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Whig Standard April 13 2007

Council is burning its bridges before it even builds them

Tony Houghton
Opinion Columns - Friday, April 13, 2007 Updated @ 6:45:29 AM

The people who write letters to the Whig-Standard are obviously writers, not doers. A favourite topic now is a third bridge over the Cataraqui River. If the people who write so much about it were doers, they'd go build it themselves.

City councillors are neither writers nor doers. They are talkers. Our previous council, admittedly led by a doer of a mayor, surprised us by doing things. Its legacy will be a remarkable one and will change our skyline for-ever. That council approved the development of Block D. It built a skating rink on Market Square (if I may still call it that). It approved the rebuilding of the Grand Theatre and the construction of our downtown arena.

Our new council has, predictably, reacted with dismay, doing its best to stop construction of the downtown arena, and, when that proved impossible, turning its attention to not building the third bridge. In this, it is merely reverting to type.

City councillors are not supposed to do anything; they are only supposed to talk about doing things. This council, in fact, has gone a step further.

It won't even talk about building a third bridge. Councillor Leonore Foster, it is true, wanted to commission a study. She was at some pains to point out this didn't involve actually building the bridge - just studying it. This, after all, is what all previous councils, until the most recent one, have done since the beginning of time.

The justification for a third bridge is the claim that congestion on the Lasalle Causeway has reached almost Torontonian proportions and that when the new arena is finished it will get worse. Admittedly, no one commuting by car into Toronto would recognize our problem as congestion. Torontonians have to deal with places such as the Don Valley Parkway, which, for several hours each day, is a free parking lot 19 kilometres long.

But Foster's motion did not carry, even though it was backed by the mayor, who seems to have run out of steam. In the opinion of a majority of councillors, their predecessors had bitten off more than we can chew. An immediate halt must be made to all this doing.

Our councillors are acting, or more correctly not acting, on behalf of The Public, who have elected them to do nothing. The Public wants change, councillors insist; otherwise they wouldn't have elected so many new councillors.

The conviction that they represent the wishes of The Public is what sets politicians apart from ordinary mortals. It might, of course, be pointed out that no councillor was elected unanimously, and that more than half the voters in every ward did not find it necessary to vote for anyone, which suggests that The Public, or a majority of it, was, in fact, quite satisfied with things the way they were and didn't want change. But try telling that to a politician.

The end result is that the third bridge is not going to happen, and this will be the legacy of our current council. Not even Mayor Harvey Rosen put up much of a fight, probably because he isn't quite sure where the Cataraqui River is or what's on the other side of it. Foster, who represents Pittsburgh district, is the only councillor who would actually use the new bridge if there were one.

It is difficult, therefore, to see what our current councillors are going to do for the next four years. If they are intent on doing nothing, as seems to be the case, they might as well spend Tuesday evenings at home with their families, which would mean that Cogeco, which televises council meetings, would have to seek alternative programming. It is unlikely this prospect would cause a public outcry.

It is a pity, looking back on it, that when it laid a new sewage pipe under the Cataraqui River a couple of years ago, our previous council didn't think of making the pipe big enough for cars to drive through it, in which case we would have had a tunnel rather than a bridge. The tunnel might have been a bit smelly, but it would have eased congestion on the causeway.

I will offer one constructive idea about a third bridge: let Gananoque pay for it. Its citizens would, arguably, be the principal benefactors, and they have the money, thanks to that casino we didn't build.

- Tony Houghton lives in Kingston and is a former member of the Whig-Standard's Community Editorial Board.