Casda Thomas

Casda Thomas

The best decisions are made when people contribute

Former Smithers councillor encourages public engagement and participation

On Nov. 1, I attended the inaugural meeting of Smithers Town Council where our mayor and six councillors were sworn in as our representatives for the next four years.

It takes a lot of energy to run a campaign and we all benefit when folks come forward and present different ideas for us to consider. To all who put their names forward, thank you.

For those elected, now begins the task of governing. Participating in governance is rewarding and amazing — a true privilege. It’s also really hard work!

Taking on these roles means late-night meetings, endless reading, quick lunch-hour meetings and after-hours phone calls. It means regularly examining one’s values and sometimes staying awake at night considering whether a decision was the right one. It means making decisions in real-time on a live stream knowing whatever decision you make, it won’t please everyone.

In her inaugural speech, Mayor Atrill spoke to the new council about their shared role working together to meet the needs of the community. She spoke of their responsibility to listen and give each other’s perspectives careful consideration. She talked about healing wounds created over the past couple of years and of bringing people together.

I believe the folks we elected are highly capable of collaboration and good public discourse. I have faith they will work together to pursue solutions to the complex problems we face. I know they care about our community.

I encourage you to reach out to them, to ask questions. You can disagree with their decisions and do so without threats or personal attacks. These seven people will sit in public meetings with public agendas, live-streamed for all the public to see. It’s a necessarily exposed position. We can honour the risk they have taken by ensuring our discourse is focused on the issues, not them as people.

Our mayor also spoke of the need to address the many challenges and priorities that come from community members and land in our elected leaders’ laps. It is reasonable to expect that our representatives are responsive to our community.

We will have many expectations of council over the next four years. And we should. But what should we expect of ourselves?

After all, It is our collective responsibility to be engaged citizens. Public participation is a key function of democracy, and the very best decisions are made when people contribute to the process.

What does this look like in practice? In short, it looks like showing up and paying attention. I know this is easier said than done. I know few want to regularly read several-hundred-page agendas.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways we can get involved. We can participate in the Town’s formal engagement activities, sit on committees, be involved in community organizing, write letters, or attend council meetings. We can make a phone call, send an email.

We have a responsibility to ask questions and seek out accurate information before spreading our views on social media, at work or among our friends. We may have different opinions but starting with the same set of facts will mean we can focus on solutions.

On Nov. 1, I participated by being present and so did many others. Together we showed those who are elected that we will be there to support them with our presence and thoughtful contributions even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree.

We will come together ready for tough conversations, as caring and engaged citizens.

Want to join us?

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