Impassioned debate is a sign of healthy democracy, but what's going on inside Squamish's council chambers lately is beyond impassioned - in fact, it's ugly.
For the last three years, Squamish New Directions controlled council, and although Coun. Corinne Lonsdale and Coun. Raj Kahlon sat as independents, the absolute knowledge that the remaining four councillors (which became five) could carry any decision meant that the level of debate remained low and the peace was kept.
But now, the status quo has been turned on its head, and it's getting ugly.
Maybe it's the "getting used to it" phase, the growing pains, but it appears that with each councillor discovering his or her voice in this new council, decorum is starting to unravel. This was made obvious at Tuesday's council meeting when numerous agenda items sent certain council members at each other's throats.
Some valid points were actually made somewhere in all that fighting, but what do you think the public remembered after leaving council chambers at 11:30 p.m.?
There's a point where healthy debate turns into personal vendetta, and I believe we're very close to that.
Although the newest members, Jeff McKenzie, Mike Jenson and Patricia Heintzman, remained quieter than the rest - and were witnessed by this reporter shaking their heads in dismay at times on Tuesday - they nonetheless gave voice to their opinions while the veterans each had their turn yelling, taking shots and defending themselves.
There certainly are things worth fighting over. There are things that just cannot be allowed. But there are ways of debating points without going down the path of pointless personal rhetoric.
I admire the new councillors' restraint at getting into the heated foray, but I wonder how long that can last? With the experienced leadership taking this ugly path, how far behind can the others be? And with this example being set, what form of candidate will be attracted to the available seat during the June 24 byelection?
I can only hope the seat will be filled by someone who can reasonably add to the voices on council, not to the infighting.
Let's not find ourselves in the same position as White Rock, which, in June of 2003, made headlines when councillor Margaret Woods faced charges of assault after being accused of jabbing her fellow councillor Cliff Annable in the face with a pen and punching him over the head during discussions of roadwork in an in-camera meeting. Woods said emotions "were running far too high and the situation escalated when Mr. Annable referred to me using profane and sexist language I found extremely offensive."
This is how dysfunctional a council can become.
We need someone who advances the ideology that "democracy is the best invention" as the mayor has so often said. Otherwise, Squamish could end up with a dubious distinction and alienate all those voices we actually want to hear.