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LETTER: Brechin byelection debate 'unhelpful for many voters'

'Is it possible that the organizing committee wanted to limit awareness, attendance and participation because of contentious water and sewer rate issues,' asks reader
From left: Marg Sharpe, Joe Gough and Richard Black each hope to secure the vacant Ramara Ward 4 council seat in an upcoming byelection

OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected] or via the website. Please include your full name, daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in response to the Ramara Ward 4 byelection debate at the Brechin Legion last week.

Thanks to the Robert L. Bowles Nature Centre, Brechin Legion and volunteers who facilitated the event.

Special thanks; to candidates Richard Black, Joe Gough, and Marg Sharpe for putting themselves forward as candidates. This is not a small commitment.

Three months before the meeting, on Jan. 29 the byelection bylaw was passed. However, the Brechin organizing committee was unable to set and keep a date that would give interested voters even two weeks’ notice.

The event was scheduled for May 1 then cancelled, then resurrected, and advertised five days before the May 6 meeting. Considering that short notice given, Ward 4 cottage owners living in the GTA could not attend in person. They were deliberately excluded from participating in an important meeting they may have wanted to participate in by an arbitrary, unfair, and unreasonable decision that prohibited recording or “live streaming.” Is it possible that the organizing committee wanted to limit awareness, attendance and participation because of contentious water and sewer rate issues?

Attendance at the event was disappointing. There were fewer than 30 in the audience. The Brechin Legion All Candidates Meeting was unhelpful for many voters, especially those who could not attend.

The evening’s format begs comparison to the lively, interesting event held at the Bayshore Hayloft. Bayshore had a great Moderator in Joey Torchoi. Bayshore had an engaged well-behaved audience of more than 150 people. Attendees with questions walked up to the microphone, faced candidates, and asked a question. This format allowed follow-up questions from the audience.

At the Brechin Legion, attendees were told to write their questions on slips of paper and hand them in before 7:30 p.m. No questions were accepted after that time. Then the moderator read anonymous questions to the candidates. Candidates were permitted two-minute responses and were admonished by an officious uniformed “Sargeant at Arms” for mentioning or engaging with other candidates. As a result, the Brechin all-candidates meeting was not worth the time spent.

At the beginning, attendees were told that the nameless “organizing committee” felt a Sargeant at Arms was needed to maintain order and decorum at the Brechin event. At that time, the Bayshore event was characterized as raucous with unruly behaviuors.

We were introduced to Sargeant-at-Arms, Dann Oliver, wearing what seemed like a mash up of Canadian and American Legion dress, a name badge that identified Dann Oliver as member of American Legion Post 125, from Gulfport Florida with a maple leaf on his left shoulder. Was “Sargeant Dann” out of uniform in two countries at the same time?

To start off his enforcer role, “Sargeant Dann” told 25 or so astonished attendees that there would be:

  • No use of cellphones;
  • No recording or streaming of audio or video, and
  • Attendees who broke rules would be ejected from the meeting!

When questioned about the justification for no recording or live streaming right after the announcement, Sargeant Dann’s excuse was to protect the privacy of on-site attendees. Sargeant Dann faced with a challenge of managing a potentially unruly crowd of less than 30 interested residents, did his best to maintain order while also protecting the privacy of only two individuals who objected to being recorded. During the event Sergeant Dann patrolled the room then approached me and asked if I was recording the event.

We need to ensure that we have alternatives to the “pablum politics” dished out by the anonymous organizers of this event and Sergeant Dann. It is noteworthy that Sargeant Dann and fellow directors from the Ramara Chamber of Commerce were responsible for the non-recorded, non-live streamed meetings the Chamber hosted during Ramara’s 2022 general election.

Ramara voters must make certain that for our 2026 election we have alternatives to 2022’s non-recorded, non-broadcast all-candidates meetings. To prevent a repeat of tonight’s and 2022 meetings, future candidates must work to make certain that we have meetings that will engage voters and encourage them to actively participate and make informed decisions in Ramara’s next general election.

At the end of the meeting, I approached Sargeant Dann and asked why the organizers wanted to exclude those who were unable to attend in person. He offered no answer. I suggested if virtual presence was good enough for Township of Ramara’s official meetings it was surely good enough for an all-candidates meeting in Ramara.

“This meeting is being streamed live on the Township of Ramara YouTube Channel. Be advised that by attending a public meeting of the Council of the Township of Ramara you are consenting to your image, voice and comments being recorded. The Chair, CAO and/or Clerk have the discretion and authority to terminate or interrupt the live streaming in exceptional circumstances where the content of debate is considered inappropriate to be published.”

I suggested that if desired, the organizers could have used the above disclosure used by Ramara at all official meetings rather than exclude citizens as this meeting had blatantly and purposefully did.

It might have been better if the Brechin event had not taken place. Candidates and voters should not be subjected to demeaning meetings adhering to the restrictive format used at the Brechin Legion meeting and meetings held during Ramara’s 2022 general election.

Let’s ask the candidates which format and event that each of them preferred?

Ken Jennings
Ramara Township