COMMENTARY: Serve Cornwall or serve Canada?

Coun. Justin Towndale, left, and Coun. David Murphy during a water and sewer budget meeting in December 2014. Towndale will be taking his second leave of absence in as many years to pursue his career in the military. (Cornwall Newswatch/File)

Cornwall councillor Justin Towndale will be leaving his duties as a city councillor for a two-and-a-half month leave of absence. City council voted Monday night, without discussion, to allow Towndale to take the unpaid leave from June until the middle of August to take military training. Towndale is a member of the SD&G Highlanders. During his leave, he will miss five council meetings. This is the second leave of absence in as many years for the rookie city councillor.

Towndale has set a good example for all Canadians with his military service, we should have more people like him wanting to serve our country. To his credit, he has been transparent about his military aspirations from the start. This contrasts to many who see municipal politics as a stepping stone to higher levels of office. In those cases, many do not take a leave of absence while seeking other nominations, or until the campaign nears the voting day.

But have Towndale’s aspirations been in the best interest of the Cornwall residents he was elected to represent? Granted, being a city councillor is a part-time job and, at the end of the day, they all have to pay the bills. Towndale is one of 10 councillors elected at-large, so other councillors are available for constituent issues. Towndale will be on the East Coast this time with his mind on military training. Hardly the time to worry about Cornwall issues.

While he’s gone, the city will still roll along. Critical decisions will have to be made. During his last leave, the fluoride issue was defeated in a tie vote – definitely a place where that 11th vote could have solidified the city’s message one way or the other instead of being decided on by procedure.

It comes down to whether the councillor, who championed keeping of publicly accessible attendance records for all elected officials at council and committee level, is doing his constituents a service or a disservice?

You cannot fault the councillor’s commitment for public service, but the repeated absences raises a few questions. If a councillor is able to take leave, without even a discussion around the table, what message does that send to the public they represent?

Cornwall city councillors are part-time employees, and we have 10, could a smaller council provide the same level of representation to the public?

When it comes to the next election, Cornwall needs councillors who will be able to serve and be available as per the job. When the next municipal election occurs in the fall of 2018, hopefully it will draw candidates who serve as per their elected mandate.