Mob rule doesn’t work

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Richard Rolke takes issue with tone of anti-smart meter group

Living in a democracy means you can speak freely and openly question elected officials. But it doesn’t give you the right to be rude.

That was the case, though, when a majority of Vernon council decided Monday it needs to hear B.C. Hydro’s position before contemplating a ban on smart meters or asking the utility to allow residents to refuse the installation of the devices in their homes.

Members of Citizens for Safe Technology, which requested a prohibition on meters March 12,  weren’t satisfied and they made that fact known. They booed every time a councillor indicated the need to gather all of the relevant details.

One person attempted to enter into a back-and-forth debate with council but when it was pointed out that she had not applied to be a formal delegation and was out of order, she stormed out of the room.

The remaining 30 or so people in the gallery continued to thumb their noses at calls for decorum and that had the normally unflappable Mayor Rob Sawatzky flapping.

“Noise and heat does not make it true,” he fired back as the scene remained unruly.

Finally, once council had voted to defer all action until presentations from Hydro and the medical health officer, the crowd left — but not quietly. There were suggestions that city hall is undemocratic and residents are being ignored.

The very act of simply leaving city hall and huddling around the front door has now been described by some of them as a protest.

Perhaps what is most troubling about Monday’s situation is how a group of individuals felt it necessary to try and intimidate council, especially when B.C. Hydro’s critics have accused the corporation of intimidation over the installation of monitoring devices.

They cling to democratic principles in an attempt to express their concerns, which is admirable and obviously their right. But when it comes to those on the other side of the fence being treated in a similar fashion, they are shut down with boisterous  catcalls (can you imagine if council had only heard from Hydro but refused to accept a delegation from the members of Citizens for Safe Technology?).

In terms of having reasonable faith in the democratic system, citizens should hope elected officials are well informed so a thoughtful decision can be made. But for that to actually occur, the provision of information can’t be one-sided.

“We’re just trying to make thoughtful public policy and that’s what they should ask from us,” said Sawatzky, in an interview after the meeting.

It should be pointed out that no Vernon council members have spoken out in favour of  smart meters. In fact, the case against the devices may become even more clear once the politicians have heard from all sides.

The bottom line, though, is there are procedures to how meetings are held, whether it’s a Girl Guide unit, a church committee or, one would expect, the Citizens for Safe Technology.

The City of Vernon has very clear policies on how meetings operate, including who can speak and the behaviour expected of those observing proceedings. Without them, there would be absolute chaos and nothing would get done. It is a place of business — the people’s business — and it should be treated as such.

Council will ultimately have to take a stand on smart meters, but it will be interesting to see if the antics of a few unruly residents colour that decision.