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Mayor’s Column – August 31, 2016

August 31, 2016


Did you ever wonder why public business seems to take so long? I suppose you have, if you’ve ever waited for the gears of government to churn out a zoning change or a traffic bylaw. And the bigger the government, the slower the gears do turn.

It has to do with words. Words are imprecise symbols with which we all attempt to communicate our sentiments whether in love or in war or in the humdrum business routines of local government. The nature of language makes it impossible to ever arrive at precise meaning. We try to get as close as possible to consensus. We do the best we can.

Think of a word as an empty capsule that you might obtain at a health food store. You buy a whole bag of them intending to fill them with your own blends of herbs and grass juice. Then you try to remember what you put into them. In your inexpert attempts to fill these capsules with nutrients you may experience frustration and resort to buying capsules that are labeled by an expert; – you trust the expert is not deceiving you.

All of the words we use are like those empty capsules. The meaning they carry depends on a number of factors. The word itself has meaning. The inflections of our voices add substance and character to the message. Our posture as we speak says more than we think. The choice of one word over another with similar meaning will shift the sense in one direction or another.

So we do our research; we investigate; we study; it all takes time.

Hence, the office of the solicitor, the advocate, the lawyer, and the legal assistant. Need to come to a conclusion? Of course we do. At least we are expected to come to a decision. So we consult our legal team which responds in legalese.

The party of the first part (me) and the party of the second part (you) will agree that the party of the third part – and then the document proceeds to identify the parts and all the options available each with their ramifications. All of this takes several iterations by letter to bring us to understand that this exchange is costing us more than a simple agreement and a handshake.

But we live in a lubricious and litigious generation and we are afraid of transmitting some contagion by contact of hands.

Your duly elected Council with the duly elected Mayor have to be sure that we are speaking the same language, filling those capsules with mutually agreed-to meaning. This takes time. Some of our good English words actually carry a variety of shades of meaning. To wit: frog: the centre underside of a horses foot; frog: a small, cold-blooded leaping animal that is becoming more and more scarce; frog: the attachment by which your bayonet is affixed to your belt; frog: a grooved device at the intersection of two railroads; etc and etc.

Not that Mayor and Council have debated at length on the plight of the frog. But it takes time and much discussion to understand each other as we debate the issues of community: taxes, infrastructure deficit, playground and road safety, purchasing policies, fair practices, spending of public funds, and beauty or practicality.

But that’s democracy and we cherish our freedom to arrive at our own conclusions, make our own decisions, and fix our own mistakes, however long it takes.


Merlin Nichols, Mayor