Jim Elliott helps to put things into context:
Thanks Andrew (Stevens for the response). I realize that you may be coming to this point in time through a very shortened and perhaps limited view, but I have been involved in this for over 20 years now. What I have seen in the last few years is an inevitability. There is fundamentally no rigorous method of engaging and having a dialogue on the various features and issues that have impacted Regina residents. And more recently, the method of engagement has been very much truncated by the limits put on engagement either at committee or Council or even through city administration. We have been dealing with some of these issues and the delays in truly getting down to solving problems for decades. They are known. They are institutional. They are skewering any chance to get down to solving them through an unwillingness to change the current power dynamics.
If you are only looking at the ability to interject into the dialogue between Council and the administration, you only have to look at the continued diminishing of time allowed for discussion or dialogue to see why people are staying away in droves. First, the time for presentations went from 10 minutes to 5 minutes. Now we are taking the dialogue away from any communication with the public by changing the times for the discussion. Also, many of the meetings now held are away from the camera and are not visually and audibly recorded. We don’t see any manner of dialogue if you aren’t there in person. And the media if they are there only capture the 5-10 second sound bites or a simple phrase from whomever is given the spotlight.
If you end up at an open house, the opportunity to present your concerns are pushed into a simple set of orchestrated boxes. Do you like it or not. Is it good or bad. Most of these are taken at the end of the dialogue rather than at the beginning. Examples of this are the intensification of inner city question and the Wascana Pool replacement. There is no discussion of what the intentions are prior to being given the proposed solutions.
As well, in recent years, the ability of the public to be there for advice and engagement has been cut off. In the past, we had citizen advisory committees. They had an ability to review policies, programs and respond. Even in the past, the Parks & Recreation Board had a majority of citizens on the committee who could make concrete binding decisions within the framework of the city and could see budgets prior to their being tabled less than a month before the decision is made. There was a time when almost half of the Regina Planning Commission was made up of resident elected representatives. We had an Environmental Advisory Council made up of scientists, academics and a variety of knowledgeable citizens to look at some of the bigger topics of waste, water protection, pesticides and would be a very good mechanism to tackle the newer issue of climate change and being 100% renewable.
You have also seen recently the need to address some other systemic problems that don’t readily fit into the silos that we currently have, homelessness, food security, safety and sustainability of this city. These are further problematic because they also include an intransigent provincial government and a recent minority federal government. Money could be saved. People could be housed. Crime could be reduced. But the current silos only allow us to either put more cops on the street or punt it to either another government or to a future council. And we are very good at that rationalization.
Compounding much of this is the various existential threats we face every day. So you wonder why people are shutting down or getting frustrated in not being able to be heard? Why would you spend a few hours writing a 5 minute presentation, take time off of work and have your thoughts thanked politely and ignored again and again? As a matter of survival, we attempt to protect ourselves from the onslaught of problems, one day at a time.
To deal with this lack of engagement and frustration, we have to begin to imagine a different future, a future where more of our community is given some decentralized authority. We have some of those mechanisms in our community associations and zone boards. Much of this now is around culture and recreation but could be more involved as citizen boards for zone level planning. If, for instance, there is a need to densify the inner city, then give the inner city the role and resources of figuring out how that will be done. If you want a plan for 100% renewable city involve the citizens working in active transportation, renewable energy and waste management. If you want to reduce crime, work with the people that are dealing with the results of crime every day, the schools, those working with building social capital and development community. And if you want people to give you direction on how to spend the city’s funds, set up a participatory budgeting process and give the citizens the ability to develop their own budget.