After saying no to proclaiming Christian Heritage Month last December, council asked staff to look into a policy.

Recently, council saw that staff report on a possible policy to govern proclamations.  

In the end, it chose to have a policy come back June 5 that would end any more municipal “proclamations” of days, weeks or months for certain causes.

The draft policy that came back stated that proclamations wouldn’t be issued for religious organizations or events. Also ruled out were political organizations or “matters of political controversy”.

The proposal was to make the mayor the decision-maker over proclamations.  

Grey County staff also brought a report on the same topic recently, recommending having that the warden make proclamations. It, too, was voted down. (See related story.)

County councillors’ idea was to leave it to the lower tier. During Southgate council’s discussion, some lower-tier councillors didn’t want to make the decisions, either.

OBJECTIONS HEARD

In the mayor’s absence on May 15, the vote was 4-2 in favour of the township not issuing proclamations. Coun. Monica Singh Soares and Coun. Jason Rice were opposed.

Coun. Jim Ferguson made the successful amendment to stop making proclamations. He said, “It’s not that we’re not listening to people. We’re just not handing out a piece of paper.”

Deputy Mayor Barbara Dobreen thanked members of the public for the emails and comments, noting that the draft was there for discussion and consideration.

The draft policy also covers flying flags, continuing the policy of only flying Canadian, provincial and municipal flags. It makes clear some fine points about when flags are flown at half-mast.

Two residents, both opposing the draft policy, spoke at Open Forum.

Anne Gillies, a resident, said the recommendation to have the mayor decide alone would be a “back door” for decisions.  She raised that concern in particular about the Pride flag.

Reima Kaikkonen, also a Southgate resident, said as a farmer he had learned that if something is working – then don’t fix it. He called the flag policy “elegantly simple”.  

But he said that the proclamations policy with lists of types of proclamations that would qualify and would not qualify could lead to questions – and even be expensive, he said.

“Some (requests) you may have to refuse and on what basis?”, he asked. “Who knows, you may be part of a Human Rights tribunal.”

The limit to government flags is to stay in place. The new part of the policy was laying out proposed rules for proclamation.

SUPPORT FOR MAKING PROCLAMATIONS

Southgate council asked for the staff report after its decision in late 2023 not to declare December Christian Heritage Month. The request came from the public and the gallery was full of supporters.

Coun. Monica Singh Soares spoke May15 in favour of the township continuing to issue proclamations.

She said that a member of the public suggested to her that the policy presented which suggests not granting procla­mations related to religion could be a “retaliation” for the Christian Heritage Month request. The councillor said that said she didn’t think that was the case, but wanted council to know that someone in the public did.

Coun. Singh Soares went on to say that hard and fast divisions between culture and religion are not straight-forward. Cultural celebration proclamations were allowed in the proposed policy.

She also said that time was short to get public opinions because the council agenda only is published on the Thursday before the Wednesday meeting.

Coun. Jason Rice thought proclamations should continue: “I still feel that the people should be able to come to us and ask for it.” He called the flag policy “perfect”.


PUBLIC CAN CELEBRATE

Coun. Joan John said she was happy to have the municipality “mirror” the county approach, and not make proclamations.  She is a founder of the not-for-profit JunCtian Community Initia­tives, which has requested and received a proclamation for Black History Month in the past.

But not having a municipal proclamation does not mean such events stop, she said.

“Nowhere does it say that people can’t celebrate,” Coun. John said. “Let us carry on and celebrate – I don’t think we need a proclamation.”

Coun. Martin Shipston said that while the township only flies government flags, that  doesn’t stop people from flying other flags.

Coun. Singh Soares suggested that the township could look more widely at other municipal policies, and recommended the one from the Town of Orangeville as an example.

She said that township proclamations can build community by showing people “that their government sees them.”

Coun. John said that people can still come to Open Forum, and have their voice. She added that there are so many causes that have been proclaimed that  “it’s hard to remember what month’s what”.

The Deputy Mayor agreed. “Let’s not confuse the ability to celebrate with our community with the need for a formal government proclamation, she said.

The revised draft policy is scheduled to come back to council on June 5.

By M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 31, 2024 at 11:20

This item reprinted with permission from   Dundalk Herald & The Advance   Dundalk, Southgate, Grey Highlands, Ontario

Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated