When I was working as a reporter at the Niagara Falls Review there was a print of a painting depicting a half-completed Rainbow Bridge under construction in our office.
It used to hang on the wall of the managing editor’s office, before it was moved into the newsroom.
Maybe it’s still there.
I used to look at it from time to time and wonder at the accomplishment.
Not only is the bridge beautiful and a marvel of engineering, it is, to me, a reminder of what we as a society can accomplish when we want to get something done.
You see, construction on that bridge began in May 1940, just a couple of months before Canada entered the Second World War.
Despite material shortages and many local men entering armed service, the bridge was completed by November 1941 – just a month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the entrance of the United States into the conflict.
The first story I wrote about what eventually turned out to be an a series of aborted plans to twin the Peace Bridge was way back in 1995.
It’s now 2013 and I am writing stories about squabbles between Canadian and U.S. members of the agency that runs the Peace Bridge – one side accusing the other of obstructing progress on reconstructing the U.S. traffic plaza.
Failure by our elected and appointed officials to get important things done is, in my opinion, rampant these days.
Take the $400-million Canadian Motor Speedway project.
No lack of money or willingness to build on the part of the investors, who are becoming more and more impatient as the months roll by and their costs increase – still without a shovel in the ground.
No lack of political support, either, as I have been unable to find a Fort Erie or Niagara politician opposed to the project or the hundreds of jobs it wil create in a town so badly mauled by plant closures and economic challenges.
An antiquated Ontario Municipal Board review system – and perhaps a lack of resources allocated to getting OMB hearings done in a reasonable time – is the culprit here.
A half dozen years and an investor with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend can’t even get have a groundbreaking.
Or, in the alternative, told to pack up and take their money and track somewhere else.
In a word – shameful.
During Monday night’s council meeting in Niagara Falls, city councillors complained bitterly about the three years that have passed since the opening of the $38-million Gale Centre arena complex without the construction of a promised new road leading into the facility.
The land was formerly the location of a factory and the city and Niagara Region are still awaiting the results of environmental testing on the property.
Mayor Diodati reported to council a record of site condition is expected soon.
“One way or another we’re building a road,” said Diodati. “The only question is where it’s going to be.”
With all due respect to Mayor Diodati, ‘where’ is not the only question.
The more pressing question is ‘when.’
When will the road be built?
How long does it take to build a road these days?
Apparently, it takes at least twice as long to extend Stanley Avenue into the Gale Centre property as it did to build a steel-arch bridge across the Niagara River back in 1940.
If you think about it, it’s pretty insane.
What’s the hold up?
Oh, sure. I have heard all of the excuses and fingering pointing over the years and so have the residents along Fourth Avenue and the Gale Centre users who have had to put up with the traffic congestion in and out of the facility.
What I mean, is what’s really the hold up?
Not enough people working at the Ministry of the Environment to get the paper work on this one done?
Consultants weren’t paid enough to put it on the top of their priority list?
Two levels of local government not getting their collective ducks in a row?
It’s not the citizens, that’s for sure.
Who among us doesn’t want this problem fixed?
Still, in a broader context, maybe we are part of the problem.
Maybe we, as citizens, have become so accustomed to government inefficiency, bureacratic delays and, when it comes to hospitals, Soviet-style breadlines, that we are failing to hold our governments accountable.
Maybe it’s time for a little civil disobedience to shake up a fossilized system that’s killing jobs, paralyzing productivity and limiting entrepreneurship.
May be it’s time to take matters into our own hands.
I remember an elderly woman named Peggy Fraser, who once was frustrated because a contractor was building a house next to her home and the contractor hadn’t even obtained a building permit. Fraser, well into her 80s at the time, complained about the siuation to Fort Erie town hall without satisfaction.
Frustrated, Fraser called me at my office and said ‘Have I got a picture for you. Come down to my house.’
When I arrived at her home, she was standing in front of an excavator blocking the contractor from digging the hole for the basement. Everytime the excavator tried to move around her, Fraser moved back in its pathway.
With Fraser’s stunt and the media coverage that followed, it wasn’t long before there was a stop-work order placed on the project.
Peggy Fraser has been dead a few years now. I miss her dearly.
What I miss more is is that kind resolve in the public realm that if you think something is wrong you get off your butt and do something about it.
Lobbying higher levels of government is not what what I’m talking about in this case.
How about this instead: Mayor Jim Diodati and members of his council get public works staff to bring a bulldozer down to the Gale Centre and they start carving a roadway.
Yes, the police will be called. Yes, the Ministry of the Environment will show up and issue orders. Blah, blah, blah.
Who cares? How long do you think it will take – with a mayor and council standing in front of the media talking about the ridiculousness of the current situation – before someone at Queen’s Park makes a phone call and gets some results?
Want to bring the problems at the OMB to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s attention?
Don’t write letters – have a flash mob.
That’s right! How about a couple hundred – better yet, a couple of thousand – Fort Erie residents, who say they want the speedway built, grab their garden shovels and meet on a parcel of land at an appointed time. Have someone take an aerial photo showing the angry, frustrated mob waiving their spades. Put the video on Youtube. Feed it to the media. Complain loudly. Question why it takes nearly four times longer to get the needed permits to build a speedway than it did to build an international bridge in the middle of a world war.
Demand results. Ask for heads to roll. Be prepared to protest. Never shut up.
Unless, that is, you like the way government currently does business.
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