How to fix city council with one good mayor.

by Mark Zaugg 24. August 2010 23:12

This may yet be a daily opinion before the week is out.  I know I have at least one more day's worth of ideas to express. 

I could have pre-written the question myself, "What have you got against Ric McIver?  What do you expect him to say?" 

Fundamentally, nothing I wrote yesterday is about Mr. McIver.  It was entirely about me and my realization that our city council has not and can not function successfully if it remains locked in a perpetual ideological split.  The mayor has to run that show. 

It is unacceptable for the inner city to point fingers at the suburbs and the suburbs to sneer back at the inner city and never come to an agreement.  It is unacceptable for the left to blame the right and the right to blame the left while we wallow in indecision and fallout.  It is unacceptable for bicyclists to always blame road woes on cars, and cars to always blame the problems on bikes while those people on the bus get away scot free.  It is unacceptable for city council to be locked into intransigent positions. 

City council's job is to find the best solutions to the problems in our city.  Not the perfect answer.  Just the best.  And that answer is not going to remain the best answer forever.  Another choice may prove to be a better idea as circumstances change. 

I have two basic axioms I rely upon for finding answers.

When faced with a question demanding a black or white answer, that decision needs to be immediately re-examined to ensure that only mutually exclusive choices remain.  Too often complicated issues are boiled down into binary options.  They rarely are the only choices available and they are almost never the best.

My other philosophy is that "Silver Platter Answers" (you know, the ones that just get handed to you on a plate) should never be trusted without examination.  Choices are hard, there are no short cuts and no easy ways out.

Those two fundamental beliefs explain why I do not accept that city council can perform it's job properly when it cannot work together.

Nobody is always right.  It doesn't make sense that imperfect people can find perfect solutions all the time.  That's why we are simply looking for the best solution we can find.  We can't have aldermen locked into a black and white view of the world because they're bound to be wrong some of the time.  Our issues can't always be about saving money or being more efficient.  Our traffic problems can't always be about bigger interchanges and super highways.  Our social problems can't all be a lack of funding all the time.  It isn't always going to be one way or the other.

A city council that is inflexible in it's views is not looking fairly at all the options available.  A city council that is paralyzed in opposition with each other gets caught up in the small battles and starts counting wins and losses instead of looking at what's best overall.

And an alderman that always lines up on the same side of an issue with his or her peers is accepting and then reissuing the Silver Platter Answers that do not require so much critical thinking.  No alternatives will suffice when you have framed everything into your personal ideology.

Good ideas just don't get heard when everyone pokes their fingers in their ears and screams, "LA-LA-LA LA-LAA."  

City council cannot keep itself in check when the same people are lining up on the same side of the hall time after time.  Bad ideas need to be tossed as well.  It's not supposed to be about siding with my friends time after time, it's supposed to be about fomenting the best ideas.  Where's the future planning coming from when everyone is around the table arguing with each other?  Who's asking the question, "Where are the competitive bids on this project?"

Today, let me use basement suites as my example.  Slapping a basement suite into every house that wanted one would have been a horrible idea.  Forbidding them outright isn't the best of plans either.  We have a real problem with affordable housing in this city and making some units available that were previously prohibited makes sense.

The biggest problem with basement suites is what, parking?  Perhaps too many of them get run down and you end up with an unappealing community?  But we want to encourage some.  Just not all or nothing.

So we set up parameters.  Separate entrance, safe living conditions, oh and only one every three properties, maximum of 20 in a neighbourhood.  That way no single neighbourhood will be swamped, but it's an option if there's a suitable home.  That's my proposal, throw it over the fence to be picked apart by the experts, then make a decision!  Ald. M. Royal sees no point to it, but suggests it would be fair because it applies city wide and suggests better wording that avoids problems from the last stab at a solution.  Ald. A.P. Plewood says the one in three rule is too restrictive because her houses are closer together.  We agree the overall plan is sound, and that Ald. Plewood's neighbourhood needs an exception of one ever four houses with a maximum of 22.

