The divide in the City of Surrey between civic leaders’ plans to build a road through Hawthorne Park and residents who want the North Surrey park to remain unscathed took an even odder twist this past week.
Yes, odder. Even after elected officials told presenters of a 5,000-name petition that they needed to gather 30,372 signatures to have any effect; even after Mayor Linda Hepner wrote a letter to the editor claiming misinformation (but basically reiterating what had largely already been reported); and even after city clerk Jane Sullivan issued a ‘request’ asking residents not to gather signatures on civic property or at civic events – you know, parks, squares and festivals, basically where one might find enough residents to fulfill council’s demand.
No, the oddest twist in the road – so far – came when Coun. Tom Gill, as acting mayor, was asked by the Surrey-Now Leader newspaper about the city clerk’s request, to which Gill responded that it was only a request; however, in discussing the issue, it seems Gill doesn’t value petitions as much as his voters might hope.
Gill recounted to reporter Tom Zytaruk that he’s had his own experiences in past where he’s “been approached by some very aggressive individuals (who) would not let me be until I signed the petition that I signed it, my intent was not to sign it, so that’s some re-occurring experience that I’ve had over the last decade I’ve been on council. That has to be factored in.”
Interesting revelation. An elected official acknowledges he has signed a petition – a formal written request that has been encouraged in democracies throughout the history of recorded time as the most efficient way the public, en masse, can have a say between elections – solely because of bullying tactics?
OK… but surely Gill doesn’t think his reaction is widespread.
“My experience tells me that there are many times when petitions go around that people are unaware, are in a hurry, they sign things just to be able to carry on with their business. That’s been a re-occuring theme over the last 10 years and I’ve heard a lot of people just trying to get out of a situation where they’re not being fully engaged, they’re being lobbied.”
Wonder if other elected officials discount petitions in the same way – in Surrey, in other cities and at other levels of government. If so, perhaps they would like to advise voters how our voices will be both heard and, more importantly, valued.