There are a number of unwritten social contracts that we as a society observe to maintain peace with one another. You open the door for someone, they say thank you. Someone sneezes, you say Bless you or Gezunterhait, which is Yiddish for go in good health. And if you want to go in good health, you don’t park your car across your neighbour’s driveway and you don’t hawk a gob of spit at the entrance to the local convenience store where people are likely to tread in your bodily fluids. Common sense stuff, really. But that is why the social contract has always been unwritten. It was an oral tradition passed down from parent to child from generation to generation.
Of course many of these social contracts are not observed with the rigidity and unconditional observance they once were and it is this lack of following the unwritten rules that leads to the breakdown of a community, society or people.
And when people stop following the rules that should be common sense – cleaning up after your dog, not running a chain saw at one in the morning and making sure that the weeds on your property are shorter than the average basketball player – the lawmakers step into play to create policies and fines for those who – for whatever reason – are simply not community team players.
Morinville’s lawmakers are currently contemplating just such a set of policies and laws, a Community Standards Bylaw that would seek to financially penalize people who fail to meet some pretty reasonable standards – cleaning up after your dog, not running a chain saw at one in the morning and making sure that the weeds on your property are shorter than the average basketball player.
Like most things council related, there are differing opinions on to what degree the policy should be enforced. Councillor Paul Krauskopf is not satisfied with a higher fine for second and subsequent offences – he wants an even higher fine for a third offence. His council colleague, Deputy Mayor Gordon Boddez, thinks there should be no escalating fee for a third offence because people might not be able to afford the fine. Evidently our deputy mayor feels residents can afford the site of an unsightly mess next door or gardens repeatedly molested by the defecate matter of a neighbour’s roaming cat. But our deputy mayor doesn’t want anyone receiving a fine without lots and lots of warning time because, despite publishing bylaw info in their weekly two-page newspaper spread and posting entire bylaws on the Town of Morinville’s website, people really should be allowed to go blindly into the night, ignorant of the rules and regulations we are all asked to abide by, even those predicated on a basic understanding of common sense.
The hand holding needs to stop.
A drive around Morinville can provide a tale of two towns. The downtown core looks wonderful with an immaculate and historical park, freshly planted trees, benches and litter containers. Yet for large parts of the spring, the Canada Post property was overrun with dandelions and other weeds, and just a half block north, the Telus property’s weeds only last week were reaching heights that would make sunflowers envious. And two blocks further north sits a peace officer looking for a speeder, jaywalker or some other breaker of laws both written and unwritten.
We’re not going to knock the work done by our peace officers. They cannot be everywhere or see everything, but we would hope that when they spot the weeds growing three feet tall on a commercial property they might at least give one of those copious warnings Deputy Mayor Boddez seems so fond of. And if a multi-million dollar company like Telus fails to comply with a warning to cut down their weeds, perhaps a fine is in order.
The Community Standards Bylaw is the result of a lot of taxpayer-funded hard work for the overall betterment of the community. But without enforcement and consequence, it is of little value. Because a law unenforced is but words on a piece of paper.
– Stephen Dafoe