By Ed Smith
As we begin a new year, this is a good time to examine our local government and where we are heading as a community.
In March of 2003, if anyone had suggested to me, "Ed, you are going to run for city council," I would have declared, "Not a chance." Although I have always followed local politics and have a great love for this city, I had never considered running for public office. But as months passed and the 2003 municipal election drew closer, I weighed the merits of past councils and the challenges ahead for Kingston. When I voiced an interest in getting involved, it was the encouragement of family and friends that convinced me to take a run at it - in particular, the enthusiasm of my late wife, Kim, and former councillors John Clements and Joe Hawkins.
For me, local politics is about helping people, supporting neighbourhoods and positioning the greater community for a prosperous future. This latter objective is not always obvious, as we don't always agree on what exactly will be in the community's best interests. I respect that difference of opinion, and I learned long ago that no one person and no one philosophy has a monopoly on good ideas. Perhaps that explains why over the past 25 years, I have voted for all three of the major political parties.
We can learn much from the successes and failures of councils past and current.
Unfortunately, past Kingston city councils have missed opportunities to make strategic and bold decisions that would have put Kingston in a more advantageous position today. The failure to buy Block D for $1 million in the mid-1980s comes to mind, as do our historic failures to invest in infrastructure that benefits all Kingstonians, strengthens our tax base and helps to attract good job opportunities.
Many good people have served on city council over the years, but rarely have we had a majority of councillors willing to set aside personal priorities or philosophies and make the compromises necessary for this community to move ahead.
My past four years on city council have been an interesting and exciting opportunity to serve my community. I have enjoyed helping constituents with problems ranging from drainage to road and snow issues. It is a matter of great pride for all of us involved to see such citywide projects as the Kingston regional sports and entertainment centre, the multiplex, the Grand Theatre renovations and the Market Square refurbishment become reality.
I regret that there were some members of our community whose attacks on some council members became personal during the heated debates on some of these major projects. Such an experience does not encourage good people to enter or remain in public life. But to councillors' credit, they remained steadfast in their support for projects they believed to be in the best interests of Kingston and the people who live here, now and in the future.
I think the public underestimates the amount of work that goes into council's decisions. For example, I spent countless hours digesting reports, studies and correspondence while considering proposals for our new sports and entertainment centre. After considering all the evidence, I voted on the basis of what I believed was right for Kingston. A majority of my fellow councillors did the same.
In considering the multiplex recreational complex in the city's west end, I saw it as my duty as a councillor and leader in the community to have the courage to make a decision. It was time we stopped talking and actually began the renewal of our recreational infrastructure. Current and future generations of kids deserve no less.
I have learned much during my time on council. For example, it's important to listen to dissenting points of view - but it's more important not to be immobilized by them. Many believed that few would use the rink on Market Square. Instead, it was immediately embraced as a community jewel. In addition to the thousands of regular skaters, the community has gained a number of new "free" attractions, such as Feb Fest and the Kirk Muller/Doug Gilmour Limestone City Classic, Movies in the Square, a reinvigorated farmers' market and much more to come, I'm sure.
The willingness to make difficult decisions often bears unexpected fruit. The resulting planning activity related to the J.K. Tett Centre, the Memorial Centre and Lake Ontario Park will see all three of these major community assets reborn and enhanced. Add plans to bring back city beach access and I believe we will see many advances over the next three years.
I am encouraged by signs that more councillors are taking a citywide approach to their decision-making. While committed to the interests of voters in their own districts, responsible councillors' first priority is what is best for all Kingstonians. Recent unanimous support to begin study of a third crossing over the Cataraqui River is an excellent example. The harmonization of water and sewer rates is another.
It won't all be clear sailing in the year ahead, but I'm certain my council colleagues would agree that it's an honour to serve and it's rewarding to see what we can accomplish when municipal councillors work together.
- Ed Smith is the city councillor for Williamsville district.