It might seem odd to criticize a politician for adhering to his platform. When pledges like “zero means zero” actually mean nothing, consistency can be a treasured characteristic in our leaders. But when consistency turns into rigidity, responsibility is abdicated. Leadership requires flexibility. Representative government requires politicians who will adapt to changes and respond to new issues as they arise. Good governance requires tackling difficult issues and making tough choices. It’s not clear that we have that at city council.
On March 23, River Ward councillor Riley Brockington brought a fairly straightforward motion to city council. Basically, Brockington wants Ottawa to have the power to use photo radar. This wasn’t a motion to implement photo radar. It was merely requesting that the city have such power, should it choose to use it.
Council ducked, dodged and sent the issue to the Transportation Committee, who will finally deal with the matter this week. The wheels of traffic enforcement—unlike those of the speeders who imperil other residents—move slowly.
Sure, the committee can to look into how, when and where to implement photo radar, but if they, and council, aren’t willing to ask for such power, it will be another instance of council abdicating their responsibility to effectively govern our city.
Council has rejected calls to de-neuter themselves before. Last year, councillor Tobi Nussbaum moved that council ask the province for the power to ban corporate and union donations (the same power Toronto has). Council balked, and a tough political debate was quickly avoided.
The mayor has come out against photo radar. It wasn’t in his platform (as if the last election was a plebiscite on his discrete platform, rather than a selection of 24 individuals to use their wisdom to govern our city). His platform aside, speeding was an election issue.
Brockington spoke about it.
Nussbaum wrote about speeding and photo radar.
Even the mayor was a proponent of more resources to deal with traffic safety.
But this debate isn’t about installing photo radar. It’s about asking permission to be able to consider it. Even the larger debate isn’t about photo radar; it is about enforcing our traffic laws and making our city safer. Photo radar is merely a tool.
Many local politicians, both municipal and provincial, have called for public consultations before Brockington’s motion is considered. This is an obstructionist and cynical ploy.
Calling for consultations costs politicians very little. It costs residents time and money. You need to give up evenings or weekends. You need to take time off work. You need to hire a babysitter. This makes sense when we’re in the middle of debating an issue. Right now, we’re merely talking about asking permission to debate a topic.
Demanding public consultations at this stage of the photo radar debate demonstrates contempt for the public. If Brockington’s motion passes, we’re all just going to have take more time off work, give up more free time and hire more babysitters to talk about actually implementing photo radar.
Of course, that is the next step for Brockington, but that’s the time for a substantive debate. As it stands, the forces against photo radar are looking to double the number of public debates we have about it, hoping that if they lose the first, they can re-group and try to win the second.
We can’t have an earnest debate about photo radar if we don’t first have permission to use it. We need that debate, and we need a council that doesn’t avoid important, substantive—yet controversial—issues.
We don’t elect politicians to avoid tough decisions. We expect politicians to make them.