Thursday, March 8, 2007

It's Hard To Keep Up While Marching Backwards

Too bad we don’t have forward thinkers among our political leaders to implement ways to encourage participation rather than discourage it.

Oshawa politicians by their policies and practices prove they believe Oshawa citizens are unworthy of engaging or of providing input. Council discourages citizen input by requiring citizens who want to speak on an issue at council to send requests to speak before committee and council agendas are made public. If you don't know what is coming up at Council, that certainly is a blockage to public input and turning to the general vote also isolates city politicians further from the people

Some organizations like Smart Growth BC see citizens as an asset and actively try to engage them. You can read the full policy here of an organization that sees people as a basic asset to community development and thus encourages citizen involvement and input into decision making…quite the reverse from Oshawa.

Even a huge administration like Montreal city council which has a system of party politics and a council comprised of 78 ward representatives has community councils and by policy provides for a public question period at every city council meeting.

Many large cities actively provide for public input. You might read descriptions of some models of community input by clicking on the highlighted text.

Smart Growth BC sees people as Assets and believe:

1) Citizens are the best experts about the places they live and how those places might best grow and progress--Oshawa wants to take away local representation with the general vote!

2) Informed citizen participation improves development processes and the communities in which we work, learn, and live--Oshawa Council refuses to provide background information on the general/ward vote systems and any rationale or benefits from the change thus continuing to keep the public in the dark and uninformed!

3) A true smart growth vision must include meaningful engagement of the people who will feel the long-term social, environmental, and economic impacts--Oshawa has proven it doesn't want public input by an informed public. Without an informed public, democracy is dead!

4) Smart Growth BC created a policy on Early and Ongoing Community Engagement to outline the many benefits of high quality community participation and a series of actions that can be taken by government, developers, and citizens to make these benefits a reality--Smart Growth BC believes citizen input is integral to healthy decision making. Oshawa believes in one way communication outward from city hall on selected items that promote the politicians and the city...but no communication on the change of election systems which is by far the most important issue council will face in affecting the long term health of Oshawa.

According to Smart Growth BC, Citizens deserve a role in advocating for smart growth. They believe that Effective community involvement requires:

1) Education: Local governments and developers must provide accurate, transparent, and timely information. Citizens must commit to accessing this information and making educated judgements.---Oshawa politicians keep information close to their chest...witness the lack of info provided regarding the very important change to the general vote. Information would have promoted public debate and thought about the issue before the plebiscite vote. Democracy requires an "informed public." The general vote will make it impossible for voters to become informed about the huge number of candidates they will see on the ballot. Oshawa politicians therefore do not really believe in democracy because they do not believe in ward voting where voters are able to make more "informed choices" of candidates they select to represent the interests of their local neighbourhood.

2) Broad Viewpoints: Smart growth decisions affect the environment, property taxes, commuting, housing options, and many other issues. Diverse people must participate to represent all these issues...Oshawa's change to the general vote will result in a council comprised only of richer individuals able to afford the $30,000-$40,000 general vote election campaigns. The general vote will result in a council that is not at all diverse or representative of the makeup of this city or of its neighbourhoods. All council members will come to reside in a few areas of Oshawa leaving most of Oshawa unrepresented at the decision making table. Oshawa will come to be governed by an "elite group" of residents.

3) Looking Outward: A smart growth approach must look beyond the needs of an individual or group. One town may need to defer to broader regional interests. The challenge is to achieve community or regional interests while respecting local and individual needs...Oshawa reverting to the general vote centralizes all decision making to the "rich" people who reside in a few "high income" areas of Oshawa, hardly representative of the diverse populations we have in Oshawa.

All in all, Oshawa seems to be taking a route opposite to the enlightened leadership found in most areas in the rest of the country. It's hard to keep up when you're marching backwards!

Smart Growth BC even provides toolkits to encourage citizen involvement in municipal decision making.

The advice from Smart Growth BC to the people is:
1) Follow your local council activity on development and planning issues
2) Talk to your neighbours and friends about smart growth
3) Write a letter to the local newspaper or call a local radio talk show
4) Question your politicians and candidates at election time
5) Get involved with community groups that are concerned with community or sustainability issues – or, form a new one

If our Oshawa political leaders followed ideas on the Smart Growth BC website, they may be able to harnish citizen ingenuity, creativity, intelligence, experience, etc. to develop plans to improve our pathetic downtown.

Instead our politicians are too busy looking inward to their own self interest and too busy figuring out how to preserve their council seats that in the end will only result in stale and stagnated leadership for Oshawa. They're too busy manufacturing issues like a change in election systems that don't exist in the real world.

Everywhere down the line, the thinking and action of Oshawa City Council is contrary to the best practices common throughout the country. This is Oshawa. "Prepare to be amazed," Canada.

Why not share Oshawa’s “smart growth” with your BC cousins. You might start by writing about how Oshawa City Council is reducing political accountability and removing ward representation to serve the self-interest of the politicians. This would make Oshawa famous as the laughing stock of progressive communities everywhere.

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