Is bureaucratic thinking condemning us?

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan


Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

The future of the old St Joseph’s convent in Chapeau is one of those paradigm cases that        illuminate much more than itself. The story, with details, is elsewhere in this edition. This big heritage building sits unused and, one assumes, crumbling. From the outside, it is    fine-looking, solid and well-built – with a lot of space to accommodate multiple services, offices and exhibitions.
Anyone in Chapeau can list the potentials: from a museum to a daycare,           a library to seniors’ residences or offices for volunteer groups and commercial services. Yet, as anyone in Chapeau will also tell us, this grand old building will likely be demolished.
Another Pontiac heritage gem demolished? Peter L. Smith’s article catalogues the reasons why no one can do anything for this asset. The owner, the Western Quebec School Board, wants out of the responsibilities of this structure – but “getting out” is a complicated task in bureaucratese: there are a thousand reasons why no one can do anything for the convent. Only certain groups are eligible for    certain forms of help, and only certain projects of those certain groups are eligible for certain forms of help. Each step, no doubt, requires dozens of pages, plus a notary, accountant, and politician’s approval. Such Kafkaesque rules and    procedures are absurd!  How will a vacant lot here be an improvement? Any bureaucrat will answer that a vacant lot requires little maintenance and   certainly less liability insurance, no fire insurance, no fees, fewer heating and hydro bills, and no watchman’s salary; a vacant lot is cheaper.
On the other hand, the building is so big, old, and so functionally designed that any alternative use will require extensive     renovations – plus the taxes, insurance, hydro, heating, and employee costs. No single volunteer group could take this on, even if the building was offered free (which apparently it cannot be, because of the rules).
Reporter Peter Smith tells us the Board offered the building to the    municipality, but council declined because it alone can’t afford the project. It would be open to a partner or two . . . but either partners aren’t allowed (more rules) or none are available (which means none have the funds to take on a project of this size).
Yet, if the school board, MRC, municipal council, and several volunteer groups collaborated, some sort of multi-use centre or complex is feasible. And would be very useful to the entire Upper Pontiac. Yet, don’t bother to ask, there are rules against this. 
The crux of this      dilemma – and of almost any similar project across our region – is that those making these decisions are content to merely cite rules to justify inaction. Rules do justify inaction. However, we are defined not by our ability to follow rules – dogs can do that – we are defined by our curiosity and inventiveness. Lets apply those    abilities!
Rather than listing reasons why something won’t work, can’t civil servants think more creatively and positively, as in: “given our constraints, how can we get this done?”
Instead of every department, board, or agency working in silos, can’t civil servants think cooperatively, as in: “if we all work together, we can help reach all of our goals”? There’s a legacy to leave, even if it means more work.
A school board official once explained, “we are not in the business of    community development.” How wrong could he have been? We are all in the business of developing our community, or we are all lost. Please get with the program, bureaucrats! 
St Joseph’s Covent is a useful place to start.