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Mayor promised to do things differently. Now what about everyone else?

December 2nd, 2014 · 16 Comments

We are all on pins and needles, awaiting word any day now from the mayor’s office about the radical changes in communication, accessibility, and general user-friendliness about to take place as a result of the mayor’s pre-election apology and post-election promise to do better.

I ran into an old city-hall fellow traveller recently, who reminded me of how Mayor Philip Owen used to reserve a block of time Friday afternoons, where 15-minute appointments could be scheduled by random members of the public to talk about their city problems. Tea was served, she recalled.

Perhaps that could be a start, if there were some way to ensure the appointments weren’t taken up exclusively by people determined to waterboard a confession out of the mayor about the latest CD-1 rezoning.

In the meantime, I’m wondering what other city players are going to take away from this election and whether they’ll be similarly inspired to change their communication style and accessibility.

I’m talking, of course, about the various resident groups, cityhall watchdogs, mysterious Twitter entities, and political parties that sprang into being the last few years whose main function appeared to be to oppose, always and everywhere, the latest development project or bylaw or proposal  or comment from a (Vision) city councillor.

I guess some of them may decide that, overall, the opposition forces gained in numbers, even if not in council seats, and so they should continue to maintain sustained opposition, in the hopes that they’ll prevail in four years when the 80,000 Vision voters (finally) come to their senses.

They could try that, although it’s hard to imagine how the combined roar of their Twitter presence, news releases, suggestions of improper dealings, complaints that the city is being overtaken by condo-loving foreign investors who have bought off the mayor and council, etc., etc. could get any more traction than they already achieved.

Or some of them might want to look at the way they themselves have spoken to the public and ask whether more residents  might have been persuaded by their arguments if those arguments hadn’t been so virulent and over the top and if the groups they created hadn’t been so resolutely closed to anyone not sharing their opinions.

There are some excellent community groups in this city, where the people involved and those who’ve taken on the thankless job of leadership make their best efforts to listen to everyone in the neighbourhood.

But there’s been a wave in recent years of others that seem to be composed of a very tiny nucleus of people, where the point is not to listen to all the points of view in the community, but to rally together only the most dedicated opponents.

I suspect that one of the reasons that Vision eked out its win on council is not so much that a lot of voters were wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the way Vision has gone about its business, but because those voters didn’t see a lot of other options. The activist groups that were trying to marshall support for change were so black and white, so hostile to moderates, that those middle-of-the-road voters felt like they didn’t belong.

Those same groups also need to think about whether they want to represent a broader set of residents. It was clear, looking at the neighbourhood results in various areas that had seen protests, that Vision lost a small percentage of votes but nothing like the thousands that opponents hoped for.

In the end, it looks as though a lot of people weren’t secretly siding with the opposition groups. They were secretly girding themselves to vote Vision, because it was the only place that felt sort of like home — complete with all the problems. Maybe because, as renters, as condo-dwellers, as young people quietly wondering about their place in the city, they weren’t quite as alarmed at the city’s changes as those who spoke the loudest.

Whatever happens, I hope that some group emerges as an effective opposition, whether it’s a party or a community organization. I don’t think there’s anyone in the city who thinks that isn’t needed. I’ve seen the Vision team tack this way and that when they think they have to, when some effective public group has indeed made a strong case about what they’re doing wrong or what needs to be done right.







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