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Silence of the lambs?

McThoughts by John McPhee

South Bruce council looks like it might be taking a page out of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s playbook – allow only one voice to be heard in public and keep any disagreement out of the media.

Looks like South Bruce is going to create a communications policy that, in essence could be seen as a gag-order ruling.

Councillors will be allowed to speak to an issue, but only as private citizens.

The united front approach (solidarity forever!) might make for the appearance of a happier, more productive team, but from my near 20-year experience, most local politicians don’t like to be turned into Stepford Wives. (Well, OK, excluding the back benchers at the provincial and federal level where it takes mavericks like former Huron-Bruce MP Paul Steckle or former Bruce-Grey Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch to sound off when their party does something wrong.)

But at the local level, disagreement can be a good thing and can serve a purpose of not allowing controversial issues from being steamrolled through. It can also bring public awareness to issues that might otherwise get swept under without someone speaking up.

I’ve covered councils in the past where you just knew they discussed issues and worked out details before open council. One year covering Hanover council my reporter and I kept track of when a motion was defeated. None were.

That makes for very boring and slow news kind of council meetings – which I’m sure councils prefer. But it does not serve the public.

Granted, if a councillor disagrees with the majority, he/she shouldn’t actually try to sabotage the plan or the process, but being an outspoken critic is healthy and should be encouraged, not silenced.

When I see policies such as this in governments or organizations, it makes me wonder what the administration is afraid of – the truth?

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