"In my mind," by Dale Henderson
The story was legitimate enough. It seems that there is a growing unease with the determination of the mayor and his followers to continue with the zero mantra. City staff has been clear on the implications: a $25M shortfall for 2013 that would require significant service cuts—library reduction in hours and possible branch closures, reduced snow removal and street cleaning, fewer hours of operation for parks and other recreational facilities. Reduction in services also means reduction in staff, and while many of those who call for holding the line on taxes have little regard for the work done by civil servants, they are often the same people who want more jobs. That’s hard to provide when you’re laying people off.
But it is not only staff that is concerned about the continuing obsession with zero. A growing number of young adults is beginning to appreciate that the services to be cut are those that they value: public transportation, recreational facilities, investment in arts and culture. They’re the investments that attract youth and families to the city. And they provide jobs as well. And guess who will have to compensate for the reductions in investment in infrastructure?
These are the concerns raised by Western assistant professor and housing activist Abe Oudshoorn, among others. Yes, he agrees, we all like our taxes to be kept low, but we also like the services that make a city livable, and at some point, the trade off isn’t worth it.
It was left to Henderson to defend the mayor’s approach. He doesn’t believe cuts in service are needed; he thinks the city is awash in “oodles of money”. It just needs to change the way it does business.
“More than half of what we spend money on is not tendered,” he complained. Well, duh. Much of the spending is on the staff who deliver the services, Of those that are contracted out, the vast majority are tendered and go to the lowest bidder. Henderson votes on those tenders at every council meeting. But those outsourced contracts go up year after year. Not being part of the civic administration, they’re not subject to a freeze.
And you would think that Henderson, who touts himself as a businessman, would understand that. But no, he thinks that "staff just wants more staff."
Interesting that, coming from him. Wasn’t he the one who, a mere month or two after being elected, complained that the workload was too heavy and he needed more money and staff support? Didn’t he vote in favour of more money for councillors’ salaries and expense accounts? Didn’t he want and get more money for a website that has yet to materialize?
"In my mind, we're not getting value for our dollar right now," Henderson is quoted as saying. Well said, councillor.
(For more summer reading on the anti-tax freeze issue, see http://zero2hero.org/)
"Let's take it to the people," by Steve Orser
Then today came the latest proposal from Stephen Orser, to mandate a plebiscite on a question if 10,000 Londoners petition to do so. Democratic fellow that he is, Orser wouldn’t limit the petition to electors; anyone over the age of 10 or 11 (the age of his daughter?) would be eligible. Questions to be included would be cessation of water fluoridation, expanded casinos in the Western Fair District and—wait for it—whether councillors should be “full-time”.
Orser plans to take his idea to Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee, formerly known as the committee of the whole, where it will undoubtedly get short shrift. Certainly, the online comments from Free Press readers were not very favourable to Orser or his idea. And while many of us welcome more public engagement, some of us don’t relish the thought of our elected representatives, chosen and paid to study the issues, communicate with the public, and make decisions in the best interests of the city, simply becoming survey-takers.
That opportunity already exists. Orser has a Facebook page, as he has previously demonstrated. Rather than posting, or allowing others to post, sexist material, why doesn’t he use it to explain issues and get feedback? Constituents can “like” him.
And why did he try to disparage the very thoughtful survey prepared and disseminated by Paul Hubert during the budget debate last winter?
There has been no shortage of public feedback on issues of importance to the voters, whether on fluoridation, on backyard chickens, or planning applications. The difficulty has been in getting councillors, including Orser, to listen to the debate and to weigh the arguments objectively. How much credence did he give the public on the matter of Reservoir Hill? Why did he reverse his position on bottled water?
There is clearly a role for plebiscites in municipal government but they should not be a substitute for thoughtful and responsible representation by our elected officials in a timely fashion.
There will be a referendum in 2014, not on whether a councillor will be full-time or part-time, but whether s/he will be a councillor at all. But then, if Orser has his way, we may not need any councillors. Just get a voter password and give a thumbs up or down. No need to pay the middleman.
Now, who thinks councillors should get a raise?