By Jason Menard
The top priority for every candidate in the upcoming 2014 London municipal election is easy to define — in fact, it’s got to be number one with a bullet.
Because the buckshot approach of the past couple of councils is only serving to scatter their effectiveness — well, if you discount council’s effectiveness in shooting itself in the foot.
Though I’m very much anti-gun, I hope you’ll forgive my analogy. A bullet is simple, effective, and direct. However, it’s not comprehensive from the start. It is packed with many individual grains gunpowder or other propellants that all come together to force it forward.
That’s what the next council must do. It must take all these disparate ideas, perspectives, and needs from their various constituencies, and bring them together to move forward in one, cohesive unit that propels this city forward.
Instead, we’ve been stuck with a buckshot approach — one that spreads out its focus and loses its effectiveness the longer it goes.
Whether you remember Billy T’s and backdoor meetings, or recall the days of chicken wings and pool halls, London’s City Council has sadly been neutered by the appearance and/or existence of polarized groups. There is little cohesion — and, as such, there has been little forward momentum for years.
You don’t need uniformity. You don’t need 15 like-minded thinkers. After all, just as an alloy is stronger than pure metal, so too is a body made up of a variety of perspectives and experiences stronger for its varied composition.
Bringing together people from all walks of life, of varying ages and tenure, you enable debate, the inclusion of new ideas, the perspective of experience, and the ability to forge a position that’s been adequately vetted, tested, and approved.
It’s once that bullet leaves its chamber — pun fully intended — that the uniformity shows its strength.
Currently, we have a council that seems to have decisions made in spite of itself. And the perception amongst the people of London is that there is no cohesive support for any idea. There’s no sense of working for all of London — instead, there’s a feeling that certain areas are going to benefit; others may not be considered. And that buckshot approach only serves to render any potential full of holes.
Yet a council that works together, is respectful and focused on cohesive solutions that benefit everyone, has a better opportunity to come out of those chambers as a unified force. A group that, after debate and discussion, can say with confidence, “We feel this is the best solution for the City of London at this time.”
And that confidence will extend to the citizens of the Forest City.
In spite of this analogy, it’s important to remember there is no magic bullet. You can’t buy one calibre or shop at only one store in one area and hope that it will be the right one for each and every job. There is not one section, idea, or community that has — or, more pretentiously, thinks it IS — the answer to what ails this city.
London is made up of so many different people, in various stages of life, with varied needs, wants, and goals.
Jobs, poverty, transit, community revitalization, social services, arts and culture — all of those are secondary goals, because without prioritizing a council that works together effectively, none of those other priorities can be effectively addressed.
Finding candidates who are willing to work together to ensure all of those components are brought together to propel those solutions forward is the key for the composition of the next council. We don’t have the luxury of another misfire or another round of shooting ourselves in the foot.
What we need a team that’s willing to work together to ensure that London is number one.
With a bullet.
Bullets, of course, are not actually packed with individual grains of gunpowder. What is being discussed here is a cartridge. The bullet is simply the projectile at the tip of the cartridge. It contains no propellant.
London doesn’t need a new bullet but a new sharpshooter and a new target. Our problems run deeper than just modifying the allegorical cartridge.
Take your pick of a problem: unemployment, plant closures, urban sprawl . . . We must tackle London’s problems with an open mind. We must search for new, or at least different answers.
Take unemployment and plant closures. The two problems are, in many instances, clearly linked. The position taken by The London Free Press columnist Larry Cornies expresses much that is wrong with our reaction to these plant closures.
Acting as an apologist for big business, Cornies told his readers: “Their imperative — whether it’s Libby’s, Ford, Heinz, Kellogg or U.S. Steel — is to act in the strategic interests of their shareholders or investors — not, ultimately, the communities where they employ workers. That’s the deal we make with them in the free-market system.”
As long as we believe that myth, we are in trouble. And Cornies is repeating a myth. An entire book has been written addressing this very subject — The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations and the Public by Lynn Stout, a Distinguished Professor of Corporate & Business Law at Cornell University Law School in Itaca, NY.
As long as we believe the media-spread myths about the free-market and capitalism, we will continue to pay millions to bring multinational companies like Dr. Oetker to locate in London. When the opportunity arises, these companies will move on.
We need a new approach, a new mythology. Think of the cooperative. In 1874 a group of dairy farmers near Woodstock began working together to make cheese. That cooperative, Brights Cheese, is still going today.
In Canada and the United States we give short shrift to the cooperative movement. Most of us don’t realize that globally the United Nations calculates nearly 1 billion people own shares in cooperatives. The top 300 cooperatives around the world — known as the ‘300 List’ — are said to be worth an estimated $1.6 trillion.
The Free Press tells us: “That’s the deal we make with them [big business] . . . ” No. That’s the deal big business wants you to believe you have agreed to. It is important to recall that when the local paper went on strike, Larry Cornies, driven by strongly held personal beliefs, crossed the picket line and helped the out-of-town owners continue to get the paper out.
Mr. Cornies personal deal with big business is not mine. I don’t believe it should be London’s.
Take another problem: sprawl. Even the much bally-hooed ReThink London didn’t drive our city planners to come up with suggested future densities that came even close to some of the densities being achieved today in other communities around the world. (I stayed in a great neighbourhood in Montreal that has a density about four times that of anything proposed by our city planners. High density does not have to mean dull, filing-cabinets-for-people as it seems to mean in London. I think of Wonderland north of Oxford and I shake my head.)
Changing the make up of an allegorical cartridge to save London makes me think of another phrase: This is “like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”