Tangled webs and leaps of faith.

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive! ~ Sir Walter Scott

I remember my mum warning me as a child, “Jo-Anne, if you’re going to lie be sure it’s worth it, because I will always find out the truth.” She wasn’t kidding. She always caught me, but I never learned. In my teens, I told a doozy; one that hurt her very much. I couldn’t back up my story when questioned again, and she warned me, “Be sure your memory is long, Jo-Anne.” I suffered the consequences and learned from that mistake. I noted that the truth comes at much less cost than a lie and vowed to find honesty, for my benefit and the benefit of others.

We are surrounded in our every day lives by deception, omissions, half-truths and blatant lies. From parenting to politics, there is no escaping dishonesty. The art of covering one’s butt is nothing new, but I get a sinking feeling it is getting worse with every passing day. This morning alone I heard 3 lies before I knew the time. In one ear my son was telling me he “spilled water” in his bed, in the other the radio was talking of “Robocall” scandals and clandestine lunches. And I realized, this has been the norm for… I don’t know how long. But when I think of it, as long as I can remember.

And I shudder.

I have told my share of white lies, and learned to withhold the truth when the truth had nothing positive or constructive to offer. I undertook many years ago to be a decent, honest person. Sometimes it’s difficult, and other times it can be a detriment. Even if they say they do, not everybody wants to hear the truth because at times the truth can be ugly. But a lie is much more unsightly, especially when the truth is exposed. The hurt is longer and deeper, and trust disappears.

I feel hurt and mistrusting as a result of the lies I am hearing around me. My son is six, so I’ll give him a pass. We’ll downplay this incident to a fib and use it as a learning experience. I’ll instill the consequences of dishonesty, whether a “fib” or a “lie” and help him develop in his character. It is my duty as his parent to protect him, teach him and lead by example. We will value honesty and live life that we can be proud of. This is what I signed up for.

What I did not sign up for was my elected officials attempting to deceive me at every turn. Municipally and federally, I am becoming increasingly frustrated and saddened, day by day. When we elect our officials, we take a leap of faith that they will protect and serve us almost as a parent protects and serves their child. We give them our money, our personal information and our confidence that they will do what is best for us. We give our elected representatives respect, whether deserved or not, because we all know that the job they do must be very tough. But we put them there because they assure us that they can do it, and we take them at their word.

So how do we determine if they are lying when they make that promise? When we take that leap of faith and give them control of our cities, provinces, countries and livelihoods, what is to say they aren’t deceiving us? Nothing. Recent events – and events for centuries – prove it. No wonder voter apathy is at an all time high. No wonder citizens of the world have taken to the streets to protest, from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street and all its offshoots. No wonder people are angry. The world is waking up to the dishonesty, and they’re making it clear they’ve had enough. I’ve had enough, have you? Then stand up!

I want you to say this out loud, now:

“I vow to live an honest life; to lead by example; to spread truth instead of lies, love instead of hate. I make this pledge for the good of humanity.”

I’m not joking, friends, and I hope you will repeat it and live it. It is time we demand honesty from each other. When we have an outbreak of disease, we vaccinate against it and take all precautions necessary to stop it. Consider this vow your vaccination. It is time to adopt and protect one of the most core values of life: honesty. If not, it is a race to the bottom to see who can sink to the lowest of the low. And for what gain? Control. But what good does control do when you lose it? And those who seek control at all costs will eventually lose it. All things must come to an end. And what then, at what cost? Respect, dignity and conscience come to mind.

Today is a leap year, an event that happens once every four years. It is the perfect time for you to take a proverbial “leap” and make a pledge to live an honest, decent life. It is the perfect time to wake up to the dishonesty around you and hold to account those who are purveying it. We have lived surrounded by deception for so long that it has become the norm to us, but it can’t remain that way. Live a good life, lead by example and expect others to behave the same. Most of all, do not be afraid to call them on it. A higher standard has to be set by every single one of us, before we are so tangled up in webs of lies that we are unable to escape. There has never been a better time for us to make this commitment. Please, make the leap, before it is too late.

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Turn out the lights.

So, the London, Ontario “Budget 2012” went off exactly the way many of us expected it to, despite our hopes to the contrary. Cuts to programs and services (although not “essential” services, says the Mayor) were made in order to reach a 0% tax increase. Fine. He got his freeze. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with trying to reach the lowest possible tax increase every year. But at what cost? This time the cost was on the backs of the vulnerable, and that’s not a cost I’m personally happy to pay. If you are, that’s for you to justify. But please, don’t try to justify it to me, because I can’t see any justification. What I see is increased tax bills in the coming years like we have seen before when we’ve had a tax freeze. If our economy hasn’t turned around by then – Heaven forbid – the cost to homeowners will be greater than it would have been this year. Mark my words (and pray that I’m wrong).

