One of my colleagues brought to my attention the other day a story from lake country in Ontario. This is about who ought to represent the community on its local government council. In this case, the small rural Wollaston Township, about two and a half hours northeast of Toronto, is represented by a council of five people. In this case, those people have typically been cottage owners who may have lived in the area for a few years, or maybe for decades. The relatively new twist on this is that a large number of RV owners have been resident in campgrounds long enough to get local voting rights under Ontario legislation.
Everyone enjoys their time out at the lake, but it seems the two groups have quite different perspectives on what they need from their Township. I realize what I am writing is about generalizations and that there is undoubtedly nuance. Still, it appears there is enough of a gulf between the two groups that it has led to conflict around the council table, and in fact, that conflict extends to who should even have the right to sit around that table. Cottage owners – again a generalization on my part – believe they are the permanent residents, and the council should represent them. The RV residents believe they are onsite enough as 'seasonal residents' that the council should represent them, and their interests should be paramount.
If I read the story properly, both sides have a case, and it has led to a council that has factions that seem to suggest that short-term and long-term interests of the Township and the lake are in opposition with one another. Another quirk is that the RV owners because the campground is not their permanent residence, can also vote in local elections back home where they declare their permanent residence to be.
The question here is what constitutes 'residence' in terms of voting rights. Ignoring legislation for now – yes, I know that's a bad idea – I'd defer to the disparate values of the two groups.
The Township has a current vision statement that suggests that Wollaston Township is a growing, affordable, inclusive, and welcoming community, and a current mission statement that says Wollaston Township's Mission is to work towards its long-term Vision in a healthy natural environment by providing transparent leadership, strong communication, quality services and a welcoming community. The conflict between groups seems to counter both statements, or at least in how they could be interpreted. That is for the Township residents to determine, of course, within the bounds of municipal and environmental statute.
My take on topics like this, and we run across it in Alberta too, is that those who live in a place permanently ought to have precedence over those who are transient. It would not surprise me that cottage owners are interested in the long-term sustainability of the land, the lake, the governance, and the municipality's economy. However, I would suspect that those who go to the lake for the summer may be more interested in short-term enjoyment of the area, leading to the potential of environmental degradation of the land and water.
This precedence would extend to voting rights. If legislation was clear on this, there would not be a problem. Unfortunately, the legislation does create a bit of room for interpretation in this case. That interpretation distills down to what I've tended to call 'multiple versions of the truth.' People hold onto these self-evident truths even when they conflict from someone else's self-evident truths. Ideally, legislation provides the guidance needed to sort this out, but if not, then it is up to council to do so.
What do you think? Am I off base on this? Please let me know. You can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.