By: Peter Denton
Winnipeg city council is to debate a motion about composting today. The real problem is not what to do with our waste, but our approach to decision-making.
What drives the system these days seems to be the amount of electronic chatter — much of it from the usual suspects — on both sides of any issue. Councillors seem more attuned to their Twitter than to their better judgment, twisting in the electronic wind to catch the direction of the prevailing public opinion.
It becomes a crude form of advocacy, lighting up the phone tree or triggering the email avalanche to get your way — a chorus of the cranky, all mobilized to tilt the balance in the direction your group thinks everyone should go.
Because no one is really steering the ship, it becomes a competition to see who can grab the wheel and turn it in their favourite direction whenever a decision needs to be made.
The louder the voice, the stronger the opinion and the more likely it will be heard. It turns political decision-making into a referendum of the rudest — who will make the most trouble if they lose? — and not an exercise in wisdom or sober judgment on the part of our elected officials.
As a result, there has been no vision for the sustainable development of the city, nor any overall plan for the future that survives contact with the evidence. Whatever urban planning has been done is often disregarded in practice — perhaps because the electronic wind of criticism has blown in a few cranky tweets or emails.
There are many groups concerned about a collective vision for a sustainable future, but somehow their efforts are only rarely reflected in the decisions that city council makes — and then, only because they, too, have lit up the phone tree. The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has launched its Manitoba Bold initiative to at least highlight the issues and communicate what some Manitobans think should be part of such plans, but it remains to be seen whether any of our leaders — local or provincial — will listen.
In a climate-changing world, what are our local strategies for adaptation? For resilience? For sustainability? Does anyone in charge even know what these words mean, in practical terms? Any community economic development plan these days — if we had one —that does not embed these things in the centre is doomed to fail.
The entire planet can agree on what needs to be done and how quickly (check out the 2030 development agenda approved by the United Nations last fall), but we are so far behind the global curve here in Winnipeg it is embarrassing — and frightening.
Instead, we dither — when we are not just making poor decisions based on what the mail said this week, or engaging in antics that are embarrassing to watch.
We debate whether we should have municipal composting instead of piling our garbage higher in a landfill running out of room.
We spend a fortune building underpasses and overpasses instead of developing an urban transportation plan that makes sense for everyone.
We fund rapid transit by increasing charges on the people who use it, instead of on the people who don’t and should.
Mayor Brian Bowman and city council, could you please see past our usual Winnipeg spring potholes and take the wise, bold and necessary steps to change things so our children don’t have to inherit the nightmare we are otherwise creating?
It’s why we elected you. It’s why we elect all our politicians. If you are twisting in the electronic wind and are unable to make good decisions for the benefit of all, please step aside and let someone else try.
We need politicians with the wisdom to consider the seventh generation instead of just twitching to the seventh tweet.
Peter Denton chairs the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.
This article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on March 23, 2016.