I’m not surprised with the votes, especially when there are allegations of a “coalition” that includes 8 members of council who seem to vote with the Mayor on many issues that the Mayor is passionate and pushy about. The cuts to Affordable Housing and Accessibility were made to the disappointment of many, but not to our surprise. If the allegations are true, the Mayor has a tight rein on his “coalition”, and unless sensibility suddenly strikes one or two of them, I see more of the same in another debate that rages tonight: Lights.

From March 10-17th, 2013, London, Ontario will host the ISU World Figure Skating Championships. A pretty big event for London’s John Labatt Centre that is “predicted” to draw tourists from all over the world to our fair (but hurting) city. Whether or not that is an exaggeration remains to be seen. Most tourists will likely come from closer to home, but time will tell. Many are thrilled with the event, others are less than overwhelmed. I fall somewhere in between. I enjoy figure skating would attend if finances allow, but single ticket prices haven’t yet been released, with “All Event” packages for the week listed from $1000-1200. That’s out of my price range, to be sure.

There is more to this event that has ‘affordability’ called into question, and associated price tags have come under serious scrutiny from citizens and council members alike. In particular, a $600,000 light show that will be projected on to nearby walls during the 7 day event. Images of skaters, etc. to thrill passersby and give them something to look at as they stroll to and from the arena. Pretty, but necessary?

The London Free Press is reporting today that this number has been reduced (by the magic of finding funds in other places) to $450,000, a price tag that – in my opinion – is still too dear to a city in trouble.

You know what my proposal would be to Mayor Joe, if he really wants to “light up this city!”? Use it’s best and brightest asset: It’s people. You may not think so, but $600,000 (no matter where it comes from) could go a long way in this city, putting people to work for a week. Instead of having a light show that people will likely pass by and not give a second look to, why don’t we invest that money in the people of our city, and give our visitors something tangible to look at and talk about when they leave London.

Invest that money in the biggest, best winter street festival this city has ever seen, and make it a yearly thing from there. Have musicians, performers and artists out showing what makes London, Ontario truly unique. Is an overpriced light show projecting images on walls going to do that? Seriously, Mr. Mayor, if you think it will then our problems are bigger than a spend thrift city council. This shows both a lack of imagination and and inability to think forward.

But we knew that already, and I’m sure the light show will pass without a second thought on the part of some councillors. Why? Because Tourism London and Mayor Joe Fontana say so, so they will smile and nod and say, “Great idea!” and pass it without examining the fantastic possibilities that the money could be spent on.

Or maybe they will surprise us… Wow, wouldn’t that be nice. But don’t hold your breath.

Turn out the lights, City of London. Turn on your brightest lights instead – your people. In the end, it is not the light show visitors will remember. It is not the light show that will make them say, “Wow! London was such a great city, because they had this marvelous light show projected on to the walls!” They will say, we hope, “Wow. London was beautiful, and the people were welcoming, interesting and fun.” That’s how I want tourists to talk of London when they leave, so please – let’s make the right investment and ensure that they do.

 

The Pinnacle of Geekdom

I have always been a geek.  I was the girl you gave “stink-eye” to in high school when I started talking politics at the lunch table.  I was the girl in the University dorm that you didn’t want to be stuck in the shared lounge with if the news was on.  And I was the girl who wanted to know your political views before the end of our first date, to see if you would be granted a second. Yes, I’m a geek and that’s okay. I own it and, quite frankly, I am proud of it.

Earlier today I tweeted, “You know you’ve reached the pinnacle of your Geekdom when your exciting, anticipated night out is at City Council. #ldnont“. Not everyone’s idea of a perfect night out, but for me this is a thrill. (I blame my dad.)

Yes, tonight is budget night at London City Council, and I will be very interested to see what transpires. Some of the proposed cuts have become quite contentious issues over the past 2 weeks, and I think many Londoners have given council members food for thought on each side of the debate, both for and against a tax freeze.

There is an important cut I missed in my last post that I would be remiss if I did not bring attention to. I will refer you to Jeff Preston’s blog on the matter of the $500,000 funding cut to Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities, because I cannot do the topic of accessibility justice as Jeff can.  Jeff, I apologize for my oversight.  Know that I am always with you in your fight for greater accessibility.

