• Sean M. O'Connell

City Council Shenanigans

I went to the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee (SPPC) meeting and the City Council meeting on March 3-4th. The reason for attending the SPPC meeting was that I went to hear the update about the Back to the River project and a Bus Rapid Transit motion.

For whatever reason Mayor Holder punted the Back to the River project discussion till the end of the committee session which apparently was not properly discussed. Shawn Lewis was interviewed in an article about the Back to the River project earlier last week where he stated about how he wants to kill the project. I am alarmed by that. Councillor Lehman also made a reference to the project stating that we (as a city) shouldn't be wasting money on a vanity project. He made this in reference to the presentation on homelessness pilot project to deal with camps around town. Homelessness is being dealt with albeit it, slowly, but that is another issue.

Naturally, the naysayers on twitter pile onto the vanity project sentiment. I do tire of hearing uneducated statements that demean or over simplify. The Back to the River project is one of London's initiatives to rejuvenate our city. It isn't about making something look good at the expense of other problems. London's city council is responsible for handling multiple issues at once. In other words, London as a city can walk and chew gum at the same time. Governance whether local, provincial or federal doesn't operate in vacuum, where they deal with one issue at a time. Nor are London's resources scarce. Projects, such as the Back to River, are meant as public works to enhance, beautify and improve the quality of life in town. They promote tourism, demonstrate that the city is growing and willing to take some risks. London has a host of infrastructure challenges however this project shows one of the approaches to revitalise downtown. The Dundas flex street being another example. London has always had an issue with small minded thinking. If one goes to city council one sees it openly.

One of the other issues talked about was whether the city should place Naloxone kits in the 29 community centres in London. There were many comments about whether they would be used or not and if we should provide them at all. To me, and to a few others on council, it was obviously a net benefit to having them rather than not. London has a drug (trafficking) problem, and has been hit with an opioid crisis as other municipalities. It doesn't mean we need the kits in perpetuity, it is (hopefully) a temporary crisis. However two comments by Paul Van Meerbergen and Shawn Lewis show how flimsy the counter arguments were. Paul started with talking about kids eating tide pods and filming themselves and whether kids would digest Naloxone kits if they saw them. His comment illustrates the type of tone deaf stupidity that can persist on council. These kits would be next to the defibrillator. According to his logic a kid would also want to try out the defibrillator too? It is pointless speculation. Similarly, Lewis's scenario where he described about city liabilities because after administering a naloxone shot the person could wake up from their overdose and stab or assault the person giving it. This scenario is completely unrealistic. People in a state of shock or near death do not react in that way. Turner who used to work as an EMS attested to that with his rebuttal.

The BRT motion that came to the committee was simple enough. The motion was to ensure that all BRT reports and votes flow to the SPPC instead of the civic works committee. The reason for this is that the civic works committee has been stacked with anti-BRT councillors. Why council didn't see that landmine and still voted these councillors to the committee (unless of course they used ranked balloting...) is beyond me. In any case, Phil Squire didn't like the fact that he was not informed of the motion prior to council as he is the chair of the civic works committee. Clearly, if inclined, he could try to sabotage the effort, hence being kept in the dark. Legislatively, if one wants to scuttle a project, have partisans overtake a committee and control the flow of information. Potentially, the civic works committee has plenty of opportunity to dither or obfuscate BRT related matters before passing it along to SPPC. I tried to point this out on twitter and was promptly trolled by an Anti-BRTer, who didn't understand the meaning of the word insidious. The end result is that council would not have had to do this motion at all if the civic works committee was balanced.

There were a few heated exchanges between Squire and Anna Hopkins, he claimed she was making faces at him while speaking. Ed Holder also piled on with questioning Hopkins point of order and the use of the word 'major' (projects) when Jessie Helmer spoke about amending the language of motion. It was very clear to me that the reason for the objections with this motion is that the Anti-BRT councillors attempt to place a monkey wrench into the BRT process went awry. Worse, for them, is that when they were met with real opposition they backed down on the vote. Only Paul Van Meerbergen and Ed Holder voted against it.

There will be more BRT discussion and posturing in the coming month. March 20th is when there will be another public participation meeting at Centennial Hall. Finally, I would like to say, that it would be nice if people who oppose BRT got out of their comfort zones and exclusively rode the bus for a month or two. Their perspective may change if they did.