Tom Masters with his book, A Hard Place.

Some parting thoughts after 11 years as a columnist, reviewer

Council decisions needs to be based on community needs expressed after consultation

Eleven years ago I took up my pen, so to speak, and began a column labeled Chemainus Notes. I wrote at that time it was with some trepidation that I did so. That trepidation has never left me. It peaks every month, just before the fourth Thursday, when my column appears in the paper.

Now it is time to retire.

I was prompted to begin these offerings initially by protests and attempts to save a tree which, alas, failed. The Pine Street pine was only one of many significant trees that no longer grace the Chemainus skyline, leaving us the poorer for it.

But it was really the threat of the loss of Echo Heights forest that inspired me to commit to a regular series of opinion pieces. I had no idea at the time EH would take eight long and difficult years to resolve.

Herewith, a few thoughts.

Every council decision should, I believe, be guided by well-thought-out policies giving priority to community needs expressed in the course of genuine, meaningful consultation involving the people who live here. In my experience in North Cowichan, such a process has never been undertaken with any kind of seriousness.

Such consultation can be expensive and time-consuming, and is often felt to be troublesome and not worthwhile. It can be emotional and divisive. However, if put into practice with a full understanding and appreciation of its nature and importance, together with a clear notion of where such input fits into the decision-making process, it can also lead to better outcomes.

Elected officials are seldom given credit for the long hours they put in, often at serious inconvenience to themselves and their families. They deserve credit for the time and effort they dedicate to the tasks placed before them. If they fall short, it is against a bar set very high by us, the public.

When elected for the first time, representatives have little idea of the range of issues they will face. They have no idea of the difficulties and challenges to be overcome when trying to resolve issues, even disputes, which often have no ideal solution.

All this is the reason why it is so important to elect people who have a broad experience of life and the wisdom which derives from that.

Few of our fellow citizens are willing to take on these responsibilities. That reluctance is why it falls to us, their neighbours, to actively seek them out—the best and the brightest, those already tempered by the fires of real-world problem solving, whose experience encompasses in equal measure compassion and common sense. And then, having appealed to their higher selves, their better natures, we must support them when they run for office.

Before saying adieu, I must offer a tip of the hat to Councillor Tom Walker for his vast experience and great humanity; and to Councillor Joyce Behnsen for her tenacity and courage.

In retiring from the column-writing life, I also relinquish the wonderful opportunity I have had over the years to review productions at Chemainus Theatre Festival. I agreed to undertake that assignment only on the clear understanding that these would be genuine critical reviews, not puff pieces such as are seen in some papers. Those reviews have been, without a doubt, the most challenging journalistic tasks I have ever undertaken, but also the most rewarding.

Now that I am moving on, I want to say thanks to my publisher for the opportunity I have been given, and thanks to you my readers for your comments, pro and con.

Happy New Year everybody — it’s been great!

Tom Masters is a writer and a resident of Chemainus.

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