EDITORIAL: Time for one last question?

There is a price for democracy.

It includes defending principles of inclusivity; the notion that, in our society, everyone’s voice deserves to be heard.

The price of democracy even means being prepared to tolerate lengthy meetings of our legislators – and tolerating diatribes from those we might not necessarily agree with.

If we are to respect the institution, we must, too, respect its forums.

This is why White Rock council’s decision this week to suspend its regular post-meeting question period comes across so badly.

Even if one finds a question foolish, fatuous, argumentative or wholly without foundation, one must still respect the right of the individual to voice it – albeit in a timely manner.

Any politician ought to be scrupulous in defending this right.

Indeed, the question period has often been a vehicle for familiar figures – among them former and aspiring politicians – to publicly agonize and gripe; for some to pose questions that are transparent ploys to shame or embarrass council or its bureaucrats; for others to make rhetorical statements that are not, strictly speaking, questions at all.

But – if we still hold to our egalitarian ideals – so be it.

What does sitting still for a few minutes once every two weeks cost our elected officials? A little discomfort? Perhaps. A little dignity? Maybe.

Any meeting chair worth his or her salt should be able to reject time-wasting non-questions and move on to someone with a more valid issue.

But this is not the first time White Rock council has acted to limit question period in both presence and principle. The thin end of the wedge was an earlier decision to not only push question period to the end of the meeting – after TV cameras are off – but to limit questions to items on that evening’s agenda. Why should the public questions be so restricted?

Mayor Wayne Baldwin and others suggest voters have many ways in which to ask questions of their city representatives. Perhaps, but nowhere else so public, except, possibly, on the page opposite. (And our letters page, however well read, offers no guarantee the questionee has been heard).

The opportunity to voice legitimate questions publicly – to exercise our democratic rights – must continue. After all, we don’t suspend elections merely because we think some voters will cast their ballots foolishly.


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