There was a Special Open Council Meeting on July 3 so that council can have a political conversation regarding the APP results and make a decision on next steps if any. As I have said in the past, our role as elected officials is to act as custodians for the future. The decisions we make are incredibly difficult and not to be taken lightly. It is all about choices…..choosing to do some projects and choosing not to do others. It is never black and white.
The results of the APP are in. We have received the report from the Corporate Officer. More than 10 per cent of eligible voters have registered their opposition to the borrowing bylaw and it has been defeated. Those who were against borrowing for this project worked hard to get their message out to the public.
They have worked effectively to not only ensure the bylaw was unsuccessful but to send a message to us, the elected officials.
We were urged by the organizers of “say no to B2B” to look at the names of those who signed the forms so that we could see that it was a broad range of people including many prominent, well known and respected people. I can only speak for myself but it would be easy to end it here and wash my hands of this. No one likes to risk their entire reputation and tick off many prominent people in their community. It is social and political suicide.
However, I have thought long and hard about this…….I am willing to risk my popularity now so that in the future when I am long forgotten, I will know that I did the right thing…..that future businesses and residents will know that somewhere in the past, their politicians made good decisions. I have given the opposition immense consideration…….in the end I must vote with my conscience and that is why I will speak in favour of moving forward.
I still firmly believe that this is a critical infrastructure project that addresses a fundamental security risk. Our mandate is to be wise, not cheap. Although the river is within provincial jurisdiction, the responsibility for the dike falls to the municipality and the responsibility of managing flood risk was downloaded to the municipality around 2002. The Town has spent significant energy and dollars building up the dikes and removing gravel. So to say this project has not been a priority is false and to assume that the river will never be a threat to this town is naive. If we had a flood, it would not only impact the businesses along that part of the dike, it would have a serious impact on our water and sewer systems. After our ice and high water event in 2007, we finally got permission to remove gravel out of the river. It cost local tax payers approximately 500K. One of the conditions of the permit was to come up with a long term engineered solution. From my perspective, it is not a matter of if we want to do this it is a matter of how. This is our job…..the job of council………protection of public infrastructure.
We as a council have learned a number of hard lessons along this process. I will be honest and say that when I received the email announcing that we were successful in our flood protection grant I could never have predicted how many sleepless nights I was about to have. If B2B paid rent inside my head we would not have to borrow a cent for this project and we would have enough left over for a pool. I don’t say this to be funny……I could not be more serious.
1) We failed to allow the discussion of options. We thought the options could be looked at during the process of design and that was a mistake.
2) We are already taking a closer look at our relationship with Urban Systems. We want to ensure that we are making best use of dollars and that there is a defensible level of reasonableness in all our spending.
3) Even though this grant was lobbied for over three terms of council, maybe we did not ensure this project was always on the public radar. That is the difficulty with grants. There is a finite amount of money with a drop dead date. We had no idea when or if we would receive any money.
4) I am finding out that doing the right thing the wrong way can be a headache. There is a perception in the community that this is a vanity project for council. At the end of the day, a large portion of the response against borrowing is about the growing frustration with the cost of living. Everyone is reaching into your pocket whether it be taxes, increasing fuel cost, rising food prices, insurance companies, bank fees, telecommunication costs, health care. This was an opportunity to send a message about how frustrated people are at the cost of living. I get that…….we are all sick and tired of being gouged everywhere we turn. It is easy to bash council because right now they are an obvious target and let’s face it; we don’t get the opportunity to direct our anger at those who are really turning the screw. The reality is, for every tax dollar collected, 8 percent goes to the local government to provide a broad range of services.
Traditional democracy is purely based on numbers….who gets enough votes. Knowledge based democracy is based on a culture of learning, inquiry and excellence in decision making. It is my hope that we get to the referendum with an option that best serves our community in the long term.