Brady: Bad attitudes about public service serious

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Recently I was criticized for not writing about more substantive issues.

My rationale is we are inundated by the fury and outrage of the pen, especially in light of the current U.S. administration.

I admit I write using humour and my observations about my fellow humans. I delight in my vantage point of my many accumulated years.

But today, I will be serious and I may irk a number of readers.

When city council named a task force chaired by retired lawyer and former chief executive of the London Health Sciences Foundation Dan Ross, it started a process that would make recommendations about council members’ compensation.

This brought out the usual antipathy many feel about elected officials. There were angry letters to The Free Press and lots of suggestions that politicians are overpaid already.

We are fortunate to live in a great city which, like most municipalities, has had both good, competent councils and some that will be remembered as less than effective.

Nevertheless, the work must be done and paid for fairly.

I support the pay recommendations that have come forward.

Even though some councillors have said they are uncomfortable dealing with raising their own compensation, they should not be. They know how many hours they spend doing city business, the long and complex meetings and the heavy responsibilities they have while working under very public scrutiny.

I suggest that most of the outspoken, critical Londoners have long-held negative opinions about the locally elected and also may feel the same about Ottawa and Queen’s Park.

Earlier this year, CBC Radio’s The Current did a feature that explained how voters, and perhaps non-voters, have strong feelings about those in public office. It reflected what we have learned about attitudes toward London politicians.

“Populist anger is moving politics in Canada,” the report said.

“In a recent Edelman poll, only 43 per cent of Canadians say they trust their government, down from 53 per cent a year earlier.

“And 80 per cent of Canadians feel the country’s elites are out of touch.

“The findings in the so-called Trust Barometer survey conducted annually by public relations firm Edelman is the first time in 17 years that Canada has joined the ranks of ‘distruster’ countries in which more than half of citizens say they distrust their civic institutions.”

So why do so many Canadians mistrust and resent politicians?

I think it often comes from listening to views expressed by parents. There may be a sort of family predisposition that lives on as generations pass.

Then, of course, not all decisions made at city hall, Queen’s Park or Ottawa have the approval of all residents. They see what they believe is the squandering of public funds and all it takes is a questionable junket by a senior politician to incur their anger.

Here at home I hear people say, “council can never get it right.”

This opinion may have been fuelled by the long, complex and expensive path meant to lead our city to a new and efficient way of moving people.

The rapid transit plan has been debated, dissected, trampled upon and abused by a great many Londoners. At times our council was divided and seemed disorganized. The tunnel under Richmond Street was a very bad idea at the start and fortunately has been scrapped.

My guess is many bright and contented voters have been disappointed by the process and doubt that all the planning and debate will eventually make London a proud, successful, mobile community for people in all circumstances — the young and old, students, businesspeople and families — with what seems to be today’s priority, speed.

Still, let’s keep London moving forward.

Bill Brady is a London freelance writer.

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