I have a book on my shelf called “What Matters”, a book of photojournalism. This could be easily described as the most depressing book in the world, but it serves an important role of grounding me. “What Matters” presents pictures of the most important conflicts and catastrophes of our time.
I was reminded of this book, and opened it once again, with the news conference called today regarding the deaths of two seals. In trying to critically assess the actions of Council, it is interesting to me the decisions made. I will start by saying that I am very sad about the news of the loss, and will have a very difficult conversation with my children looming. I’m glad to be in the know on this tragedy, and will want to know more about why it happened.
However, in the time of citizen engagement, I am curious as to how Council decides what matters. To start, it is an important reminder that moving the seals was decidedly unpopular. Although our facilities were quite inadequate and we stood to fail our next accreditation, the seals were well loved by children in the city and moving to a better habitat was a tough sell. Adding a crisis on top of a tough sell would inevitably equate to a populist catastrophe. So, enter damage control mode.
But damage control mode is for those items that will raise the ire of the public. For myself and others close to the functions of the City, what was catastrophic in the last two weeks was the loss of Ross Fair, recognized province-wide for his expertise in community services. This crisis was addressed by a belated announcement on the london.ca website, after it hit the news. Few in London were concerned, as the expertise Ross brought was virtually unknown outside of the realm of city hall.
So, for those who have responded to the call of engagement, the concern with how the seal announcement was handled is not whether seals dying matters or not, we are much dismayed by the loss. Rather, what matters to us is how our neighbours and colleagues view the city, how they decide what is important, and where they will assert themselves as democratic citizens. Will we stand up for cuts to services for the poor, or will we grieve changes to hours of splash pads? Will we mourn the loss of those who can make our city what we need it to be, or will we focus on entertainment and the most immediately tangible?
My dream is to raise the quality of dialogue on Council. Hopefully we the citizens can lead the way on this.