Policy and Sausages (and the Springbank Dam)
They say there are two things you never want to see being made: Policy and Sausages.
Ever since arriving at City Hall, this maxim is oft repeated in my mind. In this era of instant access to news and information, citizens get an intimate look into the window of the government policy process…and the view isn’t often pretty. While what we see portrayed in the media is but a snapshot in time along that process, we react to what we saw at that moment without having the full context.
Such is the case with much of what occurs at City Hall and a good illustration of this was the seemingly lengthy discussion about the fate of the Springbank Dam. During the 2014 election campaign, Matt Brown pledged that, if elected, he would repair the dam. Upon arrival at City Hall, the new council was made aware of the status of an ongoing lawsuit surrounding the failure of one of the hydraulic installed during a repair of the dam. There was much discussion in the community about when our council would finally make the repairs. However, my colleagues were divided on whether we should do so. To make matters more complicated, introducing any doubt about what the City’s intentions were as to the future of the dam could imperil any settlement or judgment we could expect to achieve. And so it was, much to public frustration, that little could be done or said by council about repairing (or not repairing) the dam until the lawsuit was resolved.
A year later, the lawsuit was settled and the City received $3.7 million. Now discussion on the dam’s fate could begin. Council was still rather split on what to do. Some strongly wanted the dam repaired; others were passionately against the repair. There was some evidence that sensitive wildlife had re-established breeding grounds along the banks since the dam became inoperable but we didn’t yet have all the information. And so, with a much-needed repair to the West Dyke pending, along with recently announced plans for revitalizing the Forks of the Thames, an Environmental Assessment was initiated for all three projects. Again, we waited.
Very recently, the initial results of the Environmental Assessment were completed confirming that something rather astounding had occurred after the dam stopped operating. The ecosystem had experienced a remarkable recovery as evidenced by the endangered species that had expanded their habitats along the banks of the Thames. With this information in hand, a repair of the dam could not be accomplished without destroying the nesting grounds of the Spiny Softshell Turtle thus make obtaining provincial and federal environmental approvals for the repair virtually impossible.
The time taken to confirm this information and consider feasible alternatives ended up being essential to the decision-making process. While we were previously divided, everyone arrived at the same conclusion and, at the end of the day, council voted unanimously to decommission the dam.
And so it goes with many of the discussions we have at council. While what might seem like endless debate can undermine the public’s impression of their elected officials, it’s an essential part of the process. It may be messy to watch but, like sausages, the end result is often pretty good.