Social issues are perhaps the most difficult for a city council to deal with but arguably also amongst the most important for the long-term health of a community. In the absence of forward thinking and strong leadership, these issues often become the subject of discussion, but not much action.
Several months ago, some in our community took umbrage with a “rag mag” taking cheeky pokes at our beautiful little corner of retirement heaven. We felt uncomfortable with an outsider’s notions that “Campbell River has a strange mix of high unemployment and low household income, mixed with high average real estate prices.” But did our discomfort make it any less true, and was the situation in any way mitigated by the marvels of soaring eagles and frolicking orcas as our Mayor’s flippant response at the time seemed to suggest?
Shortly thereafter, we were treated to a report about BC schools in which some of ours, while not at the absolute bottom of the heap, were identified as being embarrassingly deficient. Clearly this is not something that a Council can influence directly, but it is part of a larger disturbing picture; recall only the handwringing when the city could not find a niggardly $10,000 to continue the successful portable homeless shelter program while at the same time “wasting” many tens of thousands on much less socially valuable expenditures.
More recently, in the context of seemingly interminable inaction about a new seniors center, our council discussed the information from a course that one of our councilors had attended, that co-locating seniors with the younger members of our society, was not only of social benefit, but also of considerable psychological and physiological benefit to both our youth and our seniors. Hallelujah that these concepts, which for many years have been widely published and globally accepted, finally trickled through to the people charged with charting the long-term future of our community.
Fast forward to 10 July when our council showed great concern with a report highlighting a lengthy list of the things of which we, as a supposedly caring community, have little to be proud. Social problems such as those identified by the North Island Health Officer do not develop over night; they are the result of long-term inaction and lack of forward thinking about, and attention to, the entire community, not just the vocal minority.
In the same week, with the culmination of the Area-D gong show, we were also treated to a replay of the kindergarten behavior of a mayor leading from behind by disagreeing with council decisions that he should have been able to influence at the table – but couldn’t – and a council thumbing their nose at him through an open letter of rebuttal. Didn’t we spend tens of thousands of dollars in consultant fees at the beginning of their term to tell them that they had to play nice in the sandbox?
The picture that has been clear for a long time, and which is now being refocused in the run-up to municipal elections, is that of a failure of strategic direction and leadership. Petty squabbling and one-upmanship has no place in a council that needs to function as a high performance team. And while some in the community point to individual councilors by name and blame them for the mayor’s inability to get his good ideas implemented, this strikes me as the height of naïve coffee-shop rhetoric. Leaders are required to lead, and good leaders do not blame their team-members when that leadership fails. We need a council, and a new leadership, that has the skills, competencies, and abilities to think and act strategically in the best interests of the community.
Although in November we will cast a vote and call it an election, the people of this city will in fact be “hiring” a CEO and a Board of Directors. As part of the job interview, let’s ask the prospective candidates why they are qualified for the position; then let’s hire the people with the most skills, and not just those with the loudest voices or the biggest cheering sections.