Feb. 27, 2013 - Issue #906: Tegan and Sara - Pop goes their world
Skin in the game
Last fall, as city council debated whether or not to hold public hearings over the city's Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy, Ward 7 Councillor Tony Caterina suggested that unless a resident owned land, specifically land that was used to farm, they shouldn't really have any say in the matter.
"If you own the land and you want to grow berries, go ahead. If you don't own the land, I would say the same thing; get the heck out of the way. You have no interest," he stated.
While Caterina ultimately voted in favour of holding the public hearing, he made it clear that unless someone had "skin in the game" (his words), he didn't think their opinion mattered all that much.
I was baffled by his remarks for two reasons. First, we all eat. Questions about food production and food supply matter to us all, whether or not we farm land. I don't have any grandchildren yet, but when I do, I really want them to know what a fresh vegetable tastes like. Second, we all pay the price for far flung new subdivisions, no matter where we live. So if Caterina feels a monetary investment is the price of admission one must pay before being able to express one's opinion, each and every one of us should be good to go.
This week council heard from dozens of citizens, including myself, about the Horse Hill Area Structure Plan which, once passed, will pave the way for the last bits of farmland in the city's northeast to be rezoned to allow massive residential subdivisions. One resident expressed dismay that the developers and proponents of the plan seemed to be welcomed with open arms, while residents opposed to the plan were barely given the courtesy of having councillors pretend to listen to them. I suggested she look at each councillor's campaign finance disclosure documents if she really wanted to know why. A list of the donors who wrote $5000 cheques to the Mayor's 2010 campaign, for example, lists Walton Developments International (the folks behind the Horse Hill proposal) and dozens of other developers, but only one or two private citizens. While there's not a lot of us who can afford to have that kind of skin in the game, it might make you feel better to know the municipal election is only 235 days away and Walton International doesn't get to vote.
In the meantime, public hearings are a great reminder that democracy is not a thing that exists only on election days. Democracy needs to be viewed as a blank white canvas and its citizens as artists with varying degrees of talent and an endless supply of paint. Yes, there's a very good chance it will end up looking like one hot mess. But it's our hot mess, whether our elected representatives like it or not. V
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