Is this pie in the sky stuff?  Forgive me if I'm being simplistic but that's my expectation of how city council needs to work.  Negotiate, share ideas, don't brush anything off because it doesn't affect you.

The mayor has to be in charge of this gong show and keep everyone on track.  Anyone who's going to get my support for mayor is going to have to show they have the willingness and ability to get city council functioning productively.  Every candidate is going to have to convince me they have a plan on how to make it happen.  What happened Sunday proved to me that I considered it the most important attribute of the next mayor and I was convinced my early favourite could NOT pull it off.

I don't care how sound your ideas or your platform are, if you can't keep council functioning productively you will not be able to implement your platform.

I will vote for whomever I feel will do the best job.  The winner of the election will be my representative whether or not I voted for him or her. 

I expect my representatives to temper their personal views because they don't have universal support.  I don't want my mayor and alderman Pollyanna.  I just don't want them to be closed minded and factional.


My parting shot is to answer the question above.  I wish Ric McIver the very best of luck and hope he performs admirably if elected.  He doesn't owe me any reply and I'd think him foolish if he offered a rebuttal.  But if he did, I hope it would be, "Screw off, I wanted to go to Race City instead.  You made a good point about alternative transportation and the festival, though."

What I value most from our next mayor

by Mark Zaugg 23. August 2010 20:30

Ric McIver lost my vote yesterday. 

Ric McIver was my far and away favoured candidate as the mayoral race started heating up over the past several months.  I've kept myself firmly in the undecided camp so far, although I certainly have my favourites and my dis-favourites.  So I was some surprised this morning when I realized that my first choice has crossed from the favoured to the disfavoured camp. 

The whole reason is not a clear cut, "I don't like what he said about such and such" or "So and so has a better idea how to tackle said thorny issue."  It's a little bit subtle, and yet very, very hard cut.  Like all of my meandering stories, I'm going to meander through a little background first. 

Yesterday, the kids and I went down to the Bow River Flow.  Granted, I've been scratching through trying to make ends meet and taking advantage of Calgary's festivals throughout the year are a marvelous way to enjoy the city on the cheap.  I decided last year that I was not going to spend a single entire weekend over the summer locked in the house.  Do you have any idea how easy it is in this city to attend a festival of some sort each and every week through the summer?  Often you have multiple choices or can hit two in the same day.  Calgary truly is a great city, even if it has some big problems. 

You know what, even festivals in this city have some problems, though.  Just last year there was serious talk about the festival fees being so high that they were choking not the small festivals, but a festival as big and significant as Lilac Festival on 4th Street. 

I've met Ms. Rempel and indirectly worked with her a few years back with staging and audio.  She has always worked extremely hard to pull together a manic Lilac Festival, and despite the weather it turns out somewhere between fabulous and on the verge of too big for it's britches.  She says she's having a hard time meeting city fees, well I sit right up and listen. 

It's all good, though.  They got through, they managed another successful weekend in 2010 (I was there, it was chilly, but fun).  Thanks in part to Ric McIver. From the same article:

 "Alderman Ric McIver says festivals are important for the city and it may be time to help subsidize them. "We may have to put something in the budget for it. But either way, we need to be a festival friendly city," says McIver."

Atta-boy, Ric, that's the attitude I want to see in a mayor.  Someone who's going to support what makes this city nice instead of just a place to live and work.  Mr. McIver is well known for being fiscally conservative, but I would not support a "Dr. No" if no was the only answer he ever gave.  We need that vibrancy and sometimes we have to cough up funding.  Even when his status as Dr. No is called into question I think Ric has generally been on the right side of the track. 

