Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
So many people are talking of a federal election well before it’s due-date. So much chatter about the polls. It’s bizarre that so many are watching for a federal vote, and even discussing international elections, while we have virtually no influence in these elections or with their issues. We obviously have little influence on how well these governments make or fulfill their promises (eg, the perennial promises on pharma-care and child-care, going back to the ’80s!)
Meanwhile the governments closest to our daily lives – with snow-clearing, garbage and recycling, water and sewage, street maintenance, parks – don’t even snag a vote from many of us.
As individuals, we sit in the bleachers of provincial and federal electioneering. Can we hold a federal
government to account by a single vote every four years or so? But each of us, not
as individuals, but as municipalities and regions, can exercise significant influence.
The municipal level can be powerful. It represents real citizens, not political parties, lobbyists or big donors. There are plenty of modern examples – Greenland just dumped its establishment-party government for a new Green grouping of councillors who are determined to use every lever to assist localities and reduce climate disasters. So have Iceland, Ireland, and Spain (Barcelona’s regional government is a world model). There’s a wave of grass-roots wake-ups across Latin America, so why not here (and not only in Vancouver or Montreal)? Nearby, Gatineau has its citizen-active initiatives.
Why not use the powers of our local councils and especially our regional MRC? First, we need to know what’s on the agenda, locally, before we pick our councillors and warden.
Our MRC Pontiac has just released its "Strategic Vision", a 20-plus page document which focusses on nine sectors of Pontiac life, from environmental protection to mobility, climate change, farming, tourism, forestry – even "Entrepreneurship and Innovation". This document can outline what we are voting for – and what we ought to insist be added (or beefed up) by way of practical details. (mrcpontiac.gc.ca)
One caution: there are details missing, even whole sectors absent (like arts & culture), and in some cases there are specific projects favoured by particular leaders, like a regional waste-conversion centre, and there are too many vaguely-defined goals. In terms of history, we once again read how tourism and forestry can save us, which is hard to swallow since both sectors have been seeking life-lines for the last forty years. Yet they deserve our attention, as much as do niche projects.
One question stands out: who are the "we" constantly referred to? "We" may be
you and I, but then we have little control over the major investments or changes in provincial policy needed on, say, forestry. The Vision’s "we" means the institutions or people who can effect these goals: the "you and me", then the social actors, agencies and businesses; third are the municipal actors (councils), and, fourth, the higher governments – each should have specific goals identified so we know who exactly is responsible for what. And certainly the actions to get us to these goals need interim guideposts so progress can be measured and improved.
The document is not complete, with every "t" crossed, but it does identify areas of action needed, and suggests guidelines for those actions. It’s a big step toward our sustainable future.
We are fortunate to have local government so well directed and staffed. This plan, following so much consultation, is an essential tool. Now it’s our turn, to step up and make a difference in our community’s future. Pontiac doesn’t deserve the
complaining about arrogant government we hear from so many places. We have a useful tool here, a basic, clear, and realizable over-view. Not a blue-print – it has sectors missing and could do with many more specifics – but it’s an important battle plan. Next we each have to buy in, spend time picking an area in which to participate and where to pay attention.
Might we now actually get somewhere, working locally?