Editorial Comment: It’s a lot easier to point fingers from the outside

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As a small town reporter, I had the unique experience of learning the inner workings of government on a local level by sitting through weekly town council meetings.

The meetings themselves were usually rather uneventful – mostly administrative items and discussion of the general betterment of the town – but what was interesting, was the discussion any decision made by council would create in the coffee shops across town.

In the wonderfully democratic land of Canada we live in, the voting public has every right to discuss and criticize the work of its elected officials. After all, the government is essentially in place to serve the public, who by democratic standards have the power.

Often the mayor and the respected council faced their public in coffee shops, grocery stores and at the post office, with the expectation to discuss and defend their council decisions. In small town politics there really is no safe haven.

The president and board of directors of an association are usually set up in a similar structure to a government body. By banding together, an association organizes itself to work towards a common purpose.

For the Alberta Motor Transport Association this purpose is to represent all sectors of the highway transportation industry and take a leadership role in enhancing workplace safety and fostering a healthy, vibrant industry. With more than 12,000 members – essentially all working towards a common goal – it should be a fairly easy task to fill the 13 positions which make up the board of directors.

In the Southern Alberta town where I cut my teeth as a journalist, the population hovered around 3,500 people. When I arrived at the town’s weekly newspaper, I was regaled by tales of a fairly recent election, which featured a hard-fought campaign to oust a mayor who held the top chair for about two decades. A handful of other new faces rounded out the council and the people who were unsatisfied with the town’s current direction made a choice to get involved.

The AMTA recently filled a number of positions on its board, including the president-elect seat, at its annual general meeting through acclamation.

During the same meeting a few of the association’s members voiced critical opinions of the board’s decision to use excess funds garnered from the Workers’ Compensation Board to fund a new head office and training facility in Calgary. (Through a vote the initiative was defeated).

The board works on behalf of its members and in paying dues (in most cases, collected through their WCB premiums), members have the right to voice opinions. But with more than 12,000 association members, it is surprising board positions are won by acclamation. Especially when there are critical voices in the membership.

The best way to have your opinion heard is to get involved.

Not spending a few minutes during an annual meeting questioning the work of the people who have volunteered a substantial amount of hours during their spare time to try and work towards a better industry.

With constant regulation changes on the government’s agenda, increasing pressure to provide a greener industry and the constant struggle to run a profitable operation, every voice of the association matters.

A lot more progress can be gained in a boardroom than in a coffee shop.

– Steven Macleod can be reached by phone at (403) 275-3160 or by e-mail at stmacleod@shaw.ca.

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