Speaking of tracks, Ric spearheaded keeping Race City Speedway a little while longer.   The city "needs" that 64 hectares for..  storm water retention?  So, the land is more or less going to sit idle?  We have a lot of performance cars in this city, we're a lot better off having a sanctioned track nearby.  I'm 100% behind Mr. McIver's efforts here.  Hey, just flood the track and let them practice hydroplaning if they really have to get out there and race when we have water to store, but disbanding the track does not seem like a good idea at all.  Something's rotten in the city of Calgary if there isn't some sort of solution that can be worked out.  And if Race City is doomed to go, we need to work hard to find an appropriate site for a new track before Race City is shut down. 

We both support the airport tunnel, I don't really have a lot to add there other than it seems most candidates seem to agree that a tunnel is a good idea and sooner is better than later.

But the single biggest frame of reference that cemented my support for Ric McIver was his attempt to make it easier for cyclists to commute in this city.  Raising the speed limit from 20 km/h to 30 km/h may not be the single best solution, but it sure would be an improvement during the commute in the mornings when the pathways are not congested.  I don't think responsible bike riders dare go 20 km/h when the pathways are congested anyways.  Handing out tickets to bicyclists for speeding on a clear path seems heavy handed and pettily enforcing the letter of the law.

In my route in the morning, the bike path is essentially the stretch of my commute where I can catch my breath and gather my courage to take on the next stretch of my ride along the roads.  On a bike, you are expected to ride at the agonizingly slow speed of 20 km/h along mostly deserted pathways or the rip-my-42-year-old-heart-from-my-chest speed of 50 km/h with the rest of the traffic.  Sorry, I can only do 40 tops, and then only for short bursts.  My average speed is 18.2 km/h.  Commuting in this city is ridiculous if you're riding a bike.

Which takes me right back to the Bow River Flow.  Sure, it's not a festival packed gutter-to-gutter with a crush of people and vendors hocking their wares.  That's the point.  At least as far as my family, it truly is about finding alternative ways of getting around and promoting the concept of "Share the Road."  I'm not sure that ripping two lanes of traffic away from vehicles for a day is the best way to get the point across, but in reality it is only one day and it is definitely a refreshing take on what a Calgary festival can be.

Let me state my position perfectly clear: I am fundamentally opposed to shutting down Memorial Drive without just cause, however so long as the Bow River Flow remains an interesting festival with widespread support from its sponsors and a large number of Calgarians, I will attend and support it myself.  My attitude changed once I saw what they had done.

I made this realization yesterday as I passed the Peace Bridge construction zone.  I'm viscerally opposed to the Peace Bridge.  I want a mayor who will oppose self-aggrandizing monuments, with a single-sourced bid - or at least fix the tainted process for gathering bids.  I was (and remain) outraged that it was pushed as "provincially funded" and therefore the money had to be used for a pedestrian bridge or lost. (I haven't found the link, so I'm likely misquoting.)  Get me a mayor who will say, "NO!  We will NOT be bribed with our own money.  We will fund only the best and most needed projects."

Most of the mayoral candidates agree that the Peace Bridge should not have happened the way it happened.  They don't necessarily feel the same way I feel about it, but I think it's clear the process was horribly flawed.

I may not like the idea of shutting down Memorial Drive, but I viciously oppose wasting $24.5 million dollars on a pedestrian bridge that has two other pedestrian bridges less than six blocks away.

My feelings are very strong, but I lost that battle and some day hope to scowl when I ride over my piece of a shiny red bauble.  When the fight is over, some times you just have to suck it up and accept that you lost it.  I'm not going to stand on the end of the bridge banging a lid while demanding our next mayor rip the damned thing out.

Today I read this article from the Sun:

Ald. Ric McIver, who turned down an invitation to participate in a mayor’s bike race, said he has no interest in supporting an event that inconveniences Calgarians.

“I had other commitments and didn’t want to be part of unnecessarily disrespecting Calgarians by making it hard for them to have mobility,” he said.

“I support the festival, it just needs a new location without shutting down any roads.”

All that and I'm still agreeing with Mr. McIver.  I want a mayor unafraid to stand for his or her principles as I unapologetically stand for my own.  But then it breaks down in a hurry.

