Politics, whether at the federal, provincial or municipal level, is all about theatre. That’s not to say that politicians are not genuine. It’s just that what people say, and how they say it changes dramatically when they are in the public eye. At least in certain circumstances.
Take for instance this week’s council meeting. Council was asked to decide how the upcoming referendum for the proposed performing arts centre would be undertaken. Councillor Walsh felt the $28,000 cost for electronic vote counting machines was too much. He proposed the more labour intensive though slower method of paper ballots be used. He got two other councillors, Cavers and Lange, to agree, but the remainder of council voted against him.
In opposing Walsh’s motion, Councillor Christian stated a manual count was ‘a disservice to democracy in this city.’ Pure theatre. Invoking ‘disservice to democracy’ if paper ballots were used invokes images of voter fraud. In 1995, a Philadelphia paper wrote an editorial about ‘disservice to democracy.’ They were talking about possible election fraud in their municipal elections because of voting by out of town voters, the dead and the exploitable, as well as double voting.
Truth be told, the city has a very strong legislative services department which is very well experienced in conducting elections. There might have been inconvenience, additional costs (or not), and slower service if paper ballots were used, but I doubt that democracy would have been ‘disserved.’
By invoking ‘disservice to democracy’ Councillor Christian elicited many thoughts and memories. In 1960, John F Kennedy said ‘Those who would cripple collective bargaining do a disservice to democracy.’ In 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said ‘I’ve been in many debates that I think were a disservice to democracy.’ Numerous other politicians and reporters have used the term as well. Kudos to Christian for being so well read.
Council meetings are theatre, and sometimes they are light-hearted theatre as well. That is the only explanation why one of the favourite days of the year is ‘Kitten Day’ when the SPCA brings a handful of kittens to council chambers. This week, when the kittens visited, was no exception. Councillors vied for the felines’ attention. You know that it’s theatre when the mayor and council happily put on cat ears and tweeted out photos. Politicians are not above poking fun at themselves.
Mayor and councillors may use famous quotes to make a point, or wear cat ears to break the tension of a long meeting. It’s all part of being a politician.
Some things mayors and council do aren’t theatre though. The mayor and council represent the city in many, many events. When they do, they are there making sure community members know they are valued and appreciated. They go to community events to show respect and reverence.
What a sad, sad day this Wednesday must have been for the mayor and council in the City of Edmonton attending Const. Daniel Woodall’s funeral. This or any other community event is where the theatre is put aside. It’s where politicians aren’t putting on a show. RIP Const. Woodall.
— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.