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Will 2022’s political lowlights mar 2023? 4 things that worry us

Parker Johnson on Unsplash
Parker Johnson on Unsplash

It’s the traditional time of year for taking stock of our fortunes.

Looking around the world – or even across the country – reminds us that there is much to be thankful for in Oakville.

We’re surrounded by peace and prosperity, beauty and nature, democracy, honesty, and good government.

Finding a more equal distribution of some of those benefits is an important and ongoing task, but there’s no denying that even a small slice of our pie would amount to a buffet in most places around the globe.

But when it comes to the world of politics, we’re feeling less than grateful for the gifts of 2022. In our opinion, the last 12 months dished out more to condemn than celebrate.

Worse yet, 2022’s problems seem likely to dominate the 2023 landscape. Here’s some of what is worrying us as we survey the local political scene.

Nuthin’ to see here

For anyone who cares about democracy, it was depressing to watch the invisibility campaign that Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative party ran during last June’s election.

Candidates – including local PCs Stephen Crawford and Effie Triantafilopoulos – skipped public meetings, avoided media interviews and questions, and generally ran on a campaign of saying as little as possible about anything ever.

It was even more depressing to see voters reward Ford’s threadbare “get it done” tour with a big victory. Does anyone think campaigning politicians – of any stripe – are likely to have more to say in the future?

Getting it done for developers

The reward for Ontario voters has been a government barrelling ahead with what it calls a “bold plan” to build more houses.

We support the need for more affordable, diverse housing delivered more quickly. But the sweeping and rapid-fire changes from the Ford government over the last six months seem more likely to maximize short-term developer profits than solve long-term housing problems.

No doubt there are ways to speed up ponderous municipal processes that sometimes seem designed more to appease public or political anti-development sentiment than to truly accomplish anything.

But rule changes need to be detailed enough to be understandable, sensible enough to be defensible, and driven by evidence, data and consultation.

In our view, few of the provincial initiatives meet those tests. Instead, they undermine environmental protection, encourage greenfield development that’s lucrative for builders and expensive for the rest of us, and transfer the cost of growth to existing property taxpayers.

Yes, the province has made a vague commitment to covering some of those costs. But at the end of the day, there’s still only one taxpayer.

Maybe we’d all want to pay more if we knew we’d end up with quickly delivered housing built in the right places and affordable to many people. But it’s certainly not clear that’s what the province’s new rules will accomplish.

Voter apathy

Voters may have marked their x for Doug Ford because they saw no viable alternative in the provincial election. (Though locally, we were excited by the calibre of Liberal and Green Party candidates willing to debate the ideas.)

But when it came time for October’s municipal election, Oakville residents simply didn’t even show up.

Despite an exciting race for mayor and a number of active ward races, only 28 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

In a town with nearly 200,000 residents and almost 145,000 voters, the ballots cast by 41,021 people decided who will make key decisions for the town over the next four years.

Oakville is fortunate to have a number of exceptionally capable politicians who will lead the town through what may be the most tumultuous time Ontario municipalities have seen in decades.

But challenging times demand a diversity of ideas, thoughts and visions. And that’s certainly not a defining characteristic of Oakville council, where yes-men (and women) appear to live long and happy political lives.

We were glad to see an election where candidates publicly debated a myriad of important ideas, usually in meaningful and intelligent ways. (Even if the endless repetition of the overused “liveability” left us rolling our eyes.)

We also have faith that the town will continue to enjoy local government that is community-focused, fiscally shrewd and far-sighted.

But the truth is that October’s election also returned some politicians who haven’t offered much in the way of interesting or insightful contributions to council in recent years.

And Halton regional chair Gary Carr got himself re-elected for a fifth term by mimicking Ford’s Nuthin’ to See Here platform.

Lousy voter turnout only encourages stagnation and makes life easier for complacent incumbents.

The tale of two Oakvilles

Substantial growth and development are in our town’s future.

While recent provincial policy changes might make it more chaotic, the reality is that miles of subdivisions and hundreds of storeys of high-rises are already making their steady march through Oakville’s development process.

Substantial growth will continue to cause angst, create traffic and put stress on resources in our development-sensitive community.

New development will undoubtedly look very different than what has been built in the past – and that’s okay. In fact, it might be great.

Compact, vibrant streets in Europe, Manhattan, Toronto – and even downtown Oakville – model a version of life that offers many benefits. We applaud the ambition for denser, more walkable, less car-oriented communities.

But local politicians and planners seem vulnerable to fantasy philosophies and developer sales jobs, particularly when it comes to cars.

Oakville’s town-wide goal for 2031 is to reduce our automobile use to 76 per cent of all trips. It’s nothing to brag about. But it is reality.

Pretending that thousands of people will move into highrise towers along Dundas Street and Trafalgar Road but somehow rely on buses or bicycles to get everywhere seems ludicrous to us.

Planning based on that delusion will create new neighbourhoods that don’t function well. And that will be bad for all of us.