for all sport.

As a reporter it can be very frustrating to watch these debates. Observing people argue about City Hall and the Regional District is laughable. So is watching most of those who put their names forward to run for a Council position, either Mayor or Councillor. In September of 2007 long time Councillor Rich McDaniel passed away and Terrace held a by-election to fill the now vacant seat in the Council Chambers. Seven residents put their names on the ballot for the vote. None had ever attended to simply observe any council meeting in the previous two years. Only at a meeting just prior to the election did any of them come and see just what they were running to engage in.

The same thing happened this last full Municipal election; a full slate of new hopefuls with not one having attended simply to observe a meeting. They all offered their ideas, plans and concepts of how they would like the City changed or the programs they would like to see implemented but not one had come and attended to see how the Council and City actually worked.

This identical problem can be seen at the coffee klatches and bar rooms across the country, people bitching and wanting to change something they havenít the first inclination to really understand.

Claiming to watch the proceedings is almost certainly a lie as Council has not been broadcast on TV for years now and the live broadcasts via the internet barely reach a dozen viewers and my home and the City itself account for at least two of these viewers.

The tragedy of this is the political masters know it. They know the general public havenít a clue how the political process works; City, Regionally, Provincial or Federal. This goes for the First Nations communities as well. It is why the Gitxsan are in such turmoil with the GTS and Elmer Derrick, no one gets involved. It is the political players, those who know how it all works and how nobody else really does, that pull all the strings, manipulate the public and get their plans pushed through against the real best interests of the general population.

Freedom and Democracy takes work. Just like the falling snow in the winter, you must go outside, pick up your shovel and clear the path. If you donít do this most basic of tasks soon you will be stuck behind a wall of snow maybe even unable to open your door. You will be stuck as if behind the Berlin Wall or in a jail, simply because you didnít take the time to do a small uncomfortable task every time it presented itself.

Every week there is a City Council meeting. Every second week they hold the formal meeting where bylaws are passed and motions are heard. On the off weeks an informal meeting is held called the Committee of the Whole. Once every month a Regional District Meeting is held. It is at these Regional meetings where all types of local, provincial and federal plans and programs can be discovered. And again, at these meetings more laws get passed.

It is how we are able to write knowledgably about many of the pipeline and power issues. They discuss mining plans, resort developments, recreation opportunities and so much more at these meetings.

You only discover most of these issues long after they have been approved and implemented, long after your voice could be heard. One might argue that it is the Medias job to bring these issues to attention. Today the main stream media (MSM) has only one job and that job is to make money.

This January, 2012, it has been six years that we have been involved in the media in this region. We are completely independent, serving no corporate entity and are the only media who regularly attends the Regional District meetings. We could count on one hand the number of times we have seen any other media attend in 5 years.

The same goes for the general public. In the six years we have been attending both City Council and the Regional District the amount of people attending these public political open meetings has become the standing joke for the Councillors, Mayors and Directors.

"Do we have any comments from the audience?" the Mayor will call out to an empty room. This goes for our current Mayor, Pernarowski, and our previous Mayor, Talstra. Both have made identical comments.

When we write about something we have observed, the words attempt to fill in the void of understanding. As we sit and listen to every meeting we gain an appreciation of the most obscure nuances. Sometimes we miss elucidating on a particular detail. At other times we provoke a reaction by adding a particular detail. And at all times we are attempting to get the reader engaged. We believe it is our role to do what ever it takes, save breaking the law, to get the general public to become actively involved in the affairs of the City.

So hate what we write or love it, our single dream, our entire motivation is to get the reader to pick up his or her shovel and come to Council every week, or to the Regional District meetings once a month and help us clear a path to a better community.

This could be the News Years resolution of all New Years resolution. Even one person attending a meeting regularly from start to finish would be an outrageous development. The last time one person stayed to the end of a Council meeting our Mayor actually addressed him directly in a quizzical state. It was so unusual he felt the need to ask why he was there.

So next time you are sipping on your coffee or tipping up your mug of spirits and someone is bitching about the City or the Regional District remember this; they likely have no clue. If they really wanted to do or change something all they would need to do is attend a meeting and talk to the Councillors. It is that simple. Maybe we all just feel better after complaining, regardless of how foolish we sound.

As has been said by greater men, democracy is hard work, work at it or lose it. Talking is easy and complaining is even worse, it is counter productive.

So, at every meeting the Mayor asks, "Do we have any comments from the audience?" How about making this your personal New Years Resolution. It is not too late to make one. Attend every meeting and push your elected representatives to address the real concerns of the community, your concerns. And snow clearing should be at the bottom of the list, you live in Terrace for Gods sake! It snows here and this past week was simply normal . . . extreme weather is the norm.
Social Media - Councillors
Comment by Commonsense on 13th January 2012
Good points about the facebook sites. Marylin Davies also has one at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Marylin-Davies-Terrace-City-Councillor/205638539506634
City of Terrace Talk Back Line
Comment by Stacey Tyers on 4th January 2012
City of Terrace Talkback Line: (250) 638-4778

A message can be left with concerns, suggestions, complaints etc...
Social Media
Comment by Sandy on 4th January 2012
Every elected group should have a Facebook group that people can voice their concerns, have debates and get a response. Dave's site has been busy. Most young people are not going to sit in a hot stuffy room unless they can bring their devices so they can check their facebook sites.
Old Quote
Comment by barryeng on 4th January 2012
I used to keep an old quote on the wall in my office saying: "A highly unfair way to assume control of any organization . . . is to attend every meeting".

Facetious maybe, but very true.
Yes to respect and no to Facebook
Comment by Merv Ritchie on 3rd January 2012
Yes Stacey, I have seen you at Council previously, but on issues you were attending on behalf of, not just to observe, which is the topic of the article. You more than any other however, likely knew what you were getting into.

And No Jenipher, a matter of safety is not snow clearing. If this is the only issue, like Shames Mountain, that gets one involved in politics we are no better than most Canadians who only paid attention to Federal politics when CBC was about to let Rick McLean and Don Cherry go.

If it isn't Hockey or UFC Canadians are unmotivated. Case in point, the Vancouver riots while the "Arab Spring" was in progress. Politically, being Canadian is an embarrasment.
Stacy was at Meetings
Comment by Moe Naguib on 3rd January 2012
Mostly Merv is right, attendance by the public is erratic and sparse. At the two meetings I attended during the last five or so years, one person who was there was indeed Stacy Tyers. She made well researched articulate presentations to the councilers of the day, you were there as well with your camera and note pads. There were a very few others there too, but they like myself were there for very specific reasons, not to listen to the general and varied topics under consideration. If something is very near and dear to peoples day to day lives, they may find the time to attend a municipal meeting, otherwise you're spot on.
I have to respectfully disagree
Comment by Stacey Tyers on 3rd January 2012
I have attended several council meetings over the past 5 years, prior to my decision to run. No, I didn't attend any immediately leading up to the election, but I have been to many and I watch them regularly online.
facebook
Comment by Jenipher on 3rd January 2012
I have been on the Mayors site on facebook and have started a discussion there. It's a matter of safety!!
Good point Merv.
Comment by Helmut Giesbrecht on 3rd January 2012
Three years from now when the next election is called the mess our streets are in now and the slow response in snow removal will be forgotten. Since all elected people are up at the same time and every three years, only the last year will be on the voters radar clear enough to make a difference. Democracy requires work but it is also not cheap. Elections that were held every year provided better accountability and at least half of the Council would be sensitive to the public's take on issues of the day.

Right now it is to their advantage to put folks to sleep. We are suppose to need a full-time paid Mayor but we can't afford good snow removal.