Transparency in government is a two-way street.
Governments have to be willing to give the public a say in the decision-making process. And just as importantly, people have to be willing to say something.
On Dec. 4, the Town of Hay River held a public consultation on its 2020 operations and maintenance budget, and its capital budget.
The mayor, four councillors and seven members of town administration gathered to hear the public input. As the meeting time neared, they glanced toward the clock on the wall and at the empty seats where residents should have been.
A representative of The Hub was there, but we don’t count. We would have been home watching the latest dramatic episode of ‘The Masked Singer’, except that Northern News Services pays us to go to such meetings.
Just before 7 p.m., one town resident walked into Town Hall. However, the firefighter and former councillor was there for one particular reason – to encourage the municipal government to finally settle the long-running issue of the Town of Hay River paying for highway rescue, which is a GNWT responsibility.
So it would be fair to say that no member of the public showed up to offer any specific comment on the 2020 budgets, even though the town was proposing a two per cent increase in property taxes. You would think that alone would have gotten a few people out to tell the town to tighten its belt to avoid any tax increase.
What are we to make of that?
Well, it could be that it was too cold outside. Or perhaps people were happy with what they’d heard about the budget. Or perhaps they thought it was too late in the process to change anything.
Perhaps more likely, residents just weren’t interested in attending, and will be more comfortable offering their opinions after the fact.
Of course, people usually can’t be criticized for failing to show up at a public meeting. Just like anything in a democratic society, that’s a personal decision.
And we would not be saying anything except for the fact that, over the years, we have heard an untold number of people complain about government decisions and almost invariably gripe that there is not enough public consultation. Meanwhile, demands for more government transparency pop up everywhere.
Yet, we have covered other public consultations or information sessions where we have been the lone person there, except for a group of government employees. Sometimes, two or three people might show up. Anything over a half-dozen is a very good crowd in Hay River.
Quite simply, the chorus of demands for more transparency and more consultations doesn’t match the number of people actually showing up when they have a chance to offer their opinions.
We can only imagine how council and administration really felt on Dec. 4 after taking the extra step to get people involved, and leaving town hall with almost nothing to show for it.
And we wonder what the mayor or a councillor will think when someone stops them in the grocery store to complain about the budget.