Election 2K6:

A city boy’s take on the emerging

rural agenda

Remarks to be delivered by
Walter Robinson
before the Rural Council

 

Scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST
Monday, November 8, 2004
Kinburn Community Centre

 

check against delivery

 

Web: www.walterrobinson.ca


 

Thank you for that warm introduction and it is indeed a pleasure to be here with you this evening.

My remarks for this evening are entitled:

Election 2K6 … a city boy’s take on the emerging rural agenda.

And a city boy’s take is most definitely what you’ll get.

While I’m anxious to share some of my observations with you, I am equally enthused at the prospect of hearing your ideas, fielding your questions and learning more about this issues that you have with all orders of government … local, provincial and federal.

Given my former occupation as a national tax fighter, I always took comfort in the numbers and built my arguments for public policy change from that basis.

And speaking of numbers, some 230 days have passed since you first met at the Nepean Sportsplex last March.

Allow me to commend you on the strides you’ve made in the last eight months which – given my history in the advocacy world, and seeing many movements of anger fade into oblivion – are really quite remarkable.

In this short period of time you have:

  • Set up a governance structure;
  • Raised money and built your capital base;
  • Established a simple yet informative website;
  • Become a voice where the media turns for comment;
  • Educated your potential membership base and catchment area;
  • Conducted a statistically valid survey;
  • Networked with like minded organizations; and most importantly
  • Caught the attention of policy makers – bureaucratic and elected – in government.
  • In a nutshell, you have turned:

  • Anger into advocacy;
  • Irritation into information; and
  • Resignation into a resolve for recognition, respect and results.
  • However, these accomplishments are only the beginning. As everyone in this room knows, the hard work truly lies ahead.

    We are now just 735 days away from the next municipal election scheduled for November 13, 2006.

    And as you gear up to get your issues into the debate of the next municipal election cycle, I think you are entering this debate from a position of strength.

    To start, your issues are not really unique.

    By saying this, I do not discount the very local issues at Fitzroy Harbour, the burst Richmond wastewater forcemain (again) or the desires of the local de-amalgamation issue.

    Instead, I view these issues through a larger media prism.

    These are local Ottawa area issues, episodic issues, set against the backdrop of a larger provincial and national debate, the thematic frame, where rural communities across the country are telling policy makers that one-size-fits-all city hall solutions don’t work in rural environments.

    Rural residents across the country are telling elected officials and policy wonks that the cities agenda – while it is important and real – cannot and must not become the sole preoccupation of politicians to the detriment of real rural concerns.

    And it is in this larger arena where you find common cause with other rural communities. BSE, for example, is not an Alberta issue, it’s a national issue … how many policy makers (or downtown citizens for that matter) are aware that Eastern Ontario is home to a very vibrant cattle farming industry?

    Provincial water regulation 170/03 which reaches into to test wells with no history of contamination what so-ever at great cost to local landowners.

    And issues of sprawl and growth impacting on the rural way of life are as prevalent in communities like Ancaster, New Hamburgh, and Bolton as they are in Kinburn, Osgoode, Vars and Sarsfield, to name just a few.

    And don’t even get me going on high fuel costs and what skyrocketing gas and diesel prices are doing to rural communities.

    I mentioned to a city official – and I’ll leave it to you to guess whether this person is elected or a staff member – late last week that I was looking forward to my speech this evening.

    His response was terse: "Ah yes the rural whiners, regardless of what we do, they’ll never be happy, all they do is complain and criticize and on he went with his vitriol …"

    To which I responded. You know, you’re absolutely right … they are complaining a lot these days … its great isn’t it … where I come from, we call it democracy.

    So I did a little research and went surfing on the city website, the OCRI website and the Ottawa.Com website and what I found was very interesting. (Review results of searches)

    For me, this points to a perception problem in the downtown corridor and among the larger economic development community as a whole.

    The rural community is an important economic generator for this region and this fact is still not recognized by the proverbial powers that be.

    Which brings me to the road ahead for rural residents as we move to the 2006 municipal elections.

    But before I wrap up, some of you may be wondering, why hasn’t he touched on the colossal failures of amalgamation?

    In the interests of transparency, I was a key proponent of amalgamation and I co-chaired the former Board of Trade committee that really pushed the issue onto the agenda back in the late nineties.

    However, mistakes were made, huge mistakes were made … starting with the enabling legislation that was brought in by the former Tory government at Queen’s Park.

    Mandated levels of alternate service delivery – which would have saved taxpayers millions – were not written into the legislation.

    Furthermore, when it comes to the so-called economies of scale arguments, no one accounted for the size of the Ottawa region and the complexities inherent in centralizing core service delivery in one or two locations.

    Even though rural residents – many of you in this room – told anyone that would listen that the immense geography of our region and loss of local administrative knowledge in service delivery were real concerns.

    And to make matters worse, some of the best, brightest and salt of the earth municipal administrators that came from the former townships and suburbs – who as professionals wanted to make the new city work – were handed their golden parachutes and told to jump.

    But this is a topic on which we could talk for hours and no doubt some of you will share your views with me in comments and questions in a few moments so I’ll leave the amalgamation debate on the sideline for a few more moments.

    So where do you go from here, as someone who has had success in forging coalitions and getting governments to change taxation policy and other pieces of legislation, I offer the following suggestions and cautions as you move forward.

    1. Continue to use all forms of media to educate taxpayers (rural, suburban and urban) about your issues, Ottawa’s perilous financial position you’re your proposals for change and improvement.
    2. Stay focused on unifying issues – a narrow range – where you can speak (and vote) with one voice.
    3. Get political candidates on the record – through media clippings, speech texts or Q&A sessions between elections.
    4. Seek innovative ways to bind politicians (pledges, policy declarations) to action on your concerns.
    5. Work within the existing city, provincial, federal structure to advocate for change … it is the only option.
    6. See down the field for an overarching goal that reaches beyond the next budget or election … example of property rights.

    Thank you for your attention this evening.

    I look forward to your questions.


     

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