Process versus substance

A debate between with a question period for spectators would have been more likely to evoke facts

When Oak Bay’s mayor and council call a public meeting over a matter of public concern like the proposal to replace Oak Bay Lodge it is a surprise when the meeting takes the form of a group therapy session instead of a reasoned discussion.

The mayor announced that everyone who wanted to speak would have a turn at the microphone. Everyone else was to sit quietly until this was over.

The result of a process like this? No misstatements or confusions are corrected, arguments wildly beside the point are respectfully allowed at torpid length, several members of the same household each take a turn to make the same points repeatedly, powerpoint presentations of inordinate length and dubious relevance are permitted, ill-natured remarks are made unchecked, opinions about issues of no relevance whatsoever are expressed.

Did this assist our elected representatives to make a better informed decision? Or was it a way for them to avoid their responsibility to lead a discussion of the actual issues? What is the goal of such a process and is it worthwhile?

A debate between proponents and opponents with a question period for interested spectators would have been far more likely to evoke relevant facts and arguments and counter falsehoods.  If consultation is to be meaningful it must be more than an opportunity to vent.

The upcoming rewrite of the Official Community Plan will be contentious. Will the Oak Bay mayor and council meet this challenge with nothing but process? Will their expensive consultants insulate them from debate? In the absence of any official effort to winnow, to seek consensus, to engage meaningfully with the content of arguments, will most Oak Bay residents choose to avoid attending public meetings where expressions of anger, falsehoods, and insults are tolerated complacently but reasoned argument is unwelcome?

C.J. Murray

Oak Bay