homeschooling,  politics

teaching civics with reflections on a small town council meeting

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It is Saturday morning and I’m watching a video recording of a town council meeting that took place several provinces away. I’m taking notes to write the story up for my dad’s newspaper. The strange thing is, I actually find counsel meetings kind of interesting. I love the little details of small town life.

The minor hockey club asked for their meeting notices to be displayed on the town’s signs. This would add to the frequency of which staff would have to change the text on those signs. The administration is willing to do it but want permission to draw up a policy, because presumably if they put the hockey club meetings there the golf club is going to ask next. The there’s the question of games. Do they have to change it for every upcoming game, or can they say they only list organizational meetings? How frequently can it be changed before it ends up taking up too much staff time?

No one asked, but I wonder, what happens if more groups want listings than they have space? Depending on the frequency of events, there could be times when an event is advertised for three weeks on a sign and other times when an event is listed for much less time. When I’m discussing this with my kids, I’ll ask them when they feel it is okay to have policies that cannot be carried out equally.

Last month the council was voting on abandoning a stretch of pipeline because they don’t want to be in the oil and gas industry. This month they are talking about developing a business plan for offering highspeed internet. If one was acting purely from an argument that governments should not be providing services, this would seem like a contradiction. When I discuss this with my kids, the question will be what is different about the oil and gas industry that would justify getting out of it right now and why might they be justified going into the high speed internet business instead?

The newspaper used to be in the basement of the house I grew up in. I lived all my life hearing discussion of these issues. They might seem small and unimportant but if you think about them they are serious questions about what is a government and what should your government do.

In a previous council meeting I reported on there were questions about what constitutes informing the public about an upcoming public consulation. How much does the town have to advertise it? If the issue affects only a small number of people, should they have to contact them directly? How should the cost of repaving roads be handled? Should people have to pay extra for the next ten years because their roads were redone in front of their house? (This is called “frontage” and it is collected along with the taxes.) If a street has six people on one side and a nursing home on the other, should each side of the street be responsible for paying an equal share of the cost of replacing the road?

There are so many great questions.

If you want to introduce your children to municipal politics, I suggest the following:

  1. If at all possible, find a recording of the meetings. Meetings are most interesting when you can pause them to discuss the events as you go along. Pause frequently to make sure your children understand what it is going on. Everything is boring to those who don’t understand what is happening.
  2.  Check if there are reporters who live-tweet your municipal politics meetings.
  3.  Get a copy of the agenda ahead of time. Often it is posted online. Choose a few issues to look up information on.
  4.  Start small. If you have to go to the meeting itself, go for just part. Learn about one or two issues.
  5. Watch for when there are activist groups going to the meetings and tag along.
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