I have a feeling the air will be thick with tension tonight, both on the floor and in the gallery. I am certain it will remain respectful, but won’t be surprised if some tempers flare.  I believe my last post hit a nerve with one councillor this week, as it appears he has blocked me from seeing his page on Facebook (which is/was completely open to the public to read).  I’m disappointed for two reasons:

1. I enjoyed reading the comments from his “friends” (and more specifically, his specially trained guard dog) in response to articles he posted;  2. It proves my point – he doesn’t want to hear from us. He would like to silence us. We do not matter.

Thank you, Councillor Orser. I do enjoy being right.

Today in the London Free Press, Councillor Orser is quoted as saying, “If people have a problem, Orser said, they should show up at city hall, lobby councillors, set meetings and send in communications that identify themselves. That’s the problem with social media, you don’t know who you’re dealing with,” he said.”

Look up tonight, Councillor. Put the faces to our names. We are transparent, we do show up, we do communicate and we do lobby councillors. Get to know us, for once, because we aren’t going to go away. We are who you are dealing with, and really, we aren’t so bad. We just want you to listen to us and talk to us instead of at us, or for us. That is what engagement is, and that is what you have been elected to do. That goes for you too, Mayor Fontana. We don’t want any more fluff or window dressing, we want serious discussion and action.

I’m looking forward to this night, for many reasons. I care about this city, I care about cuts that could hurt it’s citizens, and I care about our Mayor and councillors taking civic engagement as seriously as I do.

Tonight I stand proudly on the pinnacle of my Geekdom, with my feet firmly planted. London, I’m not going anywhere, so I hope you can get accustomed to my voice.

 

London: City of Opportunity, or City of the Lost?

Picture your future in the city of London
Picture your dreams as you want them to be
Picture the things that you can accomplish
In London, the city of opportunity – Jim Chapman’s Incontinentals

London, Ontario: the ‘City of Opportunity!’ We have our own song to prove it, so it must be true. A city that can boast a 0% tax increase, with zero cuts to services. Our Mayor campaigned on that promise, so it must be true. It is also the city of citizen engagement, where all citizens have an equal voice and are free speak and be heard. Our Mayor set up a Community  Engagement Task Force (CETF) to make sure of it, so it must be true! 

But it isn’t true. The truth is, London is becoming a city of missed opportunity, depleting services and eroding citizen engagement. Our city is lost and in crisis, and it must be addressed.

On February 3rd, it was reported that the unemployment rate in London had dropped from 9.6% to 9% – still one of the highest rates for a city of it’s size (ranked the 10th largest) in Canada. The drop was somewhat significant, but the relief was short lived with the announcement in the following hours that the Electromotive Diesel Plant (EMD) would be closing it’s doors for good, putting approximately 700 people out of work. A blow to an already hurting city that we didn’t need, and could do nothing about.

Mayor Fontana campaigned on promises of job creation, frozen taxes (without touching services), opportunities for families, and the improvement of cultural and recreational facilities. Since 2010, more “good paying” jobs have been lost than created. While an initial tax freeze promised for 2011 did not affect services, that will not be the case in 2012, as proposed budget cuts for this fiscal year extend to cultural spending and recreational funding.

Included in the proposed cuts to reach a 0% tax increase are the closing of several wading pools in the city, and early closing of select public pools; reduction of cultural funding; a reduction of maintenance and garbage collection in city parks during the fall and winter months; $1 million yearly cut in funding to Affordable Housing; and a $1.3 M dip into the city reserves (against the advice of city staff). All this to save home owners an average of $30 per year with an approximate 1.5% tax increase, or $6.97 with an approximate 0.3% increase.

London’s residential tax rates are lower than the urban
average – affordable housing prices and low tax rates
assist in attracting talent to our city.

My home was affordable to buy, and my taxes are – as the city website proclaims above – much below the urban averages of other cities. It’s one of the reasons I bought a home and continue to live in this city. I appreciate the services I receive for the taxes I pay, and I wish to keep them. Not just personal services that benefit me directly like winter maintenance, but those that benefit the greater community, like affordable housing. The people of a city are, after all, it’s greatest asset.

As I stated in my opening, the Mayor created a task force to address the issue of citizen engagement. How could we make it better, and what could be done to get Londoners to get involved in city politics?

