As the U.S. dithered about how to go about leading the bombing of Gadhafi into the stone age, without actually appearing to lead, an Obama operative, proudly proclaimed that President Obama was “leading from behind”.
Leading from behind was the cause the massacre of Canadians at Dieppe in the Second World War and what earned U.S. General McLellan the distinction of “second worst” general in the civil war. The leadership strategy that lost the Liberals 50 odd seats is also in fashion for our local and provincial politicians as well. Clearly leading from behind is a strategy that yields costly, if not disastrous, results.
Our local politicians have decided that, despite the confidence voters placed in them a couple of short years ago, they do not have the capacity to do the job they were hired to perform. Thus we are to be subjected to a referendum over the “Penticton Prison”. Our city fathers are choosing to lead from behind on this one — test the waters, gauge the wind, as it were.
The timing of the announced referendum, particularly with respect to the upcoming civic election, is telling. Those councillors who would be mayor, wish to pander to the anti-prison, anti-development crowd in hopes of attracting those voters who fear any development, prison or otherwise. Other council members are waiting for cover from the referendum results, regardless of the outcome, to declare their support for, or opposition to, the prison, thus coming out on the winning side no matter what. Apparently, getting re-elected is the goal that trumps articulating a vision, direction or plan.
Many believe we in Canada live in a democracy. This is a widely held misconception. We have a representative form of government, whether federal, provincial or municipal. We elect representatives, democratically, who are then trusted to make decisions in our interests. If they do so, they will likely be re-elected. If not, we get a chance to throw them out every few years, sometimes sooner. Implicit in this arrangement is the idea that our representatives are trustworthy, capable and informed. In acquiescing to weak demands for referenda, politicians admit they have none of the attributes they claimed to have during the election. This is as true of the prison issue as it is for the HST vote.
Whether an individual supports or opposes the proposed prison in Penticton has become of little consequence. No need to worry your elected representatives with the issue — you’ll get to decide the project’s fate on their behalf, allowing our city fathers more time to prepare for the upcoming election.
Penticton currently relies on various levels of government activity for just under 70 per cent of the local economic activity. Successive city councils have punted on various industrial and tourism development plans so many times that many private investors have, quite logically, chosen other locations for their projects. That has left Penticton’s economic growth dependent on more government institutional activity.
Building the proposed prison in Penticton would not directly address the area’s dependence on taxpayer-funded enterprise. It would, however, provide a number of direct private construction jobs during development, and permanent facility jobs upon completion. It would also require the establishment of a number of private support service enterprises that would locate in town. The prison would add about three per cent to the current civic tax revenue.
Opponents of the prison point out that Penticton is a tourist town and a prison is incongruous with tourism. Hotel operators would argue that an average 42 per cent occupancy rate and a six-week season does not a tourist town make. When opponents point out the impact of recently released prisoners settling here in Penticton with the attendant social ills, they gloss over the reality of the existing population of parolees and other offenders currently living in out midst. Most of the vocal opposition to the prison appear to be the vocal opposition we hear to all planned development in Penticton.
Thanks to the abdication of duty by our elected officials, we will all get to decide on whether or not a prison is built in Penticton. We will not get to decide if a prison is built nearby. It is now up to interested parties to inform themselves of the consequences of their decision and cast their vote accordingly. In short, you will now do the job you elected your council to do.
When casting your vote, you may also want to ask yourself, that if you’re doing your councillors’ job, why do we need councillors? Perhaps that’s a referendum worth having.
Mark Walker is the publisher of the Penticton Western News.