Public-Service Culture Must Change: Reader

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Media personality and Facebook friend Laura Mainella sent out this note saying that Ottawa is becoming too crowded.

Frequent Bulldog contributor Ron Benn picks up the discussion where Mainella left off:

This challenge is neither new nor unique to Ottawa.

The demographic trend of cities growing at a faster rate than the country has been observed for more than half a century. The population of smaller towns has shrunk and continues to shrink as their teenagers leave town for college or university, never to return.

More people moving into cities puts more demand on infrastructure. It is not just roads. Water filtration capacity must be added in large lumps, not incrementally, as are sewage treatment facilities. Add to this list the infrastructure located in the cities, but not controlled by the cities, such as schools and hospitals.

In Ottawa’s case, planning staff and council failed to understand the relationship between an ever expanding municipal boundary, while they approved suburb after suburb after suburb to the outer edges of the city, and the cost to support those subdivisions. Suddenly, staff and council figured out that the city was not recovering enough money from the developers to fund the necessary infrastructure. So, the planning department and council came up with the solution to grow upwards (intensification), with the naive assumption that the residents of the mid- to high-rise buildings won’t put as much pressure on the already over-capacity infrastructure.

Intensification may, and I am doubtful of that assumption, lead to slower growth in demand for some elements of infrastructure (cars on roads being the primary one), but it will add to the capacity requirements of existing, poorly maintained infrastructure, such as water mains and sewers, while not changing the need for incremental filtration and treatment facilities. After all, the residents of all those high rises still take showers and flush toilets.

That we are faced with the so called infrastructure deficit is the most likely outcome and has been known to economists and others for decades, just as paying for current expenditures (i.e. things that do not have a long life) with long term debt will eventually result in a higher percentage of the budget being directed at paying interest on the debt. It is inevitable.

The funding solution invoked by the junior governments is to approach the more senior governments, with cap in hand, asking for more beans please. Except, unlike Charles Dickens orphans, their tone is whiny, demanding and entitled. There seems to be a fundamental lack of appreciation that all they are doing is playing musical deck chairs on the Titantic.

The solution will be painful. First of all, council must update its master plans, in all their various guises, to reflect the real infrastructure deficit. This will likely lead to significant increases in development fees. This will require the planning department and our elected officials to stop pandering to the self-serving demands of the development industry. It will also require our elected officials to think beyond their term in office.

We desperately need a significant change in political and public-civil service culture, not just at the municipal level, but at the provincial and federal levels. This will take stateswomen and statesmen, something that this city, province and country has been missing for decades, and a cursory review of the current roster of alternatives shows to be lacking.

 


 

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6 thoughts on “Public-Service Culture Must Change: Reader

  1. Ron:

    The tidal wave caused by the “I get the profits, but you get to pay for it” has been a mantra for decades.

    I get to pull the oil, coal, gas out of the ground but I don’t have to pay for the mess I cause.

    I get to build, but you get to pay for the services needed to support the building.

    I get to run my company any way I want but you get to bail me out when things go bad.

    I get to borrow sums of money that are actually too great but heck – I can just go bankrupt in the end and I’ll still get to keep a lot of my shiny toys.

    It is a cultural change that started and went on in business, government and personal matters.

    Give me, give me – damn the icebergs. It’s full steam ahead.

    In the U.S. they decided to hire a bunch of greedy multi- billionaires to care for them and solve this problem. Good luck with that plan. Good grief, how do they think the rich got so rich?

    Good post Ron.

    skoal,
    Chaz

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    1. P.S. – the problem is a pandemic versus an epidemic. Local action can do some good. Changes need to be done at the household level on up; however, the solution will have to be coming from a global change in mind-set.

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  2. Here is a little light-reading :) that every politician and every person involved with making decisions about urban planning should read :

    – Sustainable Development and the Limitations of Growth : Future Prospects for World Civilization by Victor Danilov-Danil’yan, K.S. Losev, Igor Reyf

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  3. First, on the recommendation from Chaz for reading material, I note that Amazon offers the book for a mere $268.07. If the book is so good, why not recommend that the Ottawa Public Library acquire a copy?
    Second, on Ron Benn’s discussion about Ottawa being too crowded, I think an important consideration about intensification is being missed. I support the concept of intensification in circumstances in which we are inefficiently utilizing our existing investment in infrastructure. Taking such an approach would imply that city planners would be working to identify areas where more residences or business could go in order to make optimal use of infrastructure.
    However our approach to intensification seems much less sophisticated – “intensification” is just a term trotted out to justify granting windfall profits to speculators in land. Good examples of this are the applications for super-tall apartment buildings such as those at Preston/Carling or in LeBreton Flats. The applicant says “we need authority for 55-storey buildings to support transit and to achieve intensification objectives”; our city gives the OK. But exactly how many of the subway stations in Tokyo, New York or London need similar tall buildings to generate transit riders? Answer – almost none.
    I support intensification but not its misuse.

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    1. Brocklebank,
      This book is a steal at any price. Yes – it should be available, and even mandatory, reading for the powers-that-be.

      They might get a headache but they might also glean some knowledge.

      I bought the book after reading selected excerpts. An introduction to the work was available online and may still be there.

      skoal,
      Chaz

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