I sat on the task force for the first few weeks. I wasn’t sure how effective it would be in the end, but was willing to give it a shot and see what contribution I could make to the discussion. I became disillusioned and disheartened with the entire process one evening while sitting in the gallery at city council. I believe the debate was around backyard chickens that day, and Councillor Joe Swan, in response to a request for citizen input to the matter, said in no uncertain terms, “You have your say on election day. After that, I speak for you.” Very “father knows best” of him. It turned me off completely.

It seems to be a sentiment held by many on city council. The voice of the people who elected them is not being heard, and others are being deliberately tuned out. Citizens are not having their voices treated as equals, if they happen to hold a position of ‘respect’ in the community, whether it be as a priest or an employee of the not-for-profit sector.

After the proposed cuts were announced, Sean Quigley, Executive Director of Emerging Leaders, posted a blog expressing his anger over the cuts, especially to Affordable Housing. It was not inflammatory, but it was passionate. He went on to post Councillor Sandy White’s response to concerns he raised. Somewhere in this time, Councillor White contacted Sean’s former and current employers to determine if he was speaking on behalf of them or himself. Why, we aren’t exactly sure.

The Mayor contends it is normal to do this now and then, and perfectly acceptable. Others see it as a form of intimidation. Emerging Leaders is partially funded by the City, and White has been vocal in the past about not-for-profit leaders speaking out and criticizing.

Councillor Sandy White, February 2011 Council meeting:

“I guess one of the things I have a pet peeve about the fact some of the (non-profit) leaders in this city, and certainly we’re entitled to free speech, but the way that they conduct themselves, and we’re handing them money from the city, you know they’re in the paper, they’re on their blog. I mean they’re, you know, after councillors, they’re after you Mr. Mayor. I mean these kind of professional, ah non-professional behaviour needs to be addressed. Because it is the taxpayers’ money we’re giving out, and yet this kind of behaviour is acceptable? I mean these are some of the things in terms of professionalism that we look at and I don’t want to be accused of whining it’s just a fact. If I did that at my job they would say, you know, there’s the door what’s your hurry, here’s your pink slip and don’t look back, we’ll get you a box and see you later. And I think these are some of the issues we need to address in terms of the standards that we set in our non-profit sector in London. Thank you.”

Nathan Smith wrote a blog post in defence of Sandy White yesterday that I don’t disagree with, but don’t entirely agree with either. It’s a tough call to make. Sandy contends it was not done with any ill will, and perhaps we should take her at her word, but her actions speak louder than words as evidenced above in her criticism of non-profit leaders speaking out. In the past she has had no problem with criticism of City Hall with her participation in producing a play called “Sandbox” which is based on White’s own foray into City Hall (or, “Silly Hall”).

The social media exchange in this London Free Press piece  is also very important to look at to determine if London is really a city concerned about “engaging” with citizens. Apparently, we must not only refrain from speaking and criticizing council decisions if we are a not-for-profit leader, but if we are a church leader as well (thankfully, I am neither). The exchange between Councillor Orser and private citizen/priest Marty Levesque is even more troubling to me. Despite Mr. Levesque’s profession, he is a citizen first and foremost. To be silenced because he is a priest? It goes without saying, it is completely wrong. Mr. Orser suggesting he should not speak out disturbs me, and it should disturb you too.

Based on the above, can we really fault our leaders and ordinary citizens for being timid to come forward and speak out for what they believe in? Should they be separated from the other common tax payers, simply because of their job and position in the community? The simple answer is, “No”. Every tax payer and resident of this city should have an equal voice. End of story.

Is our city a “City of Opportunity”, or “City of Opportunists”? Frankly, it’s hard to find the opportunities our Mayor and theme song speak of. We can imagine all we like, but the reality is clear. Our city is broken on many levels, and it’s citizens are feeling lost. We must change the direction it has taken of late. We must stop trouncing on those who are hurting, and we must stop silencing those who are trying to speak up for them. If we don’t, our own personal rights are going to slowly erode. I, for one, am not ready to sit back and let that happen. Not now or ever.

Speak up for yourself and those around you. Remember, to others you are the “those” around them. We need to stick up for each other, before it’s too late. Do not silence us, Councillors. Listen to us, and truly engage with us. Please, don’t intimidate our people – leaders or otherwise – into not wanting to use their voices. If this truly is the City of Opportunity, extend those opportunities to all.

I implore our city Councillors to listen, engage and respect it’s citizens. That’s all we are asking of you and once we receive it, you will surely get it back.