Counterpoint: Planning for the future

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How can we reform our civic governing model to allow our elected councillors to effectively harness their commitment and imagination to plan for our future?

It is hard enough for most people just to cope with the present: housing costs, economic insecurity, the cost of childcare and chronically low wages.

Who has time to think about the future and what it might bring? But, collectively, we had better think down the road 10 to 15 years and imagine what the world Powell River is a part of will look like. Unfortunately our culture, including our politics, has become almost exclusively focused on the short term.

One sign of the future is happening to the United States, our neighbour and biggest trading partner by far, where United Nations is starting an investigation of extreme poverty.

The so-called wealthiest nation in the world, where 41 million Americans live in poverty, is now characterized by such extreme poverty and violations of human rights that it qualifies for a UN investigation.

The United States has lost most of its industrial jobs, it no longer leads in innovation and has a debt of $60 trillion. The man in charge of the UN investigation, special rapporteur Philip Ralston, put the investigation into its global context by saying, “These are extraordinarily dangerous times, unprecedentedly so in my lifetime.”

Okay, so that is the United States, not Canada. But we are on the same road, just not going as fast. We are tied to our neighbours to the south in so many ways it is naive to think we will escape what others are saying is the possibility of the rapid (10 to 15 years) collapse of the United States as the dominant country in the world.

Federal and provincial governments, the ones with the resources to plan for meeting the coming disasters, seem incapable or unwilling to think beyond the next election.

That leaves our future here in Powell River increasingly in our own hands. Our advantage is we are a strong community. Our disadvantage is our local government is the one with the least resources.

While finding additional financial resources will be very difficult, Powell River has amazing human resources. The task before us is how to mobilize those resources and build a consensus around the goal of resilience and social equality. How can we reform our civic governing model to allow our elected councillors to effectively harness their commitment and imagination to plan for our future?

City councillors are currently run off their feet dealing with day-to-day issues that land on their plates and saddled with heading up committees dealing with various areas of city business. The problem is they do not have the resources for this model of governing. At the provincial level, a minister has a full-time staff to develop and implement policy.

City councillors have literally no resources except general city staff, and city bureaucracies are notorious for resisting change. The number of projects and decisions approved by elected council that never see the light of day, or are delayed until people forget they happened, is legendary.

If you truly want change, those we elect to implement that change must have the resources to counter the bureaucracy’s ability to put endless roadblocks in the way of innovation and long-term planning.

To plan for the future, city council needs what has been called a social licence, a mandate for change that can only be provided by genuine engagement with residents.

It is not too late. We have a year until the next election. Get rid of the committees, recommit to robust resident engagement, which council has let die on the vine, and have a conversation with our city.

The theme? What are we facing and how will we respond?

Murray Dobbin is a Powell River freelance writer and social commentator.

Copyright © 2017 Powell River Peak

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