Respect needed in public debates

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Healthy and sometimes heated debate is the fuel of democracy and good government, but it must be rooted in respect and tolerance for other people’s opinions.

This principle seemed to be lost at times during the recent debate over changes to curbside recycling in Okotoks.

A Sept. 6 public meeting in town council chambers degenerated into a chorus of angry boos and jeers. One who spoke in support of plans to make curbside recycling collection mandatory for all single-family homes was met with name calling, cursing and told to sit down by some opposed to the proposal. Tensions rose further as supporters of the changes lashed out in return.

Last week’s meeting should have been a safe space for people on all sides to share their opinions, argue for changes and both praise and criticize a matter of public policy that will touch the majority of households in Okotoks.

Passionate, emotional debate should be encouraged, but berating someone for sharing their opinions in a public meeting is unacceptable.

Opposition to the plan helped bring attention to legitimate concerns such as forcing curbside collection on dedicated recyclers who chose to use the Town’s recycling centre, poor public consultation and cost. An extra $87 per year may not be much in the grand scheme, but it’s yet another rise in household costs at a time when some families are already stretched thin. These are all issues worthy of robust debate.

The pressure worked. Town council altered the recycling proposal Monday giving opponents the opportunity to opt out. Still, this result could have been achieved without the negativity.

Moving forward, hopefully the Town also learned an important lesson in listening to its residents. Much of the furor could have been avoided if the Town had consulted them before moving ahead with the plan.

People on all sides want to know their voices are heard.

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