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OP/ED: Budget, Health Watch, Celgar ... it's all related, and we have some choices to make

You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar – but rip its wings off, and it'll have to eat anything you feed it.

That perspective isn't entirely incorrect, I suppose, but it's not a very appealing way of doing business ... especially if you're the fly.

Unfortunately, angry, adversarial methods seem to be evolving as the norm these days, at every level of politics. The place such tactics are most jarring, for me, is at the municipal level.

Castlegar got to be the fly recently, caught between the fiscal swatter Celgar held at the ready and the toxic repellant emanating from poor provincial policy (not to mention the sticky, perilous flypaper that is provincial disinterest in rural issues).
Now, don't get me wrong – Celgar had, and still has, several very valid points – I object, not to their position, but to their methods.

“No one was listening – what else could we do?” they cried at the time.

I'm no expert, but it seems to me the court challenge would've achieved their ends and got the city's attention, without pulling out a massive fly-swatter directed at the entire community while genuinely frightening dedicated, hard-working staffers who justly thought their jobs might be at risk.

A respectful use of the system means, to me, honouring the law by paying your taxes, then filing suit – but to ask, with one face, for the legal system's validation and support through a court case while, with the other face, flouting the laws you don't like by just choosing not to pay your taxes is ...well ... it's two-faced, in my opinion. (I won't even touch on the issues of accepting $40 million in federal tax dollars while withholding $3 million in municipal – I've beaten that horse at some length already).

Having said that, ask yourself this: was Celgar wrong?

They got exactly what they wanted, from both the province and Castlegar, including dramatic restructuring of the local budget along with a provincial task force designed solely to reform major-industry taxation on a province-wide basis.

The architect of this Celgar machination has likely gotten, and may well deserve, a significant raise.

Furthermore, it could be argued they actually did the city a favour – by threatening us all, they got many of us on board with tax reform, whereas if they'd merely filed suit but paid their bills, perhaps we would have been less tolerant of city officials caving to what, in my mind, amounts to simple extortion.

Spread the fear ... thus spreading the tolerance for change.

I wish I believed that was their aim, I really do – but the fact is, I don't think smoothing the path for change had anything to do with their tactics – I think (based on conversation with the men in charge) that they were just angry, and showed it.

They ripped off our wings, so we ate what they fed us.


But we haven't begun to realize the scope of the meal being force-fed the residents of Castlegar.

That comes Monday, when the municipal budget is unvelied.

Hence my concern.

At last Monday's council meeting, I watched two separate, very-angry presenters follow in Celgar's footsteps, expressing anger rather than seeking collaboration.

One had a very good point about city staff doing work in Millennium Park, without bothering to remove unsightly trash like an abandoned shopping cart. He made a mean crack about city staff being unable to exercise initiative ... effectively swatting all staff when his issue was with only one or two of them ... and I wonder what he hoped to accomplish by taking that tack?

I'm certainly more willing to assist, and respect the perspective of, someone who cuts all journalists down rather than simply requesting we do things differently ...Not. I wish I was a bigger, better person than that ...but there it is ...  I'm not. When someone comes to me in attack mode, they're guaranteed to accomplish les than if they request my aid and partnership ... unless my job depends on it.  It's not ideal ...but it's human nature.

We, at the community level, need to understand we don't have a swatter the size of Celgar's, and we use those angry methodologies at the risk of our own causes.

Health Watch was another case-in point ...they brought a critical (to my mind) suggestion to the table (that of all local communities banding together to present an united front to the province in opposing the recent KRBH cuts) ... and that idea was utterly lost, as council defended itself from angry accusations of apathy and inaction.

Had Health Watch said, “Please help us do this ...”, I think they would have received, on the spot, the action they wished to see... in fact, I think  they would have seen Castlegar leading the charge.

Instead, they pitted themselves against council in an issue where we all should, rightfully, be on the same side ... the cuts weren't a council decision, and will hurt councillors as much, if not more, than anyone else (factoring in the mean age of most who achieve public office offense intended to council).

What positive effect did the anger and condemnation achieve? None, I would argue (while I must add, I'm grateful Health Watch exists and hope they continue in their mandate).

We saw the same condemnation at work when the school district started unrolling ideas for cuts. Vitriol instead of virtue, condemnation instead of cooperation.

For Celgar, that may work – for the rest of us .... I'm asking you to really think about whether it does or not. The squeaky wheel only gets oiled if it's critical to the overall function of the machine (and Celgar, like it or not, simply is) ... otherwise, that same wheel hits the junk heap.

Where do you want your perspective to end up?

As the public consultations regarding the budget continue, let's really consider, not just what makes us mad, but also what approaches will work in expressing that upset. It's not just about what we want – it's about how best to get that job done.

Maybe it's the failing forestry industry that has made us lose sight of the forest for the trees, I don't know ... but I do know we need to stop, and now.

At this level of government, let's strive for collaboration and resort to fury only when left with no other valid option Yes, you can choose to hate and belittle the council, the mayor, the CAO, the CFO ...but what will that option win you?

Where's all that strategic thinking we Canadians used to pride ourselves on?

Which do you value more ... your pride and anger ... or your cause and perspective?

Let's choose honey over vinegar, without ever trying to rip the wings off of people we have to live and work with in the days, months, and years, to come.

These are trying, often frightening, times ... we're looking at cuts to every area (bar, perhaps, the Olympics), to which we attach any genuine importance, the obvious ones being health care and education. I get being angry.

People are scared and frustrated – I get that, too. In fact, as a person with health issues myself, not to mention a child in the school system, I more than get that ... I'm living it.

But most of us don't enjoy owning a fly-swatter of the size and threat Celgar wields let's keep our focus on how to get through these tough times ... together.

The term 'community', I think, applies not to how well we gel during the milk-and-honey days ..the measure of our strength of community will be taken in how well we collaborate when times get tough.

Times are, now, tough.

So I ask one final question – what does 'community' mean to you? Will you feed and sustain – or rip off wings?

At the end of the day, it really is up to you.