Councillor Jim Bertram’s recent efforts to give rural communities in North Grenville a chance to voice their ideas and concerns in the form of a rural summit, should be recognized as a very important opportunity. During his campaign, councillor Bertram talked about bringing more transparency and better communication to council and also to give residents more of a voice in what happens in their municipality. Though other candidates talked about it as well, kudos to Jim for trying to deliver on what he spoke about in his campaign.
I’ve spoken to a number of people who live in different areas around North Grenville and they all think that the rural summit is a great idea. Most of these people also have ideas and concerns that they say are important and need to be heard. However, when asked if they’re going to speak about their ideas and concerns personally, the response almost always is a definite ‘no’. So I ask, how are you going to share your concerns and ideas if you won’t speak about them? The most popular response has been that they’ll email a member of council or municipal staff. To me, this doesn’t sound like the most effective way to have your voice heard.
I believe that in order to be most effective, you should try to gather other people together who share your concerns or support your ideas. Strength in numbers for an event like the rural summit would probably have the most impact. A large group of people working together co-operatively to bring forward ideas or concerns would help to send a clear message to council and the municipality.
One way to bring together a large group of people for this purpose would be to use an already existing group that’s already active in the rural communities. That group is your local community association. Burritts Rapids, Bishops Mills and Oxford Mills for example, already have strong community associations. These associations organize activities, cultural events and fundraisers (among other things) to enhance life in those communities for the local residents. What better way to continue to enhance life for those residents than by representing their ideas and concerns at the rural summit? Local community associations are usually well organized, democratic and have significant support from their communities. Community associations also have credibility because they are well established and some have been operating for decades.
The rural summit itself will be organized by municipal staff and it won’t be happening until next year, so people have some time to get together and prepare for it. It would be great to hear that a community association is having a meeting this fall and inviting all residents of their community to sit down together and discuss matters of mutual concern and possible solutions to those concerns. Collectively creating a short list of prioritized concerns with solutions, would go a long way to supporting their case for that list. Also, to hear rural residents discuss new ideas to help make our municipality overall a better place to live for all of us would be absolutely ideal.
Keep in mind, the rural summit won’t be as successful as it could be, if people just bring their concerns without bringing viable, practical solutions to those concerns. I’m sure no one wants to sit and listen to someone reading off their ‘whine list’. This is why the idea of having community associations representing the concerns and ideas of their residents could be so effective. If your community doesn’t currently have an association, what better reason than this to get organized, create one and work together for your community? Community associations do a lot of great work and here’s an opportunity to do even more. Knock, knock, knock……