That swastika was more than graffiti

Posted 06.23.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | When Councillor Mike Duggan, of Aylmer's Lucerne Ward, took out his tools and safety gear and removed the swastika graffiti on a sidewalk in town earlier this month, likely he was not criticizing the slow reaction of the city's Public Works Department. Public Works has a lengthy work schedule, and this sidewalk was on the list, although for late July. It would be done.

Mr. Duggan was reacting to the alarm of the nearby residents. Not a request for a new stop sign or to widen a road, it was something he could do -- and he did it. He solved a problem quickly. To see his actions as a vigilante response is itself an over-response.

His concern for quick action is admirable. This is what we want from our elected officials -- not more talk. This small gesture is an example of leadership. Had a resident done the same the problem would have been handled even faster -- all without abusing the city's operating procedures.

In the longer view, Mr. Duggan's response may point to something even more important: A certain disconnect or lack of communication (and respect) between elected and permanent public servants.

It is not uncommon in any municipality to hear both sides complain about the other.

  • From the civil servants, we often hear that elected officials think they can and should drop everything and respond to each problem.
  • From council, we hear that the city staff do not listen to councillors and their proposals and that they are often brushed off -- with nothing done.
How often have we heard municipal employees remark, "Just wait to the next election and Councillor X will be out of our hair?"

On rare occasions this low-level mis-communication breaks into the open and we have politicians chastising civil servants for doing their job, or we see employees undermining policies of elected officials -- the Harper government's relations with its federal civil service has reached that depth several times. Likewise during the police labour strife several years ago.

There is nothing as difficult as that going on here. All in all, there seems to be good, mutual respect on both sides. Yet mistrust and skepticism do exist on both sides, and it cannot be good for the functioning of our city.

As admirable as it was to get rid of this graffiti quickly, wouldn't it lead to a better city government if both sides could discuss their differences without a lot of grandstanding or obstinacy? A one-time conference? On-going informal meetings? An officer on both sides charged with dealing with problems of miscommunication? How could we take a step closer to cooperative management in our city?

This is about more than graffiti. We should thank Councilor Duggan for putting this larger question out for public discussion.


Copyright © 2014 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/06.14