Accidental Activist

Where Good Ideas Go to Die

Whatever the right approach to getting good ideas enacted, our current culture of compromise is not taking us anywhere good.

By Ben Bull
Published January 10, 2007

One of the projects that RTH has been following recently is the on-again, off-again development of a Light Rail Line in Ottawa.

A report in last Wednesday's Globe and Mail (accessible on the Skyscraper page) seems to confirm that the final nail has finally been hammered into this ambitious venture. What was once a cause for celebration, civic pride and optimism has become just another political coffin.

This is disappointing but not surprising. As we drag our feet into 2007 it seems our political institutions have officially become places where good ideas go to die.

With transit woes of our own to worry about, we at RTH are beginning to wonder what it will take to get anyone at City Hall to stand up and take action on important initiatives such as these.

These days, municipal politics seems to be all about not making mistakes. With minority governments and citizen unrest everywhere, our politicians appear to be providing very little in the way of leadership and risk taking, and far too much in the way of Business as Usual and the politics of compromise.

I had a chat with a Political Advisor friend of mine a few weeks ago, about the recently introduced Places to Grow greenbelt legislation, which he helped to enact.

"There are too many escape clauses in here," I complained, explaining how Hamilton had been hard at work fudging the numbers and focusing on just the grey areas of the Act.

"You're being naive," my friend admonished me. "Politics is all about dealing with realities."

"It is...?"

If, in the absence of any real leadership or risk-taking, we do indeed need to deal in "realities," then perhaps the best way to take on a transit venture such as this, or any major initiative like it, is in stages.

Build on what we have. Expand it, bit by bit, until eventually it looks like what we wanted it to be in the first place. Sure, Ottawa tried this approach to some extent, by starting with a pilot project, but in the end, as Ottawa City Councillor Clive Doucet lamented at the end of his article, It all became "just too messy".

Whatever the right approach to getting good ideas enacted, our current culture of compromise is not taking us anywhere good. In fact, it's not taking us anywhere at all, and that's the problem. By standing still we are only going to get more bogged down.

In the meantime, everything else will keep moving along, and eventually we'll all be left behind. There is evidence of this in all our cities. Just look at Toronto with its rampaging gridlock and overworked transit system creaking to a halt.

Our politicians, and we as citizens, need to push good ideas ahead to move things forward. But in this era of political paralysis, perhaps the only steps in the right direction we can hope to take are baby ones.

Perhaps the best any of us can do, as we try to lead the charge towards change, is to think small.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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