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Market Squared: It’s starting to smell like election time

What could be more summery than a debate over splash pads? But as summer arrives, it looks like next year's political campaign begins as well

This time next year, the provincial election will have been concluded and all eyes will be on the local races in Ontario. I have to say though, it kind of feels like some of us already have our eyes on Municipal Election night 2018. 

I addressed this in a column earlier this year, one of the first Market Squared bits come to think of it, the fact that I was encountering people who were already thinking about the 2018 race and we’re asking my opinion on who might be in the running. That question’s going to be harder to ignore after summer’s over and we’re into the final 12 months of this council. But at the meeting this past Monday, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the councillors themselves have started jockeying for their starting positions. 

Following the tradition of the item you least suspect being the time suck at any particular meeting of council, the issue this meeting came down to wading pools. Who’s got them, who doesn’t, and who’s getting to the front of the line and being converted to splash pads just because those facilities are falling apart? 

To put this simply, City staff was looking to convert two wading pools in Exhibition Park and Sunny Acres Park into splash pads sometime in the next year. The pools are at the end of their lives, indeed the pool at Exhibition Park failed the weekend before the meeting and is presently unavailable to the community. If this were a different blog I might be screaming “False flag!” but I digress. 

Now there are several advantages to converting these facilities, including cost savings and water conservation, and as the city moves forward with other new aquatic facilities, they’re looking more towards the creation of splash pads and less at the creation of wading pools. In fact, when these conversions are made, there will be no more public wading pools in the city. (A third pool at Mico Valeriote will be shut down due to lack of use and general inaccessibility.)

So utterly non-controversial, right? Well, as the man with the best words once said, “Wrong!”

Ward 1 Councillor Bob Bell decided to take the opportunity to make the “Where’s my elephant?” argument. Why, he asked, are these parks getting upgrades when there are areas of his ward in the east end under-serviced by amenities and facilities? 

Hey, fair question. I don’t begrudge a councillor in fronting for their ward because the staff have to have an eye on the whole city and it takes an area representative to sometimes nudge attention to a specific problem or dilemma. There’s a time and place for everything though, and it looked like Monday’s council was the time and the place for demands to be made for Ward 1. 

Revisiting my live-blog from Committee-of-the-Whole, I re-discovered that Bell was the one member of committee that voted against the motion. I then noted that he noted that he understood that residents wanted more splash pads, but he thought converting the pools to save on water use was a waste of time and money. Also fair, but water use and distribution of city resources aren’t apples and oranges so much as apples and Big Macs. 

So what could possibly make Bell decide to chase equal distribution of city services in the month between committee and council? Well, it could have been that additional staff analysis of use and access to various city aquatic facilities. Or Bell could have been emboldened by the fact that the east end got its Rec Centre back this past weekend, and he was thirsty for more. 

None of this is to diminish the concerns of eastenders about having to get into a car or on bus in order to enjoy a swim or a splash, but whereas the wading pool issue took 20 minutes to dispatch in committee, it took an hour and 20 minutes to wrap up in council. 

Ward 6 Councillor Karl Wettstein did his part by pointing out that he didn’t complain when Vic Road got a facelift while the south end may be waiting till 2023 before it sees a rec centre. And then Bell’s ward-mate Dan Gibson stepped in to say, basically, “Hey, we’ve all have a wish list for our wards.”

Indeed, I was perusing social media the other day when I stumbled upon a discussion about how the west end has no good sit-down restaurants, with the exception of Wild Wings in the plaza on Paisley and Imperial. No word if Mike Salisbury and/or Christine Billings plan on making it a campaign issue, but council did recently approve the next phase of development in this plaza so fingers crossed. 

On the other hand, now that I’m talking about this, I recall that Bell spent that debate asking staff why council was being asked to approve an amendment to a previously approved plan in the west end when the east end is still under serviced commercially. I’m sensing a theme. 

Again, none of this is to say that the issues Bell raised are illegitimate, and there are probably people in his ward that hear about a plaza in the west end getting embiggened and immediately get resentful, but has the agenda gotten a little bit hijacked lately to make the point that Bell is hyper aware what’s going on in his backyard? 

Interestingly, Bell ended up voting in favour of the staff recommendation on the splash pad upgrades. I guess the point was made no matter the motivation. 

I don’t mean to pick on Councillor Bell, but he is, undoubtedly, riding the crest of a wave that’s coming, and we will see it more as we get closer to budget time. Those councillors that will be seeking re-election will want to be seen doing stuff and getting their names on the record to prove their value because Lord knows after the new year, their potential replacements will be looking to any and all weaknesses. 

Long story short, enjoy your summer vacation because political things are only going to get more political as we enter September and on through to the new year. Happy Canada Day!