For those casual observers of political discourse, the grinding gears of bureaucracy can be an important lesson in patience.
For instance, the premier introduced new “parental rights policies” on Thursday. And the policies started a firestorm. Those policies, which are being discussed as if they are already in place, are a long way from reality. They have yet to be debated and passed in the legislature, which won’t come until the fall sitting. Almost six months from now. Once debated, there will be amendments and challenges. It’s not likely we will see any of those proposals in place until mid-2025. That’s not to discount the danger or harm these policies will and can cause, only to say that the wheels of government are slow-moving. Meanwhile, society moves in a week or two after the initial heat of a debate dies off.
That’s largely what government’s count on.
Next week, the city of Red Deer is set to debate, potentially starting the process of lobbying the provincial government to get rid of the Overdose Prevention Site.
I chose the words intentionally there. “Potentially starting the process of lobbying.”
It is sure to be a raucous debate on Feb. 15, which will lead to exactly zero action. The OPS isn’t closing next month or next year, although that would be the preferred path of the UCP government. They are more interested in the recovery model and less interested in what they claim is a “failed NDP” idea of a “drug consumption site” (which is an inflammatory and incorrect description of the help they provide for people).
The point is, even if the city hears from citizens that nobody wants the site here and it doesn’t help anybody (which is absolutely incorrect), the process of potentially lobbying means more meetings, more debates, more public hearings and community surveys. Nothing starts tomorrow in government.
And even that’s for something the government is essentially encouraging the city to do.
For something that neither party seems interested in acting on quickly, the shelter has been stuck in the mud for months.
Mayor Johnston said the city is still in negotiations with the landowner, six weeks after he had hoped to announce the location. Once the location is selected, there will be endless debate about the merits and pitfalls about that particular location, despite four other locations not meeting the standards of the province.
This could, in all likelihood, lead us back to the debate about turning the Cannery Row location into a permanent shelter, which was the original advice of the administration.
And the slow wheels are already moving on that location as “temporary” — it’s been temporary for almost four years. The city extended the shelter for another 15-months, until May of 2025. At that point, we will have the exact same debate about the necessity of the site. Coun. Kraymer Barnstable made this exact point in council discussions on the issue. Mayor Johnston also seemed to understand that 12-months wouldn’t be enough to have a solution to the shelter situation and didn’t vote for the 15-month proposal.
It’s frustrating as a citizen watching cyclical debates, ending up exactly where we started.
We know that the only way to properly solve the homelessness crisis is to provide housing to help these people get off the street and yet government continually drags its feet and kicks the problem down the road because of a worry about angering a certain group of its electorate.
There’s nothing easier in government than moving a decision down the road. Regular citizens don’t understand the intricacies of municipal or provincial politics, so it’s easy to find words or language about why a decision was pushed or delayed.
It’s easier to leave people wondering and speculating than to provide concrete details about why or when things will happen.
Citizens have little recourse to get answers to questions governments don’t want to answer. Filing Freedom of Information requests often bears little fruit unless the request is incredibly specific.
We expect governments to be transparent. Of course, there are certain things they can’t share for legal reasons, but the line seems to be getting blurrier by the day.
Alberta does have one concrete tool and it will be interesting to watch it play out.
This past week, we have seen the quicker wheels of democracy moving, with recall legislation filed in both Calgary and the Village of Donalda. The applicant has 60 days to gather signatures from 40 per cent of the population of the municipality or ward.
It will be interesting to see how those radically different recall petitions play out. But we will know the answer to those questions quickly.
As citizens, the only hope is that our governments are more honest and more accountable. And when they fall short of those expectations, it must be called out.
Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate and a Regional Editor for Black Press Media.