Democracy is about a lot of things but mostly it’s about math. And persuasion
How good, or bad, your ideas are doesn’t really make any difference unless a majority of whatever body you are part of supports them, whether it’s the House of Commons, a provincial legislature, a school board or a city council. However many votes there are in that group, you need half of them plus one if you want to make the transition from theory to action.
That idea, one would think, is simple enough.
Just as important is when you have those votes. If there’s something you really want to achieve, you line up the votes to help it pass beforehand. If you can’t make that happen and it isn’t time-sensitive, you’re probably best to wait until later and see if you can convince someone who didn’t support your idea to change their mind. If it is something that has to be done now, you can give up, walk away and accept that you can’t make it happen. Or you can forge ahead, pray for a miracle and go down fighting. Usually, barring a miracle, the end result of each of these options is the same. Namely, nothing happens.
Councillor – until recently deputy mayor – Duncan Wong used the second approach at the June 7 council meeting and the council meeting before when he brought forward a motion to rescind a resolution approving the city’s 2021 financial plan and a bylaw to repeal the levy bylaw, which was passed at the same meeting as the financial plan, back on May 10.
There was much rhetoric and the exchange of many words, basically none of which were substantively different than when the financial plan and levy bylaw were approved, except on the part of those who opposed rescinding and repealing, who argued that doing this wouldn’t be in the best interests of anyone, as it would require the whole budget process to start anew, halfway through the year the budget is for.
And just like on May 10, when Wong and fellow councillors Jeff Fountain, Earl Colbourne and Les Ellsworth fought tooth and nail to prevent the budget from passing, they were outvoted. All the effort, all the words, meant nothing. Everything remained the same.
The wisdom of trying to enact policies on a wing and a prayer has been addressed in this space before. In 2019, a Thompson Citizen editorial characterized an attempt to amend the city’s pet bylaw, which went down to defeat at second reading, as a “big waste of time.” One of the few councillors who voted in favour of that bylaw change – Fountain – took exception to that characterization in a letter to the editor. It wasn’t a waste because it wasn’t a good cause, or something important to at least some people in the city, it was a waste of time because hours of time were spent drafting it and, in the end, nothing changed. For all the good that came of it, those hours could have been spent playing tiddlywinks or designing a perpetual motion machine. Without support, nothing else matters, not when it comes to effective politics.
That editorial stated “if you know you don’t have the votes to get something passed, you’re mostly playing politics, rather than putting efforts towards achieving an actual policy change.” It remains just as true today. Would it be nice if everyone voted according to their conscience on everything that came in front of them, whether at council, in the House of Commons or even the United States Congress? Possibly. Do any of those institutions work along those lines? No, they don’t and wishing something doesn’t make it so. Having the required number of votes just might, though.