Thursday, July 1, 2010

No Quiet on the Western Front

Smell that? That repugnant aroma is the relations between city and citizen going sour in the summer heat. Not that the relationship between Joe Q. Public and the government he hates so very much has ever been a cozy one, but it certainly seems that tempers are flaring with more alarming frequency during these first few days of Summer 2010.

First there seemed to be an incident a couple of Saturdays ago on transit where afternoon shoppers at Stone Road Mall had to face the fact that maybe they weren’t going to get downtown in a timely manner as a supervisor arrived to pull the driver before departure. The supervisor told those gathered on the bus that they’ll have to wait for the next trip as that bus was going out of service, but the riders revolted and the bus took them downtown as planned. However, anyone wanting a transfer to the Number 23 or 24 was left, well, wanting, because both buses were delayed. Another transit supervisor came over to those waiting in front of the Bank of Montreal on Quebec St. and said that while the 24 will be arriving late, the 23 wouldn't be arriving at all.

So what was going on with the bus system on this particular sunny June Saturday? Certainly there’s been a cold war between management and drivers since the “summer schedule” got underway, which leaves transit users caught in the middle as usual. Between management’s clinical detachment and the drivers’ work-to-rule literalism, an average, everyday normal bus rider is left no quarter. Complain to a driver, go tell it to city hall; complain to city hall and they’ll “look into it.”

Things seemed to exacerbate with the arrival of the first of five so-called “Karen Days” last Monday. City facilities were closed, library books sat unborrowed, and garbage was not picked up and hauled to the dump. All this, apparently, was a genuine surprise to several people. Now I don’t typically expect the average citizen to be as informed as someone that writes about local politics for a living, but the outrage from the ill-informed surprised me. I offer this bit from a Guelph Mercury article last Tuesday about one man’s reaction to the lack of garbage pick-up:

“Well, that’s just great,” said Jim Stevenson, owner of a three-unit apartment building on Alma Street which had about a dozen blue and green bags sitting at the curb. “Whoever’s in council now, I’m not voting for them again, put it that way.”

Stevenson went on to say that he had “no idea” that this effort to stymie the need to increase taxes further was coming, and that the city “owed him” $20 for a trip to the dump. The article went on to tell other stories of people blocked from their city facility-related activities including a student looking to study at the library and a mother looking to take her child for a swim in a pool before an educational jaunt to the civic museum. Quote the mom: “I had no idea it was closed.”

The revelation on the Mayor’s blog that the five days of city closures were factored into the property tax hike for 2010 (hence no refund) drew Samuel L. Jackson-like furious anger from those reading about in on the Mercury’s City Hall blog. “I wonder how many spin doctors it took to come up with that!” exclaimed Cathy. “Oh come on, Karen. You either run a city or you don't. You don't partially run a city,” said D.C. What’s interesting is that in a political sphere run by partisan rancour at the other two levels of government, it’s nice that we can all agree to hate the government together on a local level.

The anger isn’t what strikes me, although the way things are going on a transit I doubt anyone’s going to want to ride anymore come the return of the 20-minute schedule in the fall. What strikes me is the anger combined with ignorance. Now the informed angry I give a pass, but the people I referenced from the Mercury article don’t have a leg to stand on in my opinion. Truly, it seems that that the only way some people can get informed is if a city employee comes to their house and explains things to them face-to-face. Forget newspapers, advertising, word-of-mouth, press releases and posted notices on city facilities. Of course, then they’d be complaining about the waste of taxpayer’s money. Again.

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