Imagine, if just for a moment, an op/ed writer beginning a column with a headline that states, Local Politicians Get It Right. Impossible you would shout. Politicians never get it right. Or do they?
A case in point: Every politician I have ever met has promised openness and transparency. We’ve all heard it, we’ve all rolled our eyes in exasperated disbelief and we’ve all dismissed the promise as nothing more than a lie that is guaranteed to go nowhere.
Yet here in Port McNeill, along with its two neighbours, Port Hardy and Port Alice, municipal politicians seem – at least on occasion – to have this uncanny habit of getting things right.
I was thinking about this, a couple of nights ago. I was driving home along a deserted stretch of fog shrouded highway, and half expected Rod Serling of the Twilight Zone to step out of the mist, onto the side of the highway and in that familiar voice begin, “I submit for your consideration”.
He’d go on to explain how these three mysterious towns on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, have delivered on the promise of transparency. Then with that Rod Serling look, he’d half smile and explain that like all good ideas, it turned out to be so simple.
What is this bold yet uncomplicated act of transparency? So glad you asked, as it’s as simple and as easy as releasing a complete copy of the town’s monthly cheque registers.
This document, the equivalent of a complete accounts payable list, provides an itemized description of every cheque issued over the past month. It includes the cheque numbers, the name of the company or individual paid, what item or service was purchased, and the cost.
Just take a moment to imagine what that means for the taxpayers here. On a monthly basis, they actually get to see where and how their money is being spent. Their Town Council has pulled back the curtain on Ozz and made government what it’s meant to have been…open and honest.
When the taxpayer has access to that kind of information, there is no place for a politician to hide and fairness and transparency become – if they are not already – the de facto way of doing business.
While other politicians remain secretive and reluctant to release even their expense account details, Port McNeill, Port Hardy and Port Alice have gone from talking about transparency to being transparent and the elected representatives of these towns should be recognized for the boldness of that move.
I have always had a special place in my heart for small town governments as sometimes they can be seen as a holdover to a time of a tactile, home grown and responsive form of democracy.
With a dash of Norman Rockwell, it might be the closest we get to the real thing. And this act of simple transparency by these three municipalities should not be something other governments have difficulty imitating.
Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org