Community Newspaper Columns

Expedience or principle: Which do you prefer in a politician?

May 2014

As a city councillor, I occasionally hear from constituents who feel very strongly that it’s my job to do what they say, and to vote the way they tell me to. Usually the exchange includes a phrase along the lines of, “We elected you to represent us!"

For example, I have been getting plenty of feedback regarding my decision to support the development of a residential building in the community of Heron Park to accommodate adults living with severe mental illness.

Although plenty of people support the construction of this building — and my willingness to speak in its favour — many do not. I won’t get into the specifics here (I address those on my website) and let’s ignore, for the moment, the fact that councillors do not actually decide where supported housing is built.

What’s interesting is the number of constituents who have told me it’s not my place to take a position that fails to conform to their views. They believe I was elected to do their bidding and that, by supporting the proposal, I am being derelict in my duties as their representative.

But this assertion is fundamentally flawed. If an individual feels I must always agree with his/her position and vote accordingly, and that anything else earns me an automatic failing grade, then that person is assuming one or all of the following: (a) theirs is the only position held in the community; (b) theirs is the only correct position; (c) it is the majority position.

 

Rest assured that it’s never the only position. There are always at least two sides to an issue, and no way to keep everyone happy all of the time.

You can never be sure it’s the correct position. Some people rush to judgment or have not had access to important information. Some have  strong personal biases or vested interests. Often, even with plenty of information, substantial dialogue and debate, the correct position remains elusive.

You can also never be sure of the majority position within the ward or even a particular neighbourhood. There is no sure way of knowing what every individual thinks, even with open houses, surveys and an open invitation to email me, call me or stop me in the street.

Anyway, do you really want a councillor who simply sticks a finger in the air to test which way the wind is blowing before taking a position or  casting a vote? I hope not.

As a voter, I look for candidates who offers the best combination of: a publicly stated position, platform or set of principles/values that are more or less aligned with mine (or that I at least respect); a willingness to listen to all sides and evaluate all arguments before taking a stand, and to reconsider a position when faced with strong evidence; a willingness to stand up for what is best for the broader community while not imposing too harsh a burden on any one group or area; the courage to speak up for the disenfranchised, or at least take their needs into account; a long-term view of the good of the community/city/country/planet.

I have no desire to elect decision-makers who merely do what is most expedient here and now while ignoring the bigger picture, and I am not that kind of councillor. Every day brings new issues, new information and new challenges I try to consider and address in a thoughtful manner.

I think city councillors should do more than simply parrot the position of those who call or email most often, or who claim to speak for the community. What do you think? I’d love to know.

Safer crossing to Canal
The Glebe is finally getting a safer crossing to the Rideau Canal. The NCC and the City are installing a fully signalized intersection on Queen Elizabeth Dr. at Fifth in time for the first football game at Lansdowne Park on July 18.

Ultimately, it will be a key piece of the larger project to improve walking and cycling networks by building a footbridge across the Canal. The matching crossing on the other side, at Clegg Ave., has been approved in principle and could go ahead as early as 2015, but neither party has approved a budget for this yet.

Summer construction
In preparation for the reconstruction in 2015, Bell Canada is rebuilding its conduits along Main St. in Old Ottawa East from Greenfield Ave. to the George McIlraith Bridge.

Over on Lees Ave., reconstruction between Main and Chestnut Sts. is expected to begin July 2 and end mid-November, bringing new cycling paths, wider sidewalks and landscaping.

Capital Ward Walk/Bike: A tour of the future Glebe Bikeways
Saturday, June 14, 10-11:30 a.m.
The next Capital Ward Walk will be a bike ride through the Glebe, stopping at key locations recommended for cycling infrastructure improvements. Join us for a tour and discussion of the changes projected for this summer and those still to come.

We'll meet at 10 a.m. at the Glebe Collegiate parking lot, Glebe Ave. entrance. Those who wish to walk can join us for the discussions at the start and finish (TBD).

Councillor David Chernushenko