Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Watching Politicians is my Life

Politics. Politicians. Why do both these words make me want to wash my mouth out with soap?

It is a civic election year in Calgary, and I’m willing to bet that by now:
1) You’ve had 32 chances to meet a sitting politician you haven’t met since the last time they ran for election, and they are all telling you what a fantastic job they have done for you;

2) You’ve learned that people you have never heard of are running for some of the positions; all are willing to tell you they are the right person for the job because they led a scout group or brush their teeth twice a day;

3) Some politician or political wanna-be has promised you that the community’s and/or city’s problems would all be solved by simply electing them. This includes crime, homelessness, graffiti, air quality, the environment, global warming, and the fact that pantyhose run the minute you put them on.

There are some things I admire about politicians. Virtually all are fighting to do something they think deep down in their core is important and right; they actually are trying to change the world. They’re consciously taking on a job that is normally thankless and where the single most important key to success is the ability to actually listen to their constituents. The latter also means they must recognize that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, so they are accepting a job where about half of the people will be unhappy at what they are doing at any given moment in time. By listening, their job is to listen to everyone equally; a tough thing to do when there exist lobbyists whose sole job it is to get heard more than you or me.

Sadly, there are a lot more things I don’t like about politicians. I don’t like the way they adopt motherhood statements and soundbites to talk of actual problems we could do something about. Motherhood is “more LRT cars, more busses, fewer cars.” Only naive people believe that is a workable solution when you add 500,000 more people to the city and we’re still running the LRT along surface tracks waiting for stoplights downtown. The occasionally touted “Go Plan” is little more than gussied up motherhood.

I really don’t like it when politicians tell me they’re doing something for my good, and then actually do it for someone else’s good. It’s “for my good” that they closed 6th Ave in Downtown Calgary for 10 months instead for partially closed it for 2 years – when in fact, it’s far cheaper for the developer to build his project in a year than spread over 2 years. Closing 6th Ave isn’t good for me at all. In fact, to me it’s just further evidence that the only people who matter in this city are the developers, and in particular, real estate developers. With the current slate of politicians, it seems that planning rules and guidelines appear to go out the window when the developers come ‘a calling. Communities like Crescent Heights have Community Association planning subcommitties to try to control as much of it as they can, and try very hard as they do, I’m not sure how much they can actually do.

And indeed I have lost all my faith in our current group of politicians as guardians of the city’s development. Some clear examples spring to mind. Council (spearheadded by my Alderman) are now committed to basically tearing down the Eau Claire Market, but they are proud that they did the right thing in putting in controls that allow city council to approve any redevelopment. Only trouble is they approved the mess they have by permitting it in the first place. Why should I trust them now when they haven’t gotten it right for the last 10 years? The redevelopment of the 7th Avenue transit corridor is the same; the rejuvenation promised by the original stations never happened, so we’re tearing down the old stations to build new ones, as if that will help. Arguably the most important piece of real estate in the city – Eau Claire and the riverfront surrounds from Edmonton Trail to 14th St – has lost its bus barns and its heritage and is being turned into condo central – just like Toronto did to its now characterless waterfront. The East Village isn’t a lot different; city council has created the mess, and now they can’t seem to fix it. The only interests that are being served here are the guys building the condos getting the prime real estate.

Urban sprawl exists in great part because developers buy up the land on the edges and build out subdivisions long before infrastructure is in place. Council lets – encourages – the developers build the missing infrastructure, so it gets built the way the developers want it. For instance, John Laurie Boulevard, a major thoroughfare, stops just short of connecting to Stony Trail, smack dab in the middle of the communities of Crowfoot & Arbour Lake, because the developer didn’t want it to split his development. I think my favourite examples of this are the numerous shopping messes areas we have, such as Crowfoot Village, Shawnessy Station and West Hills.

I could go on (and may do in a future post), but back to politicians. I don’t like that they hide their underlying political leanings. There’s a lot of difference between a civic politician who is a rabid NDP member and one who is an extreme right wing conservative. The former wants to rent control every apartment and put a homeless person in it, the latter wants to chuck them all out in the street. Personally, I think civic politics should be party based the same way federal and provincial elections are. Then you know what you are signing up for.
I don’t like politicians, who are elected and then disappear, only to show up 4 years later when they want their jobs back; kudos therefore to Jim Prentice, whom I hear from from time to time. I think my MLA is named Swann, but the fact that I can’t remember tells me he’s doing a lot for people, but it’s not you and me. I see our local alderman Druh Farrell’s name in the paper agreeing with whatever Mayor Dave Bronconier says, and that’s not staying in touch.

But I think most of all I don’t like politicians who claim to represent me, but in fact carry a completely different viewpoint. In the last 4 years, there’s very little that my local Alderman Druh Farrell has said or done that I agree with, and if there is, I can’t remember what it is. I have disagreed with her stance on 16th Avenue, on Downtown core and East Village development, on public transit, on fixing 7th Avenue, on Centre St. redevelopment, on redevelopment of the Eau Claire market, on housing the homeless, tearing down Plus 15s, the HOV lane… well the list goes on. She’s passionate, but not my right person to guide our city into the future, and she sure doesn’t represent me. This ought to tell you how I will not vote in the upcoming election. And I will vote.

But in the end, what matters is that everyone who reads this (and is eligible) actually does vote, because no elections impact your life more than civic ones. This election is about your city: your water, your garbage collection, your busses, your roads, your shopping centers, your parks, your swimming pools – your day to day life. It’s not about nebulous problems like Afghanistan, Chinese human rights violations or Arctic Sovereignty. And if you don’t vote, you don’t earn the right to diss Druh Farrell, Mayor Dave or any of the rest ever again.

1 comment:

Derek & Karen said...

Druh got back in with 80% of the vote in Ward 7. Dave got back in with 61% of the popular vote. Yet voter turnout was an abysmal 25%.

Four more years of them. Eek.