All good things must come to an end, and so the summertime fun and break from school (and this month a break from council) will soon be over and the kids will head back to their classrooms while their parents regain their sanity.
I don't follow weather data very closely, but this summer season certainly seems to have had a little more rain than normal which has caused frustration for some farmers, but we also seem to have had fewer overly hot days and no real heatwaves, which has made it a fairly pleasant summer on the whole.
With September just around the corner we'll soon need to be aware of the big yellow school buses that will be on our roads each morning and afternoon, and before we know it, Meaford's downtown core will be awash in scarecrows and corn stalks signalling the return of the annual Scarecrow Invasion.
With no council meetings held thus far in August (though there will be a meeting next week on August 28), I've felt a little bit like a kid on school break this month. At the last meeting in July I might even have had 'no more pencils, no more books, no more councillor's dirty looks' bouncing around in my head. The break has been nice. Who really wants to be immersed in reports about crumbling infrastructure or planning policy in the dog days of summer anyway?
There's much important work to be done, however, so when council returns next week they'll be busy for the coming months. This time next year many of them will have re-election campaigns on their minds, so I hope they've rested well and re-energized during this August break – they're going to need the extra energy.
Just as I was feeling like a kid heading into summer break at the last council meeting in July, that feeling is returning as I see the next council meeting approaching on the calendar – part dread, part excitement. I'm often asked how I can possibly sit through council meetings, which are often long and (to some) boring, but the reality is that for the most part I thoroughly enjoy municipal council meetings. Municipal governance has the most direct impact on our daily lives, and it is also the level of government that is most accessible to us. Any one of us can attend a council meeting, or approach a member of council on the street for a chat. We don't have that kind of access with upper levels of government – and we also don't have that kind of potential influence either. But with our municipal government we have a voice, should we choose to use it, and our voices carry far more weight with our municipal elected officials than they do with members of parliament or provincial legislatures.
In spite of that access and potential influence, however, the majority of us ignore municipal government – it doesn't have the flair or pizzazz that we see on the evening news from Ottawa or at Queen's Park; our mayor isn't a 'selfie machine' and our councillors don't wear the expensive suits that cabinet ministers do.
But don't forget your municipal government, they're the ones that control the roads we drive on and the water we drink. They set policy for our curbside trash pickup and for the parks we take our kids to visit, and while much of what council deals with from month to month might seem boring, much of it is important – which is why we need the best people we can get on our council, and it's also why our votes are so important.
I might be in the minority, but I look forward to council's return next week, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what the next year will bring, both in the council chamber and during the campaigns which will be in full swing this time next year.
It won't all be pretty, and some of it will no doubt be hair-pulling frustration, but that's democracy, isn't it?
Which brings me back to the school kids. I have fond, though admittedly fuzzy, memories of a school field trip to a municipal council meeting when I was a kid. I remember meeting the mayor, and marvelling at the chain of office. I remember the gavel, and the grown-ups talking about stuff I couldn't possibly understand, but my sense was that it was important. I remember chuckling when I heard a councillor mutter something not so nice under his breath in a debate mid-way through that meeting. In later school years, there was a 'mayor for a day' program that saw students vying for an opportunity to shadow the mayor as an extension of the in-class lessons about municipal government.
I don't think there are many school field trips to municipal councils any more. Heck, in talking to my own kids it doesn't seem like they teach our kids much at all about municipal governance, particularly in the elementary school years – in nearly a decade of covering Meaford's council I don't recall seeing any groups of school kids sitting in the gallery at the council chamber – but maybe there's an opportunity there. Perhaps council could connect with the school board and arrange to hold a couple of early afternoon council meetings that a class or two could attend – or maybe the insurance industry has ruined things like that too. But that's a rant for another day.