You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2013.

We’re nearing the end of the London 2013 budget process! This is where we are in the cycle:

  • Budget 2013 overview: January 9: COMPLETE
  • Build a Budget public information session: January 12: COMPLETE
  • First public participation meeting: January 14: COMPLETE
  • Operating budget meeting: January 24-25: COMPLETE
  • Operating & Capital budget meeting: February 7-8: COMPLETE
  • Special budget meeting: Monday, February 11th: COMPLETE
  • Second public participation meeting: Wednesday February 13th: COMPLETE
  • Final budget vote: Thursday February 28th, 4pm, Council Chambers

For months, the city has been collecting information and feedback through many venues, including the Build A Budget process, public participation meetings, direct contact (meetings, phone calls, e-mails etc.) with City Council, and social media (including receiving information through the Facebook page and Twitter (@CityofLdnOnt and the hashtag #LdnBudget13).

After several public consultations, days of Council budget meetings, and countless hours of city staff time, all of this work and time culminates in one night of the final budget decisions being made by Council, likely into the early hours of Friday.

One great way to get involved is to come see the process live! You can check out all of the budget documents (broken down for easy reading by major sections of interest) here, and come to the meeting to see how it all works. You can follow along/join the conversation on Twitter, as many Londoners (including me, @BrianGibson13) will be posting updates throughout the meeting. You can also watch the proceedings from home through the city’s livestream, available here during the meeting.

This is a terrific opportunity to participate in the city, and learn how your tax dollars are spent. It’s also a great way to come to City Hall for the first time if you haven’t been there before, and watch the 15 people that shape our city on our behalf. It is my hope to stay for the entire meeting tonight, I’d be very grateful for company if you’ll join me!

one year later

One year ago it was revealed that Mayor Fontana and most of the “Fontana 8” met together for lunch ahead of the final 2012 budget votes. It raised serious questions about the group’s conduct, what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour from councillors, the consequences of such actions, and what can be done about it. I tried my best to follow the issue, and wrote these three posts about it.

These are some of the highlights:

  • Councillors on either side of the invite list saw the event very differently. Councillors Baechler, Branscombe and others that weren’t at the meeting stated that the situation raises serious questions about public perception, and all Council members operating in a transparent manner. Councillor Baechler commented: “Members of council are equal participants at the council table. When you start pulling aside a select group it is seen to be backdoor deals and private deals. So yes, I have a big problem with it.”
  • Councillors that were at the meeting insisted that it was only a meeting of colleagues, which happens in many other professions without incident. Councillor Orser said in a statement to local media that he would have ‘din-din’ with whomever he likes, while Councillor Henderson said that the complaints about the meeting were coming from “sore losers”. There was some conflicting stories of what occurred, Councillor Denise Brown stated that no business whatsoever was mentioned, while Councillor Henderson said that the contentious cut to affordable housing was talked about, as well as other budget matters.
  • Complaints were made to the Ontario Ombudsman about the event, which set into motion his office’s process. An initial probe of the incident lead to the Ombudsman opening an investigation, including interviews with Council members to get to the bottom of the incident. This was the second time in six months the OO opened an investigation into London City Council, the previous one pertaining to Council’s conduct in using in-camera sessions to debate evicting Occupy London from Victoria Park.
  • The Ombudsman concluded in his report that the meeting didn’t contravene the Municipal Act, but was ill-conceived. He wrote: “I am more disturbed by the fact that a number of council members gathered in the manner they did shortly before an important council meeting on the city budget. While these council members did not have the legal authority to exercise the collective will of council, the public impression left is still unsavoury,”.
  • Comments made by councillors exposed a great deal of confusion about the role of the Ontario Ombudsman. He asked to speak before London City Council to clear the air, and was accepted to speak before council at the end of August 2012. He addressed accusations such as that his office was being used  as a “political weapon”, responding that his office takes in over 18,000 complaints annually, and only those thought to have merit based on initial probes are fully investigated.
  • A great deal of debate about the Ombudsman and his role was part of the fall-out of the investigation. Some councillors continued to berate him even after the public meeting, insist that the complaint process allowing anonymity is undemocratic, and that the investigation was a waste of taxpayer dollars. Others argued that this process indicates that, although the Ombudsman’s office does great work, the Ontario Ombudsman Act needs to be strengthened to give the office more authority. As well, it has been argued that this process further exposed the need in London of an integrity commissioner.

This takes us to this week.

On Monday, London civic blogger Philip McLeod reported in this post that the Fontana 8 (minus Denise Brown) had met the previous Saturday for a friendly get-together at Billy T’s Tap & Grill. However, the details are a little hazy. A couple members were invited by Mayor Fontana to chat, not at all about city business, and a few others happened by. Or, they were all invited? It was very public, in one of the main rooms. Or, it was in a private room, but only because the owner recognized who they were and insisted? Or, no wait, Mayor Fontana booked a private room specifically for this purpose?

Needless to say, this raises a great deal of questions, especially as the final budget decisions will be made February 28th. The story has been further exposed by the Free Press and Metro News, with many citizens questioning the wisdom of conducting an almost identical meeting on the anniversary of the lunch that triggered the previous Ombudsman investigation. The Free Press now reports that Mayor Fontana may have called a majority of the economic prosperity committee together…to talk about economic prosperity business, the kind of conduct which is definitely forbidden under Ontario’s rules about governing transparently.

