Consultations, meaningful consultations … and leadership

Currently, Ottawa has a survey out seeking residents’ opinions on retail pot shops. The province, too, is in consultation mode. Deciding that the extensive consultations done by the previous government were insufficient, the Tories have decided it’s time to start collecting data from their own survey about the new health curriculum.

Winnipeg, seemingly wanting to one-up everyone else, recently held a referendum on whether people should be allowed to cross the street. In what we could describe as an uber-consultation, people voted on traffic lights — because electing politicians who have teams of city planners at their disposal to make well-reasoned decisions just isn’t good enough.

It’s a wondrous, glorious time for the ego, isn’t it? You — yes, you! — are so insightful, so thoughtful, so well-versed on every darned thing that the government ever has to do that you should be personally consulted on every last detail.

And then, oh then, that satisfying, rewarding moment of divinity when politicians listen to you, carefully reflect on your erudite lamentations of the current social ills facing our grand society — and then do whatever they want to do anyway.

Now, we can’t totally blame the politicians. If you were paying attention during the recent municipal election campaign, you would have heard so very many candidates talking about consultations.

We need to listen to voters. We need to talk with residents. We need to implement ideas from the community.

These were common refrains in races throughout the city. And it’s easy to understand where this desire came from. People didn’t just want consultation; they wanted meaningful consultation, something which has been very much lacking in Ottawa over the past forever years.

Whether it was a supposed consultation meeting in Stittsville about the plan to close off part of Johnwoods Street — a public consultation that turned into a public-we’re-going-to-tell-you-what-we’re-doing meeting — or the extensive consultations performed for the renewal of Elgin Street — which were summarily ignored by planners and council — the city is really good at launching consultations, but they’re not so good at acting on the feedback.

So it’s really easy to look at all these sham consultations and decide that what we need are better, proper, productive consultations. We need politicians who’ll learn to listen to us, and not just stand in front of us telling us what we want to hear.

But this is exactly wrong. We aren’t lacking in public consultations. We have too many, and it’s become a crutch for ineffective politicians who want to look like they’re doing something. Too often, a public meeting is a box to check on the way to a pre-ordained decision.

We don’t need politicians who are better listeners. We need politicians who are better leaders.

There is absolutely no way that the city or the province or the feds are going to be able to make you happy with each and every decision that they make. Further, there are decisions that they’re going to have to make no matter what the majority of residents say.

Yes, sure, fine, for a number of issues, consultation is useful, but what is better than consultation is a representative who can see what residents want, understand what residents need and balance that with what’s achievable.

Sometimes, that means presenting hard choices to residents. You want better transit service? You need more density. You want less congestion downtown? You need less parking. You want all your pot holes fixed? You need to pay more property taxes.

The politician who will speak earnestly, present realistic solutions and not buckle under pressure is the politician you want. Someone who’ll just promise you more consultations is really guaranteeing you nothing, except a lot more cynicism.

What’s your view? Do we need decision makers to listen more and not just tell us what we want to hear? Are decisions made despite what the majority of residents have to say? Share your views by emailing The Consultation Movement at: theconsultationmovement@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Thursday 01 November 2018 in the Ottawa Sun. The Consultation Movement cannot confirm the accuracy of this story or confirm that it presents a balanced view. If you feel this is inaccurate we would welcome your perspective and evidence that this is the case.

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