Something you may have noted about me from reading this blog is that I’m a big believer in not just acting right, but actually doing things the right way. For me, that means dealing with issues directly, respectfully, and above all, in a constructive manner. This is doubly true for very difficult issues, as they usually involve a more engaged public, intense feelings and in some cases, frayed emotions.
It doesn’t matter what level of politics you are at, every elected politician faces these very difficult issues. How these politicians react in these circumstances speaks loudly, not just about the end results, but about them and the way they dealt with it. Usually when you do it right, you get praised and remembered very well. When you don’t, you look outright silly, unserious and get scorn that doesn’t get forgotten before the next election.
Lately we’ve seen a prime example of this play out in Ottawa, around a proposed addition to the Chateau Laurier hotel, a historic landmark in the downtown of the city. The proposed addition has bee widely panned by residents, businesses, community groups and a wide section of the city. In a city like Ottawa that can be divided along partisan lines, it’s rare to see so much unanimity around a single issue. Yet this proposal has brought it, in firm opposition to it.
That brought us to yesterday at Ottawa City Hill, where the local ward councillor for the development Mathieu Fleury brought forward a motion to have the council overrule city staff and reject this proposal. The proposal was upheld by the council, which in of itself was a bit surprising. But what pushed me to write this today was the actions of a group of councillors after the vote, actions that screamed to me of politicians doing it all so wrong:
Personally, I think that David Coletto’s comment pretty much nails my sentiment here. The letter from these four councillors )Laura Dudas, Glen Gower, Matt Luloff and Jenna Sudds) was just breathtakingly bad, screamed of being disingenuous and completely failed to accomplish their goal, whatever they actually thought that was. Instead of using their votes to stop a project that, in their own words, they do not endorse, they voted for it and then sent a letter to the proponent to kindly ask them to reconsider. Oh, and to top it off, in the letter they state that the proponent is fully their rights to tell them to go fly a kite.
Needless to say, the public response to this has been as harsh and unanimous as the sentiments to the proposal itself. The fact remains that with their votes, these councillors could have stopped this in it’s tracks, but instead they took this “original” route. The kicker here folks is that it’s pretty clear in this case that no matter what decision the council took, this was going to court, either with the proponent initiating it or concerned citizens trying to stop it. So why in the heck would you do this letter stunt? Beyond an extreme case of naivety, there seems to be no logical explanation outside of simply being unwilling to face the public pressure and trying to find a way out. That’s not the right way of doing it, and now these four councillors are facing the consequences of that.
But that’s not the worst part of this episode, because one of the councillors decided to take things a step further in the “doing it the wrong way” approach. Behold:
Amazing, Luloff decides to basically double-down on his “oh, I really hate this thing” stance, stomp his feet petulantly and attack the councillor who moved the motion, who is simply defending the wishes of his constituents. He goes on to attack Fleury directly, blaming him for “forcing this upon council”, as if he somehow concocted this who episode in some campaign strategy session. So just when you thought that someone couldn’t show themselves to be anymore pompous or out of touch, Matthew Luloff steps up to the plate and declares “Hold my beer”. If somehow he thinks that his attempts at deflection and issue management are going to help him in the long run, he’ll continue his streak of losses on this issue.
There is a lesson in this episode for all politicians out there and I’m a firm believer that we learn just as much from failures as we do from successes. Folks, this whole episode is a big failure for these four councillors. They tried to take an “easier” way out instead of dealing with this difficult issue head on. If they had done this the right way, they would have had a much better result, regardless of the end result of the issue itself. When politicians try to take short cuts or avoid hard decisions, it almost always results in craziness like this and what’s worse, it erodes people’s confidence in our politics. Stephen Maher sums this up much better than I, so I will leave you with his words of wisdom on this and hope that others learn from the mistakes of this quartet of rookie councillors.