Peo­ple want change, not more of the sta­tus quo

Op­por­tunis­tic, self-serv­ing de­ci­sions show us why it’s easy to be cyn­i­cal about politi­cians

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT -

Democ­racy took a hit last week. A dou­ble hit, re­ally — a one-two punch, if you will.

First, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau walked back on his cam­paign prom­ise that the 2015 would be the last first-past-the-post elec­tion. And then, bam! City coun­cil re­jected the $300,000 con­sul­tant’s re­port and im­posed its own ver­sion of ward bound­aries as the new nor­mal, which looks much the same as the old nor­mal.

I only get this space ev­ery two weeks, and there are lots of top­ics I’d like to write about. I don’t want to re­peat my­self. It wasn’t so long ago that I wrote on both these top­ics, but I want to be part of the record now, in re­sponse to the de­ci­sions that have been made.

I don’t take this gig lightly. I rec­og­nize the sig­nif­i­cance that news­pa­pers play in both record­ing and re­flect­ing the tenor of the times. I’ve read maybe more than my share of old news­pa­pers in the cour­ses of my his­tory de­gree. Con­sid­ered a “pri­mary source,” news­pa­pers carry valu­able pieces in try­ing to un­der­stand the puz­zles of the past, and are a go-to source when re­search­ing the at­ti­tudes that sur­round them. The “in­tel­lec­tual mi­lieu,” a pro­fes­sor called it, is well rep­re­sented in the daily press.

So, for as much as I want to ex­press my pro­found dis­ap­point­ment in our elected of­fi­cials, I also want to go on record as say­ing to those who will be in­ter­ested in this topic in the fu­ture: peo­ple did care about these is­sues. No mat­ter what the of­fi­cial mes­sage is, no mat­ter what the gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments in the ar­chives say, peo­ple did care about re­form­ing the elec­toral sys­tem. They did re­al­ize that the cur­rent sys­tem was in­her­ently flawed and could re­turn a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment with a mi­nor­ity of the vote. There were peo­ple who were con­cerned that the first-past-the-post sys­tem was past its prime and no longer rel­e­vant. Across the coun­try and across all so­cial di­vides, there were peo­ple who wanted elec­toral re­form.

Don’t buy the gov­ern­ment’s mes­sage; we were all duped.

As for the ward bound­ary review, I’m not sure what coun­cil was think­ing in vot­ing in their own ver­sion over that of the con­sul­tants, and the peo­ple they con­sulted. The peo­ple who want bound­ary re­form will not let this rest with your de­ci­sion. They will take it to the On­tario Mu­nic­i­pal Board, and I bet it won’t be pretty. The op­tics alone are damn­ing: coun­cil­lors re­ject con­sul­tant’s re­port, which in­cludes im­por­tant cit­i­zen in­put, in favour of their own re­worked/not re­worked bound­aries. The time and en­ergy coun­cil will spend in fight­ing the board, their own con­sul­tant’s rec­om­men­da­tions and the cit­i­zen’s pe­ti­tion which will be sure to fol­low, is a waste of coun­cil time and tax­payer money. Money that could be used else­where, like hous­ing; time that could be spent on other mat­ters.

Op­por­tunis­tic. That’s what the Lib­er­als are, promis­ing us the sky dur­ing the elec­tion and then claim­ing it’s too high once they get elected. And we be­lieved them. We be­lieved Trudeau when he said, hun­dreds of times dur­ing the elec­tion, that this was the last one to be run first-past-the-post. The Lib­er­als knew this was a juicy is­sue and they played us, prob­a­bly know­ing full well that the gla­cial pace of gov­ern­ment could very well pre­clude any timely re­form. This was a prom­ise they knew they couldn’t keep, but oh well. Sorry!

Op­por­tunis­tic. That’s what some city coun­cil­lors are in re­ject­ing the con­sul­tant’s re­port and us­ing their power and in­flu­ence to main­tain their own fief­doms. Ger­ry­man­der­ing is the term for their in­ter­fer­ence. For those coun­cil­lors so con­cerned with “op­tics,” they cer­tainly don’t look good. You can see that, can’t you?

We have come to a time when pub­lic ser­vice has be­come per­sonal self-ser­vice. There’s no other way to un­der­stand the re­sis­tance to re­form, es­pe­cially when so many peo­ple seem to want it, when so many are de­mand­ing it, from not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions to pri­vate cit­i­zens. Pe­ti­tions are be­ing pre­pared as you read this.

Pol­i­tics has be­come, for some, a life­time sinecure, with in­cum­bents bet­ting on the power of name recog­ni­tion to se­cure yet another term, time and again. It’s not about pub­lic ser­vice, it’s about a job, a politi­cian’s job. And their No. 1 pri­or­ity is keep­ing that job. We can all re­late to that, I sup­pose.

But I still can’t help but be dis­ap­pointed. I wanted to be­lieve in the “sunny ways’ hype that sur­rounded the Lib­eral win. I wanted to trust our coun­cil­lors to do the right thing. But it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mar­garet Shkimba is a writer who lives in Hamil­ton. She can be reached at men­r­va­ or you can “Friend” her on Face­book and fol­low her on Twit­ter (@men­r­va­sofia)


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