Tag Archives: voting

What If The Public Paid Attention All The Time


I see a lot of people in this water meter argument worried about what-ifs.

  • WHAT IF they privatize the water system?
  • WHAT IF they look at utilities as profit centres instead of revenue neutral parts of government?
  • WHAT IF they get into P3 projects with industry?

Those are some examples – I’m sure you can think of more.

My problem with this is that these are just What-Ifs, not Will-Happens.

You worry that some future council might make choices that lead to these outcomes and it scares you. I understand that.

It’s not the way it is now so why do you think it is the way it will be in the future? Why?

Here is the thing – some council has to make those decisions or they won’t happen. You worry that some future council may make those decisions, as they’ve made this one. That someday you may wake up and find out that the world under your feet has changed in some way you do not like. Or is about to. And nobody asked you about it.

And that may happen if you all behave the way you all always behave. I’m not talking about the way you are behaving NOW but the way you, as a group, behave the rest of the time.

What behavior am I talking about? The willful ignoring of what council is up to, what they are planning to do. Unless something like the current kerfuffle happens You pretty much ALL stay away and IGNORE City Council. You DO NOT come to council meetings. You barely show up at public information sessions where they are telling you what their plans are and asking for feedback.

Nope, you forget they exist and, by implication, tacitly go along with whatever they are working on. Implicitly give your approval to what their plans might be by not bothering to pay attention and participate in the closest part of our democratic government to you. Until somebody points out something that they are doing that you might not like and then it’s “Whoa! Hold on there. Don’t do that!”

The current controversy over the Residential Water Meter Program is a perfect example.

In large part it is a reaction to the very late in the game recognition that something is happening that you do not like. But it has been 15 years coming … and they’ve openly been talking about water meters for the last two years. But only in the last few months has it become an issue you are interested in. And, from your reaction, you are only interested in stopping it.

Where were you when they started along this road? Why didn’t you say something way back then? I know why: You were not interested enough to pay attention. Whatever your individual ‘reasons’ might be it comes down to that for the group of You.

I can say that with some authority because I’m at every meeting and I see how many show up. I know how many of you watch it on the web later on and I have an idea how many watch it on cable TV. (not many)

The What-If Future

No council can pass a bylaw that prohibits a future council from entertaining any of the WHAT-IFs at the start of this document. That’s the nature of government and not the fault of any one council person or council regime.

And IF you keep ignoring them then it is entirely possible that one day you will get a council that goes in a direction that freaks you out. Likely even. Because you will have allowed that to happen.

A lot of those WHAT-Ifs (at the top) happen because cities need the money. They’re either greedy, had a population shrink without a debt load decrease OR their spending has got them into a debt situation and that means they have to raise funds from somewhere to pay those debts. Too much spending and/or too much debt makes a city money-hungry.

New Broom Sweeps Clean

When a government gets into a cycle of ‘new broom sweeps clean’ (political monkeying with the way things are done) the one guarantee is that it costs money.

One council institutes a program and the next one dismantles it and replaces it with something else. Money was spent in the original project, the dismantling, and the replacing. Our money one way or the other.

How many times can a city do that with a multi-million dollar infrastructure before a debt load piles up that has to be paid by extraordinary measures somehow?

The way our system works is: IF that debt is in the water system then the water bills must go up.

IF the city spends $1.x Million in Gas Tax money to get the meters installed then they are not raising taxes OR water bills to do that because the money is already there and available. But let’s say, for instance, that the city ends up in legal quagmire and the new council reverses the decision of this one AFTER the program has started.

Legal quagmire means court injunctions, law suits, etc. … which mean legal expenses. The payment for those will either come from the water utility or general revenue accounts so either water bills or general taxes will increase to cover those costs.

A contract with the company selling and installing the meters will have a cancellation penalty and it will not, in all likelihood, be small. More cost means higher bills.

Replacing them with an uninstall OR a non-RF meter will mean more costs. More things making bills rise.

The new council is perfectly entitled to do all of that if they choose to, it’s their right. I’m not saying they would be wrong to do it, You might be scared enough by the claims of danger to want to see them do that and who am I to say that’s wrong? I’m only pointing out that it comes with a price tag.

BUT that kind of behavior is one way how cities get into the position of having to raise extra funds. Do enough of it and you find yourself in the ranks of those who entertain thoughts of P3 partnerships or excessive billing.

There is a plan. It’s long term Asset Management. It’s a reasoned approach to wisely manage our infrastructure needs and costs ($38M over 10 years) that keeps us from spending too much and getting deep in debt but gets things done in a timely and orderly way. Or at least that’s what our paid professionals have tried to assist councils in formulating and following.

Last election time I heard from potential candidates how they didn’t like what they saw and if they got elected they would tear up what was there and work something better out. The problem was they hadn’t paid attention and didn’t know what the plan was except they didn’t like one part so the whole thing had to go.

This election I hear rumblings that, while they aren’t exactly the same, leave me feeling like the same sort of ‘new broom’ attitude is being pushed.

My advice is to find out if a candidate can do more than wield a broom. Figure out if they can understand the multitude of issues and not just get rid of things they can’t understand that make them afraid. OR that are easier to scare voters with. Can they chew on more than one issue at a time? Council agendas have many items and run to hundreds of pages …

That way there will be some chance that after they’re elected they might not just try to throw an expensive monkey wrench into the works just to make them and their friends feel good about something. And they might make wise decisions and not change their minds every time voices get loud and insistent just because they are loud and insistent.

Remember: The unpleasant What-Ifs are only possibilities, not inevitabilities. Their likelihood increases with bad choices. While that might come from a council out of touch with the public it might also be the result of a public out of touch with council.

So after you’ve cast your vote … don’t walk away for the next 4 years and expect them to do everything you want and nothing you don’t want. Pay attention, keep in touch, participate … What-If you all did that? What kind of city would we have then?

I think a more engaged voting population is also a more informed one that is less likely to be victim to the kind of rumour and scare mongering you get when they don’t know who is doing what and why.