The voters’ wake-up call

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Jul 27, 2014 Comments Off Denise Helmer-Johnston

The current issues surrounding the diminishing tree coverage in Chatham-Kent are only the beginning of several very difficult choices we will need to make in this community (and surrounding communities) in regard to our environment. If we look at the current divisions that have occurred in Chatham-Kent as a result of the clash of priorities between those who wish to protect the environment and those who wish to protect the interests of the individual, we could say that CK has been through a rough patch as a community.

As rough as all of this seems, however, there is a need for all of us to be prepared for what may be next. The issues could get much more complicated. Wait until industries with very deep pockets enter into the picture. Wait until industries make plans that compromise our environment while making promises to bring wealth and economic development to this area. That is when the divisions grow even deeper. That is when community members fall into battles from which they don’t recover.

I spend my summers in a small fishing village in Nova Scotia. I have a front-row seat to a cluster of fish farms just off shore from my cottage. Everyone will agree that fish farms are controversial. These ones were no different. The promise of jobs, in an area that is far more economically depressed than Chatham-Kent, tore that community in two. The scars are obvious as I listen to the different sides share their stories. One finds it difficult to argue with the mother and grandmother who just wants to see jobs created that may keep her children employed and her grandchildren local. She sees the immediate results. At the same time, can one argue with the local fisherman who just wants to see his bay remain safe, sustainable, and biologically diverse? He fears the long-term consequences.  That fight was fierce and, in the end, industry, with all of its promises, won the battle.

There will come a time when we, the citizens of Chatham-Kent, will also need to choose in an equally fierce fight—one perhaps more tenuous than the current tree policy/by-law debate. That choice will not be easy for many people.  Like the current situation, there will be a need to balance the immediate needs of the citizens who vote today with the future needs of children not yet born. Each of these moments will be moments when citizens will be forced to evaluate their priorities.

Whatever happens, we need to be prepared for what is ahead. We need to be prepared as a community to take these issues on and to think about the generations who will follow us. Those of you who live outside our community should also take note of the situation here. Right now, we are not ready to tackle these issues. In truth, our council is paralyzed, narrow-minded, and unmotivated to make difficult decisions that may cause discontent with voters, neighbours, and friends. That kind of a councilor has to be a councilor of the past.

In the end, however, we need to put some of the blame on ourselves. How engaged have we been as citizens? How much did we pay attention to local politics? What did we really know about that man or woman who we put into the council chair? Did we vote at all? This first round, the tree policy/by-law round, is only the beginning, but it better also be our wake-up call. We need to pay closer attention to municipal politics. We need to understand that it does matter who sits in those seats. In the end, we need to choose people who will weigh options, who will be open-minded, who will actually read the literature, and who will make important decisions for a future southwestern Ontario.

We may rightfully complain that this council has condemned our children by moving slowly and ineffectively but let’s be honest with ourselves. Did we know much about the people for whom we were voting in the last election and did we ask of them the tough questions we should have when they were merely candidates? This is a moment for each of us to learn a lesson.


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