Pubdate: Wed, 20 Apr 2016
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: David Reevely
Page: A2


Reasons for Avoiding Action Are Simple - and Wrong

Mayor Jim Watson is against a safe-injection site, photo radar, 
ranked ballots and bans on corporate campaign donations, and studying 
whether it should cost you to drive into downtown at busy times.

All these positions are the easier ones for a politician to hold, 
readily defended with single-sentence arguments that are simple and 
wrong. A whole lot of people who might previously have thought of 
Watson as a progressive sort are finding out what it's like to argue 
with a cube of Jell-O.

For instance, the mayor opposes plans by the Sandy Hill Community 
Health Centre to open a small safe-injection site for needle-drug 
users at its Rideau Street offices. "I believe the scarce dollars we 
do have should be going to treatment of people who have addictions, 
whether they're alcohol or drug addictions," Watson says.

The centre's Rob Boyd figures the safe-injection facility would cost 
$250,000 to $300,000 a year. That doesn't buy very much treatment.

Serious research suggests that Vancouver's larger safe-injection site 
saves the health system an average of $480,000 a year. In any event, 
if a Sandy Hill safe-injection site prevents one case of dirty-needle 
HIV, it pays for itself. If it prevents two, it frees up money that 
can be used for that treatment program that is not available now.

Has Watson been to Vancouver's safe-injection site? Yes. What did he 
think of it? He didn't answer that, talking about what a depressing 
place the Downtown Eastside is. Thank goodness Ottawa's drug addicts 
are less visible, right?

Let's go on.

Watson's against using photo radar to enforce speed limits because he 
didn't run on the idea in 2014. City council agendas are full of 
things Watson didn't promise to do in 2014, such as redesigning all 
the regulations governing taxis. "There'll probably be some desire to 
look at how technology is affecting the taxi industry," he said when 
he was running for re-election then. Not exactly a promise of the 
mass deregulation he voted for last week.

We could pick our spots. We could set radar cameras to catch only 
people going much too fast. We could decide we want to try other 
things first. Or, like our mayor, we could be against asking the 
province even to give us the option because we haven't been for them 
in the past.

When some councillors wanted to write a letter to the province asking 
for the same right to restrict union and corporate donations to local 
election campaigns as Toronto has, Watson rejected it. He didn't want 
to bug one minister when Ottawa was also looking for money for 
light-rail and sewer projects from other ministers.

That was last year. Now Municipal Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin says 
the government's going to give all municipalities the right to limit 
donations anyway. So Watson's against using that power because 
campaigns need money and can only raise it during a months-long 
campaign period instead of constantly, plus there's no tax writeoff 
for individual contributions, so the politicians need to keep the 
trough as big as possible.

Didn't Watson slash a city program that gave rebates for individual 
contributions? Why, yes.

In the same field, Watson's against ranked ballots in municipal 
elections. "When I go into the ballot box, I want to vote for my 
first choice and I want my first choice to win, not my second or 
third choice," he says.

Filling in preferences is "watering down (your) vote," he says, which 
is plainly false. Ranked ballots mean last-place finishers get cut 
and their supporters' next choices counted, until somebody gets 50 
per cent of the vote or more. The point is that even if your 
favourite candidate isn't widely popular, your preferences among the 
rest still matter. They make individual voters' choices more 
important, not less.

As for congestion pricing, that's the dumbest and saddest of all. 
Capital Coun. David Chernushenko wanted city staff to look at other 
places that use it and think about whether it could be any help here.

Then council's transportation committee turned the proposal into a 
study of the causes of congestion generally.

Then Watson, with the majority of council, voted against doing it, 
because we've totally got a handle on that already.

It's a remarkable set of opinions, all on the side of knowing less 
and not giving ourselves tools for attacking complicated problems.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom