• Sean M. O'Connell

The politics of promises

Updated: Oct 11, 2018

The media is in full swing trying to tell everyone that there are only four individuals to vote for in the mayoral race. It has become absurd. They use labels like, front runner, high profile, or mainstream. The media has propped up each of these candidates for months with free air time. Why are people surprised when they are labelled as high profile candidates? In a first past the post election it is to be expected but frankly, it is a self fulling prophecy and quite nonsensical in a preferential ranked ballot.

For the past few weeks I have been involved in numerous 'debates', podcast recordings and interviews. However there has been a distinct feeling of disconnection from the media regarding their reporting on the election. Seemingly there are two elections occurring. The first is what people experience when they attend all candidate meetings/debates and hear first hand candidates in their own words. The second is what the media decides. Now I understand, that as a journalist, there are times where one has to make a judgement call as to whether someone receives attention or not. The idea of a candidates' cache or clout.

However why the intense focus on candidates who spend money on their campaigns? Let's be realistic, money doesn't make for a better candidate, it is for self marketing. I find it alarming that many candidates are falling into this trap. Those who spend more believe they will be elected, instead of offering residents better policies. Do more with less. That is what candidates should aim for, it is what I do. Just to be clear, that doesn't mean one should lack in substance, it means do more with less resources.

Now onto the point of this post, to address the focus of the 'top four' candidates' platforms.

Let us look at Paul Cheng's platform.

  • Helping and encouraging business to create jobs and employment in London by ending Bureaucracy and Red Tape in City Hall.

  • Building London’s Future through impartial leadership.

  • Alleviating Poverty and Homelessness – London’s most vulnerable.

  • Halt the BRT with alternatives to relieve congestion that benefits all Londoners immediately

He tries hard in his explanations to highlight how his platform is 'realistic and with measurable results'. Considering what he wrote neither is true and over simplified. For example, take his 'cut red tape' line. He outlines how building permits not competed in 30 days is a backlog. He insists he would meet with City Manager, City Planners and staff each morning until it gets done. While this sounds like it would be useful, in practice it is not. I once had a manager who insisted on daily morning meetings. They eventually stopped when I pointed out the lack of utility and that it was taking up too much time from our work, thus we were not able to meet deadlines. Meetings are useful as long as they are productive and have purpose, otherwise let people get on with their work. Alternatively, if there were a backlog, logically one would hire or shuffle personnel to address the issue.

I am unclear as to how impartial leadership has anything to do with Tourism London and getting more events into London. This stance seems to be a non-starter. Cheng would like to have one event hosted in London per year and at the end of his term would have four per season. Although events are lucrative to the city, to draw in tourists, but tourism is more than an event. London has to be a destination where people go to regularly year after year. This presents us a distinct challenge. I've stated before but London needs to become marketable. We can send delegations to attract events but without the 'wow factor' we aren't any different from other competing municipalities.

When it comes to alleviating poverty and homelessness there is no one size fits all approach. People end up in these situations for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, the majority of programmes dealing with poverty, aside from charities, are run by the province. The province is distant from the realities that exists in municipalities. There is no debate that we as a city need better relations and coordination with the province. Previously, I read the Mayor's poverty initiative survey. It presented a variety of recommendations but I found the document largely absent in actual policy aside from making people aware of the conditions of poverty. I do support a comprehensive housing first policy and there are studies to back up this premise. Having stability and social supports is a key factor to reducing homelessness and enabling people to move beyond their circumstances.

In terms of Cheng's transit policies I made some initial assessments in my previous post Falsehoods and a credibility gap. However, he now believes that our transit woes are solvable with installing bus bays everywhere. He also proposes unifying bicycle lanes and fixing pot holes. The latter item is a part of yearly road maintenance. Every winter our roads need repair, that is just a fact. As for the concept of bus bays, congestion on the roads is precisely because we have not re-utilised our road space. We have buses, cars and cyclists all competing for a share of the roadway. Buses stop and start along their routes and cars get stuck behind them. Cyclists are treated as an afterthought and squeezed out. This is where his stance against BRT is unhelpful. No one has proposed a significant alternative that works, nor in fairness are they experts. I have listened to the experts during council sessions and I know from my life experiences how these transit systems work in practice. Hence my support for the BRT system.

Ed Holder

Ed Holder recently came out with his platform. For someone who loves to promote his time in government he is really short on substance. Let's look at transit first. He states that BRT is too expensive. He would like to have an efficient bus service (doesn't everyone?) with service extended to Veterans Memorial Parkway (VMP) to service businesses. Perform surveys to assess a lack of bus service and partner with local businesses to pay for bus bays. He also speaks to traffic light synchronisation and improving cycling 'shallows' which are the arrows on the roadways to mark a cycling lane. Paolatto also talks about traffic light synchronisation. Do candidates have a talking point manual that I am unaware of? Our traffic lights are synchronised and have been so for many years.

Finally he wants an app for smart phones that 'actually tells bus times'. We do have an app. I've used it for years. The app received an upgrade this year which improved it. However the bus service has been poor for the past month hence the schedule adherence issues. Again it is a minor issue in comparison to building necessary infrastructure.

