The sanctions recently imposed by Rocky View County (RVC) council as a whole on three of its members are entirely appropriate – probably long overdue – and should be applauded. The nonsensical verbiage about “tyranny of the majority” and “stifling of free speech” is just that – nonsense. It needs to be noted that, when these individuals and their predictable opinions were generally supported by past council majorities, we heard no complaints about “tyranny.”
One wonders if these councillors, even as was all too clearly the case with former offenders, do not understand their job, once elected, is to represent the diverse interest of all their constituents, not exclusively those of a particular group of extremists.
No one is disputing that spirited, even heated debate, complete sometimes with robustly contentious language, is a time-honoured and indeed critical component of healthy democratic discourse. No one could accuse Winston Churchill of timidity or excessive political correctness. But, there is a clear difference between legitimately vigorous argument and the kind of personal insult, invective and innuendo that descend into slander, character assassination and libel.
Certain members of past councils began crossing this line on a regular basis, found this behaviour effective, and for far too long, got away with it. In an attempt to address this unfortunate situation, a Code of Conduct was established, which – as has been exhaustively pointed out – these three councillors agreed to uphold. Since the adoption of the policy, there have been times when, in heated moments, certain other councillors have come close to, or have violated this standard. They have apologized, as these three have been invited to do.
Beyond the question of exactly where free speech ends and verbal abuse begins – which, as said, is not a particularly difficult question to answer – is the fact that this is not even the central transgression for which these sanctions have been – rightly – applied. As has also been very clearly articulated, it is, to use the ubiquitous vernacular for such actions, the “leaking” of confidential material that constitutes the core offence. This is unambiguous and unacceptable, convoluted and tortuous arguments to the contrary notwithstanding.
Council took an action that needed to be taken. When a climate of civility and respect – for both persons and process – prevails, debate that actually has a chance of changing opinions and fostering creative solutions and workable compromises can flourish. An atmosphere of incivility and disrespect, on the other hand, is exactly what produces an “us versus them” mentality, and soon shuts down productive discussion. When parameters of reason and common courtesy are upheld, what and who constitute the “majority” and “minority” tend to shift with the specific issues at hand. The alternative is the rigid and irrational factionalism that we see far too much of on the world stage. We do not need to see any more of this in RVC.
Yet again, this council has shown courage.