Wednesday, October 16, 2013

An Open Letter to Our Future Mayor and Council

There are now five days until we all head to the polls to cast our ballots. At the end of the day 26 out of 35 of you will be unhappy with the day's events and nine of you will be our representatives. You'll be charged with guiding the operations, growth, and future of Red Deer over the next four years, and for being a part of the planning that will chart the course for the next 30 - 50 years.

My words here are on behalf of the community of reasonably-minded people, who truly believe that our future lies in creating a thoughtful, environmentally and economically sustainable, multi-cultural community; one that encourages business, promotes kindness, fosters environmental stewardship and ensures that we watch out for and support our fellows.

In short. I am speaking for all the citizens who want you to "do-right" by the entire community, not just those who can afford new toys, complete meals, winter vacations, and who think "like you". 

We have been subjected to the worst electoral season I can remember. While many candidates have been trying to engage in critical thought, full discourse, and well-rounded conversation, many others have treated us like children. Nenshi refers to his philosophy as "politics in full sentences." This is an ideal that all candidates - and future Mayors and Councillors - should ascribe to. Yet, there has been an element this season, that is all too-willing to reduce discourse to baseless accusations, twisted information, deliberate obfuscation of information, and most disgustingly, personal attacks and character assassinations.

Stop it. 

Growth, planning, social programs, environmental stewardship, and economic progress cannot flourish in this climate. It just can't. Reducing everything to carefully-parsed data, and black/white arguments will bind Council and prevent anything from getting done. Careful thought, full sentences, and conciliation are the markers on the path forward.

I've chosen to address two of the biggest issues to come out of this rancid electoral season: Spending and accountability.

First, some thoughts about spending: Funding proposals for capital projects and pilots will appear in front of you. It will be all too easy to vote no, saying "the majority of the people won't use this." At the risk of being the guy who turns on the light in a dark room, I'll point out that most of these requests don't service "the majority of the population". The skateboard parks, the Collicut Centre, the Rec Centre, the bike lanes, any new subdivision... they all serve minorities. Sometimes they're regional minorities, such as the case with the Collicut Centre or a new subdivision. Sometimes they're demographic minorities, as with the skateparks. Sometimes they're tiny minorities, as with the bike lanes. But, they all contribute to our overall quality of life and they all contribute to our community's appeal to people looking to invest, move, and create wealth here. More importantly, while they may serve minorities, the minorities they serve need those services and facilities. 

Also, for those of you requiring an economics refresher, please learn the difference between debt (which is used to fund big expensive things) and deficit (which would be tied to an operational budget - and something that Red Deer doesn't have).

Secondly, some brief words on "accountability" (the quotes are deliberate): There will come a time when you'll need to move a discussion "in camera". Those of you running on accountability platforms are going to have to weigh your responsibilities. Are you going to hold up progress by refusing to go "in camera", or are you going to alienate your constituency and join the off-record conversation. You can't have it both ways. By campaigning on a myth of accountability, you'll have potentially painted yourself into a corner.

Sometime around April, via Facebook, I flippantly told one candidate, who shall remain nameless, that unless they could hold two divergent opinions at the same time, and see the merit in both of them, that they should back off and let the adults work. While this wasn't particularly eloquent, the point stands. Municipal politics isn't the forum for polarizing points of view. It is not the forum for absolutes.It certainly isn't the place for anybody who lacks empathy.

Part of your job over the next four years will be to empathize with all the citizens of Red Deer. Your job is to carefully weigh the information before you and to make the decisions that benefit current residents and future generations. Your job, is to be able to look a pie and realize that there is more than one way to carve and serve it. If you get your job wrong, the pie will go rancid and we'll all lose. Get it right and our community will thrive and evolve.

Submitted respectfully, to all candidates.

Todd Nivens


RTB said...

Excellent appeal for the accusatory, inflammatory none sense that has plagued this electoral session to stop.

Fear not, I believe the majority of "like-minded" people you refer to have effectively marginalized themselves for the aforementioned reasons. The dichotomy in statement instills a lack of trust from the real "common-sense' people they proclaim to represent.

It has taken a bit of time for some to realize this, but I believe that people have come to their senses while witnessing individuals, like yourself, who continuously refute the strategic rhetoric and falsities in these pseudo-campaigns.


Red said...

I think council should work as much as possible by consensus. Some of these people would be most unwilling to work by consensus to see that the city operates effectively. People who think they will run the city if they are on council don't get it. Yes , all potential councillors should read this as well as the voters.

Jonathan Wieler said...

Wow this was very intriguing for me; "serving the majority of the minorities", "holding two divergent opinions and seeing the merit of both". Good points! Thanks for posting!

Also I have to say that so far there is only one candidate other than myself, whom I have heart talk about environmental stewardship. I have made it one of my 3 priorities!

1) People Centred Approach 2) Environmental stewardship 3) Enriching the Creative Class.