Extending the service down the VMP is something I would address. I have pointed out previously that businesses in London would not willingly accept applications if one had to take a bus in these areas. So Holder's position on this isn't any different from my own. More surveys are not presently needed to assess transit in London. I think through the BRT process city hall has a pretty excellent grasp of what are city is lacking in transit. Regarding 'shallows' and bus bays, both are non-starters. I know there are some areas that need a bus bay but it is an add on to deliver easier access to a bus stop and not a 'solution'. Arrow chevrons usually require repainting as the snow ploughs tend to scrap them off and aside from maintenance this doesn't help Londoners with their commute.

The rest of Holder's platform consists of bringing London leaders together to get the 'job' done. Securing provincial and federal investment for infrastructure. Support job growth and minimise property taxes by cutting city hall services. Attend major business presentations and better support for drug addiction/mental health services/social housing. All of these items basically anyone can perform if they were elected Mayor. I do however take issue with cutting city hall services. Mr. Holder's doesn't seem to understand that a government's duty is to provide services to the public. If anything, I would make sure that our city services are efficient and at capacity.

Paul Paolatto

I have critiqued his policies in the past, however his messaging just carries on with the same tune. His latest line over the past two weeks, is to use pensions to fund social housing and infrastructure costs. I confronted him over this at the King's College debate. His response was nonsensical. He would use money from teachers, OPSEU and other provincial pensions. I politely pointed out that the mayor has no such ability to access those and even if one could that is a horrible idea. That is why residents pay property taxes.

As of yesterday morning, he issued a statement to ask five questions about BRT. I will take the time and answer those questions because he loves to promote doubt upon residents.

1. He asks about publishing BRT business case cost assessment - The simple answer is city hall doesn't have to. It is an internal document that should not be published for public consumption. It does not mean there is a nefarious agenda. This is how governments or major corporations conduct themselves. In any case, this ask fits into his narrative about lack of cost assessments with BRT.

2. He asks about construction costs assessment - Honestly, if he bothered to go to city hall he would know better than to ask this.

The above image shows estimated costs associated with the project

3. Total costs related to utilities - See above image

4. Estimated costs to secure a deal with Western University - This is not an ask. There won't be a 'cost' to deal with UWO because we will be servicing the area as it is in the best interests of their students and it is the city's responsibility.

5. Estimated costs to transit villages - There is no way to verify this. Development will happen at its own pace. It is also pointless speculation.

So to sum it up, cost assessments mean nothing without understanding what it is for. If a project is a priority for the city then the money will be there. I would also like to point out that there are always risks in any project. Prepared planning can mitigate much of that risk. Similarly, it doesn't mean that we should not do a project because of risk.

Tanya Park

Now I understand how Park has some alignment in terms of policy with myself such as BRT and cycling. However let's take a quick look at the platform.

Housing - she points out about the infrastructure deficit ($228 million) and 'inclusionary' zoning. Inclusionary zoning is a technical term for managing how a municipality can administer social housing and rent controls. She mentions about partnerships with private developers to help London. To be fair, most of the candidates have spoken to this idea when asked about social housing. I, however, have stated before that London must get the federal government to issue infrastructure funds through their National Housing Strategy. We will be fighting many other municipalities and regions for access to these funds. So the sooner we have a comprehensive business case, the better.

Food security - Park has spoken about this before, in the last election. The idea doesn't have traction because local groceries have been using local produce. Farm boy is an example. There was also an article a few months ago highlighting an entrepreneur in town who started her own farmers market downtown. Not to mention Covent Garden Market.

Economic development - She mentions the fact about our city's triple AAA credit rating. Which is something I will ensure we keep as we move forward. It means that we have a good finance department and don't need a line by line audit as Mr. Paolatto has suggested...(sidebar: I have worked in finance and with internal/external audits) Anyway, she then proceeds to talk about leveraging our expertise in education and training institutions to meet the demands of our economy. Sounds great, but that isn't what happens in practice. Fanshawe College and The University of Western Ontario are not 'public' institutions. Students won't be taking a particular degree to help the city out. They attend college or university based on their interests and where they believe they can make a living. Furthermore, the realm of education is provincial politics. Park returns to the theme of food security again and doesn't have any other ideas...the remaining subjects are transit, Arts and Culture and Safe Consumption sites. I won't bother with these as we have debated about them over the past month and a half.

I will say that, if we want graduates to stay in London then we need to provide the opportunities for them to do so. Let's be realistic, the city actions are limited in scope. That is why I proposed to make London marketable by improving the quality of life with buildings, green space/parks, transit, and infrastructure.

There will be many voters out there who are still struggling to identify candidates and understand what they are about. The media has for the most part done its best to skew things in favour of their preferred candidates. Londoners do have options. I am one. For the most part everyone is used to a first past the post system, including the media. It is a simple system, whereas ranked ballots provide preference. It is hard to change behaviour ingrained in us over decades. However, the media should be acutely aware of the fact that not everyone will be diligent and will watch or read whatever they have produced. Thus skewing public perception.

All is not lost, there are others in the media who are catching on.

I have tried my best to demonstrate that there is a candidate who took the time to do the research and provide a solid choice. I have a vision for London and will utilise our potential to our mutual prosperity.