I am not writing to the City because I want to, but because I feel I have to, and to encourage every resident to attend the final public budget meeting at KPAC next Tuesday evening. It's important, and in this letter I will try to explain why.
Our democratic system in Dawson Creek is being threatened, and as Trudeau once said in a moment of great national crisis: "Democracy is a fragile institution. There are those who would pull it down if given a chance. Democracy must be protected when threatened, or it will certainly be lost."
We live in the most commerce-driven, trade-focused, corporatized society in the history of humanity. Here in Dawson Creek, we too are being deeply affected by the rising worldview of ultra-conservative conspicuous consumerism, where money, wealth and power are put above all other human values. Compassion, empathy, the health of our natural environment, the arts, and humanitarian values are all being sidelined by the ideology of the bottom line. This ideology can become so powerful that even democracy can be swept aside to ensure its success.
Government at all levels has a moral mission, not just a financial one. The moral mission of government is to protect and empower its citizens. For a municipal government, protection means fire department, police, emergency planning, safe drinking water, and a healthy environment. Empowerment means reaching out to the citizens to make sure they are included in decision making, making people feel important, heard and included, in all their diversity, and encouraging them to vote and participate.
That is why a government budget, because it sets priorities, is actually a moral document. Government is fundamentally different from business. The goal of business is to make money; the first responsibility of government is to protect and empower its citizens. Businesses sell us TVs, hamburgers and rent us cars. Government ensures that our water is safe to drink, that our roads and bridges are well maintained, that our protective services are top notch, and that our city is a pleasant, attractive, interesting place in which to live, work, and play, in which arts, culture and social interaction can thrive, and in which we can all have an active and important role if we so choose. Remembering the moral priorities of government that is how we can set our budget priorities.
Setting budget priorities
Dawson Creek is booming. We need only look around. A remarkable moment in our history, perhaps not soon to be repeated. This is the perfect time to invest in infrastructure, to improve energy efficiency and implement sustainability programs, to research energy alternatives and prepare for a very uncertain future, even if it means borrowing a bit more money (or raising taxes!) to be sure it is done well and without delay.
Of course we should not over spend, over borrow or over tax. That goes without saying. It is not even an issue at the moment, because Dawson Creek has been doing none of these. In fact, Dawson Creek has finally, over the last two administrations, got it right. We are remembering the moral mission of government, and making our budgetary decisions based on that mission.
It would be incorrect to cave in to those who would have you worship the bottom line above all else. When you are wondering who to listen to when making your budgetary decisions, don't succumb to the loudest, most insistent voices that shout fear, intimidation, doubt and undeserved criticism.
Instead, remember the thousands and thousands of quieter voices who voted for you in the last election because they LIKE what you are doing: our strong and vibrant arts community; our concerned, well-informed and rapidly growing environmental community; the many, many families who use and enjoy our top-notch recreational and entertainment facilities; and the caring and compassionate communities who put the real needs of people first.
SUSTAINABILITY: Being in the marketing and communications field, I can say for certain that the "national branding" benefit that Dawson Creek has realized from its leadership role in sustainability is worth, if purchased, several million dollars at least a tiny fraction of what it cost. Do not loose the ground you have gained here. Continue to prepare this city for an uncertain future while reaping the many benefits of leadership in this rapidly expanding field. We are very fortunate to be in a regional economic climate that allows us to experiment, research and innovate.
In fact, going "green" is no longer an option. It is a practical necessity. Local taxpayers will reap the benefits of your efforts towards sustainability for decades to come: culturally, socially, environmentally and economically. An expanding majority of people now knows this; they are ready for change and will support your efforts.
COMMUNICATIONS: At the risk of seeming self-serving, I implore the city to establish at least some communications budget. Many of the problems you face have been caused by a lack of attention in this area. The nation and the province need to hear the good news about Dawson Creek's accomplishments, but so do our local voters. A little bit of planning and expenditure here goes a very, very long way.
THE ARTS: like sustainability and communications, investment in the arts has a huge multiplier effect. As just one example, the $20,000 you give to the Art Gallery really does bring $300,000 cash directly back into the community . . . every year! That's return on investment that makes bank rates look silly. Keep up the good work here.
To city residents: please attend the final public budget meeting at KPAC next Tuesday evening. Protect our local democracy by making sure there is a level playing field, and ALL voices are heard.
To mayor and council: hold firm. Stay the course. Remember your mission to protect and empower. The majority is with you, and knows that you are doing very, very well. That's why so many of us voted for you!