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Reflections on Regional Democracy - Oz Cole-Arnal for Regional Chair

In the fourth point of our (AAP)/my election campaign platform, I promise a commitment to “Community Democracy.” Over the last weeks of the campaign I have discovered ways to deepen that commitment.

Of course, I continue to uphold previous brochure positions, namely regular town hall meetings in the neighbourhoods, along with community councils with whom I would consult within the framework of regional planning. In all of this, a top priority would involve “full disclosure of public financing” including “large regional expenses. On this same subject I would like to underscore that regional budgets can conceal as much as they disclose. For example, in the 2014 public budget for the region one encounters, with frequency, the subtitle “Salaries, Wages & Benefits” without breakdown into clear categories. In other terms we do not find the different pay scales of employees nor do we see exactly who gets what benefits. To put it more bluntly we might well ask, do all these employees in the above generalized category receive a living wage with solid benefits? If elected to the position of regional chair, be assured that I will chase this data down and insist upon moving toward reducing this internal wealth gap.

Over the last two months I have become increasingly acquainted with the huge DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT lived by Cambridge and its citizens. The most obvious example of this involves the huge focus upon the LRT, a Kitchener mall to Waterloo mall monstrous expense totally ignoring Cambridge, save for vague promise of a similar line down the road. Of course, Cambridge is expected to cough up its “share” of dollars based on a promise while the other two cities receive concrete LRT service. Once on the campaign trail, this reality moved from my head to my heart and, yes, to my feet. On my trips to Cambridge I discovered in my whole being this marginalization of Cambridge. Since my standard mode of transit is our own GRT, my first trip for a Cambridge event put me aboard an I Xpress (#200). The time spent one-way was barely under one hour, a time equivalent to all my Cambridge trips thus far. In virtually all conversation about the election, whether in formal debate or in general conversation (coffee shops, street talk) issues surrounding Cambridge are rarely mentioned, save in Cambridge itself. Add to this the grading of Cambridge as a “D”, Kitchener as a “C” and Waterloo as an “A” (top-notch) community is insulting in the extreme. Although various forms of technology and “innovative” creativity often bring improvement to the environment as well as opportunities for a more humane lifestyle, sadly the above grading reflects that more arrogant, “yuppie”, upscale, “utopia” which ignores the more bleak underbelly of such a view. Let me offeran alternative view in which I rank Cambridge with an “A+” grade compared to both Kitchener and Waterloo. Very close to Cambridge’s Ainsle Street terminal is a marvelous Self-Help Food Bank, a co-op community that involves so much more than a Food Bank. It is a full and “holistic” community based on justice, sharing and celebrating a full humanity. There are paid and volunteer workers addressing food, poverty, health & wellness. I could go on and on about this fine grass-roots community, but rather I encourage that everybody stop in and experience it themselves. What a monument to humanity this is in the very heart of the city, as well as being a heart in the midst of the city. Hey, and while you’re at it, walk down Ainsle about a block and a half to visit Danny the Barber, for intelligent converse on a wide range of subjects. Hear his music, drink a bit of coffee, munch a piece of mouth-watering dark chocolate, and “kibbitz” with a brilliant and funny guy. Oh, by the way, in the midst of all this, you just might want to get your hair cut.

So, if I were elected to Regional Chair what would I do to address seriously this democratic deficit which shows no sign of abating? Given the above experiences I am driven to take the position of Regional Chair and develop it more along itinerant lines. Yes, let the central office remain where it is, but develop smaller office spaces in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, involving frequent forays into the townships and smaller communities. These offices I perceive as small, albeit comfortable rooms in community centers, like the one mentioned above or the Working Centre in Kitchener—places readily accessible right off the streets. In these spaces in the three cities, I would commit to these as my headquarters for 2-3 months in any given year.

Finally, and perhaps somewhat shockingly, I find the case for Cambridge splitting from the Region, given its treatment overall (including ignoring its GO Train appeal), a compelling one. Do I agree with this position? Not at present! But I am open to a case being made. I could be convinced if—1) it would be demonstrated as more democratic than the existing structures (a rather easy case to demonstrate I might add); 2) that no existing employees would lose their jobs but would be fairly integrated into the new structures and 3) that a case be made either for Cambridge and immediate townships going it alone, linking to Guelph or directing its/their focus toward Toronto. After all, in that messy system, called democracy, everything should be on the table. Yet, let me add personally (and, yes, a tad selfishly) I would be saddened to see this happen to a metropolitan area I am loving increasingly as days go by.