Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Need for More Debate

One of the things that I find lacking at council meetings is real debate.  I don't mean the repetitive spouting of stances, or making personal comments on the characters of those we disagree with (for example, dismissing someone's comments because "they're always so negative"), rather than responding to the substance of the comment, or the frequent wish to just move on.

I mean that we need to do more serious discussion about options, and the pros and cons of them, with actual facts attached.  We need to forget the personal stuff, or trying to look better than the other people around the table, or jockeying for favourable positions for the next election.  We're less than halfway through this term, and we need to concentrate on making good, informed decisions now, rather than worrying too much about the future.

In fact, I'd venture the opinion that focusing on our decisions at every opportunity now will actually be seen positively by the residents of Prince Albert, when they see that we're looking at the whole picture, long term, rather than short term.

I have a couple of specific examples, one finished, the other with the opportunity still available.

At our final budget vote, I raised the ongoing issue about removing the flat tax that was put in place by the previous council.  I raised the same issue last year, and was told that it would be looked into.  It wasn't.  What was raised in place of debate was the rather specious argument that it was too late to consider this, and in any case, people were pretty sure that it would then raise the proposed tax increase by several percentage points.  Unfortunately, pretty sure without any facts to substantiate shouldn't cut it, and it wasn't like it was a surprise - it was supposed to be looked at a year ago, and if that had happened there would have been plenty of time to bring facts to the table.  Instead, the decision went ahead without real debate, again, and again most of the residents of the city will be paying more than they would if the original flat tax was removed.

The opportunity to have real debate will come up when we discuss the water utility budget increase.  A few years ago, we went forward with a sizeable increase, for the next several years.  Since that time, we have new information about the state of the water treatment plant, but we aren't revisiting the decision made at that time, although it is certainly within our mandate to do so.  But it seems as though many of my fellow members of council would rather just stay with the decision that was made, rather than reconsidering it in the face of new information and more recent changes.

I often think that, especially when we discuss money, we're hesitant to change, almost as if we're worried that doing so will attract unwarranted attention from the taxpayers.  I also think that in many cases, rather than figuring out how much money we need to do the amount of work that can be done in a year, we instead focus on what number we think will be acceptable to residents, whether that amount is sufficient to do the necessary work or not.  In these cases, I wish that our debate would focus on the reality of what can be accomplished, not on the more ephemeral what we think will fall within the mysterious realm of acceptable, even though we know that we can't please everyone.

Let's spend less time worrying about what image we're presenting, and more time putting some substance into our discussions, and I think that the overall result will be positive for everybody, including the taxpayers.

"It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it." - Joseph Joubert

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