Lilac Festival is a huge disruption to Fourth Street.  A few years back I forgot what weekend it was and had to slog through a massive jam of traffic to skirt around Fourth.  Should I have known better?  Yes.  Was it still an inconvenience? Certainly.  I reject the argument that shutting down half of Memorial Drive in and of itself is the main issue.

Lilac Festival is put on by the Fourth Street BRZ, just as Sunfest is put on by Inglewood's BRZ.  Both are fantastic, I very much enjoyed going to each of them this year.  One of the complaints of the Bow River Flow is that businesses will be affected and / or businesses aren't pushing to shut down the street as a festival.  There were a whole lot of bicycle businesses offering free tuneups - COSTING them business, but gaining much loyalty.  The fact that Memorial Drive isn't lined with trinkets from end to end is a positive for me - it's about movement and getting out there and not simply a big outdoor market.  It's unique - although I would welcome maybe a few booths for lunch.  (Oooh, could we focus on fresh and healthy and omit those mini-donuts, no matter how tasty they may be?)  It's just another street festival in Calgary.  So long as it's organized and the sponsors can keep it alive, it's a valid street festival to me.  We have several others that are equally exceptional.

I sure don't want him just to show up to campaign with a false smile.  I want him to stick to his guns and say, "No, I don't support this and here is why..."  But I want him to know that Bow River Flow is about bikes to me, and about better transportation options in the city.  It's about commuting safely in the mornings, and I thought he grokked the idea that we need more choices.

The existence of the Bow River Flow, like the Peace Bridge, is a battle that was lost.  It's happened, and it has been made into something that is good.  It's a good event to attend and an event that is ultimately good for Calgary if it can encourage better transportation options.  Both Mr. McIver and I need to look beyond the nonsensical fight in City Hall chambers and appreciate what someone managed to create once they were given the freedom to create it.

Perhaps what made the fight nonsensical to me was that it was fought in the first place.  Bow River Flow was (fortunately) given a chance to live, now the ball goes to the organizers to keep it vibrant, popular, and funded.  I appreciate what they've done in two years time.  Suddenly I'm not upset with closing half of Memorial, I'm upset that this was argued over for so long when the naysayers should have just given the organizing committee a chance to make it something special.  

On further thought, the opposition should have acquiesced much sooner over this festival.  It was a stupid hill to die on.  It seems churlish to boycott the festival and stay ignorant about what it has become.

Ultimately, Mr. McIver lost my vote because it doesn't feel that he's put that lost battle behind him.  I'd had enough of a divided council.  I get the impression that attending the silly bike race was dismissed with disdain for the festival.  That, to me, demonstrates an unwillingness to work within council whether you get your way or not.

Should Alderman Farrell be re-elected (and Calgary has a history of re-electing standing aldermen), are we looking forward to another three years of loggerheads?  More drawn out arguments over minutia when there's business to be done?  Or perhaps ramming everything down the other side's throat?  The mayoral candidate I support must show a willingness and competency to work with whatever sad and miserable lot of aldermen are also elected - even if some of them are pretty good.

I won't be upset if Mr. McIver wins.  I like what he stands for, but I sure hope he can understand the point I'm making.  Principled opposition is okay, but to me that means you check out how things turned out once you've lost the day.  Partisan opposition sounds like a three year old on a temper tantrum.  We've had enough, I don't want any more anywhere near my city council.  It's an unacceptable trait in my mayor.

Side note:

From the Peace Bridge FAQ off the city's website (pdf warning!) 

5. Where is funding coming from for the Peace Bridge?
Funding for this capital project is provided by the Province through the Municipal Sustainability Imitative [hilarious sic] (MSI).

Is this the same fund where they mysteriously discovered funding for the airport tunneljQuery152036405599559657276_1309244325466  We have a bloody red bridge and we could have been working towards the airport tunnel in the first place?  Someone loose a bloodhound on this trail!


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