Are Londoners Disinterested in the City’s Budget, or are they Disillusioned With it?

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Lee Friday – February 15, 2019

In a recent London Free Press (LFP) article titled “Politicians endorse tax hike of 2.7% amid disinterest from Londoners”, Megan Stacey wrote “it seems Londoners don’t care” because less than a dozen people attended a budget open house earlier in the month and city hall received only four email messages commenting on the budget.

However, an online poll embedded within the article indicated that 76% of 2,103 respondents were opposed to the tax increase. It took about five seconds for a person to respond to the online poll. In comparison, a person’s response through the open house or via email would require a more significant time commitment. Minimal response through these modes of communication may indicate that most people believe City Hall is indifferent to their concerns. In other words, if people believe their opinions are routinely ignored by the government, they may conclude their time and energy is better devoted to issues over which they have more control.

So perhaps Londoners are simply pragmatic, not disinterested. They certainly have ample reason to believe their opinions are ignored by the decision makers at City Hall. Let’s consider just three examples.

Councillor Morgan

In 2017, Councillor Josh Morgan, in reference to London’s annual Neighbourhood Decision Making Program, said “This is one of the ways to give residents that decision-making power and ability to shape their neighbourhoods.” The program allows residents to propose and vote on minor building projects, but this is nothing more than a tiny bone ($250,000) – less than one tenth of one percent of the City’s budget – thrown to taxpayers. And despite its name, this tiny program remains under bureaucratic control. On the City of London’s website, we read, “This program will allow you to propose ideas to enhance your neighbourhood, with you deciding on which ideas will go forward!” Yes, City Hall actually ended that sentence with an exclamation point, presumably to emphasize that voters are really in control. However, the assertion is false. You do not decide. When we dig deeper, we read this: “Resident ideas are vetted for feasibility by Civic Administration, and once approved, developed into proposals to be represented on the ballot.”

So, if a majority of residents favour a particular idea, but the bureaucrats do not share their enthusiasm, the idea will not be on the ballot, which means you are not able to vote for it. So much for majority rule, even on such a tiny scale.

In 2018, in a city of almost 400,000, only 7,114 residents bothered to cast their votes in this program. Is the majority disinterested, or do they see this as an arrogant attempt to create the illusion that citizens actually have meaningful control over their own neighbourhoods?

Councillor Turner

On February 12, 2019, in reference to a council discussion about a rushed decision-making process for investments in transportation projects, Councillor Stephen Turner stressed the importance of “a discussion with the community to figure out what the needs and wants are of the community.” We have to take his comment with a grain of salt because Turner’s record shows that the “needs and wants of the community” are not his highest priority.

In 2015, Council ordered a sidewalk installed in a neighbourhood despite opposition from 90% of the local residents. A petition from his constituents requesting cancellation of the sidewalk project drew this response from Turner: “I can’t support their request but I can help them be heard.”

Councillor Cassidy

During public consultations prior to revising their business licensing regulations, City Hall was asked by sex workers to delete a clause in the by-law that bans touching between customers and employees of London’s strip clubs. However, Council unanimously denied their request. Naïve politicians seem to think that when they forbid sexual touching in strip clubs, sexual touching will stop. It won’t. It continues, as it has in the past, either in the strip clubs as the workers risk fines, or in other locations as they risk their own safety in their attempt to earn a living.

The risk for sex workers is increased by the actions of these arrogant politicians, who refuse to acknowledge that the sex workers themselves are uniquely qualified to determine the circumstances which offer them the highest degree of safety. Dr. Jodi Hall is a nursing professor who conducts research on women who are criminalized. As per the London Free Press:

Hall’s been interviewing sex workers in London for the last five years. None have linked the touching ban with feelings of safety, she said.

“It moves them into spaces where there are less people, it’s less public, and there are less opportunities to get help if they needed it,” she said.

Councillor Maureen Cassidy was not convinced the no-touch rule should be scrapped:

“I’m a woman. I don’t like being condescended to and somebody thinking they know what’s better for me. I hear those arguments,” she said.

“But I know there are women in this trade who are coerced into doing things they don’t want to do. I have to look at both types of women in this industry.”

This is illogical and insensitive. Cassidy adopts a condescending attitude toward sex workers, while at the same time acknowledging their resentment of condescension. She expresses concern for women who are victims of coercion, then claims the right to impose her own brand of coercion on “both types of women.”

Regarding women who are victims of coercion, Cassidy seems to forget that it is the responsibility of the police and courts to arrest and prosecute anyone who has caused harm to “women in this trade.” This is completely unrelated to the no-touch rule, which forbids actions which are NOT coercive. As they continue to criminalize these uncoercive acts, Cassidy and her fellow Councillors have guaranteed that these women will continue to be subjected to a higher level of coercion as they attempt to earn a living in less-safe locations.

Conclusion

Those are just three examples (there are many others) illustrating the contempt politicians have for the interests of taxpayers. Sadly, the disdainful attitude of Morgan, Turner, and Cassidy is common among their fellow councillors, as well as among politicians at the other levels of government.

Public consultation. Public participation. Public input. These are nothing more than convenient catchphrases politicians use to create the illusion that our opinions are important to them. As professors Martin Gilens (Princeton University) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern University) revealed in a study they published:

Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.

There are many people who have no interest in City Hall’s budget. However, there are many others who are disillusioned, which often leads to a lack of participation, but this should not be confused with disinterest.


Image Source: Djgriffin7 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

 

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