My concern is that the Ombudsman’s report didn’t entirely sink in for some members of Council under the microscope. Worse, when members like Councillor Orser announced they were “vindicated” by the findings of the Ombudsman’s report, they may have felt that they could have future meetings with impunity. None of this is to the good of public confidence in politics, shaky enough as it is. As Councillor Baechler has stated from this issue:

You can’t do business behind closed doors if you are to be an open, accountable, transparent government. Any time these things happen, there is always the chance the ombudsman will be called in. It doesn’t give the public confidence in their council, it makes them question the judgment of council as a whole.

So what can we do?

Some of the suggestions from this are pushing the provincial government to update the Municipal Act in a number of ways, as well as pushing Council to adopt oversight methods.

I fear that it may not be possible with a majority of this present council.

But next? I am excited by the prospect of what the 2014 election can bring. I hope that we will see many candidates that will run on an “ethics and accountability” platform, vowing to put into place a Council integrity commissioner, a lobby registry, and other methods of keeping Council business as public as possible.

How can this happen? It is up to all of us.

As we approach the 2014 election, and we see the field of candidates, make it an election priority. Speak to the candidates that interest you, become part of their campaign team, and tell them that this is something that matters deeply to you. I think we’ll find this is something that will resonate with many Londoners as well.

We’ve struggled as a city through many controversies, and I hear many Londoners say they feel powerless in the face of yet another poor decision that is reflecting badly on all of us. We must do everything we can to turn the tide and restore personal and overall public confidence in our City Hall. We can start now, but major shifts can happen in 2014 at the ballot box.

sunburst

In my previous post, What I Believe, I attempted to put down into words the foundation and a passable summary of what it is I believe. I may write further posts on it as I continue to define and refine it, but I hope that it is a good starting point as the basis for future spiritual posts, like this one.

An idea I’ve come to encounter more and more is “spiritual but not religious”, especially as we come into contact with many different beliefs both through our relationships and the easy availability of information. We question what we believe, and if any religion/spirituality is necessary at all.

Although we may not adhere to a central religion, we all feel the call of deeper meaning, the meaning of life (the universe, and everything). Why are we here? How did we come to be? What do I want to accomplish with my life? What happens we I die? We all yearn and search for meaning and understanding. This quest can be lived out in a multitude of ways, and lead down both religious/spiritual as well as scientific paths (two major streams that by no means have to diverge).

Buddhism teaches us that we are spirit and flesh woven together, and that our spiritual essence is tied to the mundane, so we must live in both worlds simultaneously. The teaching is that in this world the body reigns, but this world is only one stepping stone in the path to enlightenment, and ahead are further worlds where the spirit is given more prominence, as the needs of the body recede.

I find this explanation very appealing, in that, we are all spirits, though it is hard often to know it in this hard, painful world. Often we question if we have a spirit/soul at all, or if we are nothing more than a body that will one day die, and return to absolute nothingness.

How does religion fit into this? Religious dogma and traditions can be comforting in their continuity and persistent regularity. Religion grounds us where we are, but may hinder us from hearing the truth of the spirit.

What can Christians take away from this?

Can we break free from religion to embrace the raw spirituality of the Gospel? Can we? Should we? Can we find a balance?

I believe everything about human nature and history points to the fact that we are a curious, inquistive and searching species. Human endeavour continues to search and question the nature of our world and of ourselves, each giving further insight into the other while often triggering still more questions in the process.

Everyone understands our reality, our own selves and the nature of our being here differently. Perhaps most destructive is anything that makes us complacent in ourselves and our nature, and seeks to dull our thirst for discovery.

However, I don’t believe we should abandon our religious traditions and ceremonies, as they are part of our culture and who we are. I would instead suggest we examine ourselves as we go through familiar traditions, and attempt to enter them with a fresh mind and heart, remembering what it was like to partake in them for the first time. I also think we should embrace other traditions, learn what they mean to others, and consider how they inform our own experiences.

Last week, as we entered Lent, I took part in the Imposition of Ashes, a tradition held in many church denominations but unfamiliar to me. It was extremely powerful, the ash in the shape of the cross pressed to my forehead a reminder of from whence we came and to what we will return. I hope that if I continue this tradition, I can return to it with the same openness as this time.

We crave comfort and familiarity, but I pray that we will not become complacent in our lives or our faith. I believe God wants us to enter our reading and interpreting of the Bible with a likewise open and discerning mind.

I believe the Bible shows us a God that intended us as we are: inquisitive and relational with ourselves, each other, our world, and Himself.

The author Brian D. McLaren talks about “God A” vs. “God B” in his book “A Generous Orthodoxy”, describing the spiritual and philisophical change from the Old Testament to the Gospel. He describes “God A” as “a single, solitary, dominant Power, Mind, or Will”, while God B is “a unified, eternal, mysterious, rational community/family/society/entity of saving Love”. He continues:

“Think of the kind of universe you would expect if God A created it: a universe of dominance, control, limitation, submission, uniformity, coercion. Think of the kind of universe you would expect if God B created it: a universe of interdependence, relationship, possibility, responsibility, becoming, novelty, mutuality, freedom. I’m not sure what comes first – the kind of universe you see or the kind of God you believe in, but as a Christian who believes in Jesus as the Son of God, I find myself in universe B, getting to know God B.

This is why, for starters, I am a Christian: the image of God conveyed by Jesus as the Son of God, and the image of the universe that resonates with this image of God best fit my deepest experience, best resonate with my deepest intuition, best inspire my deepest hope, and best challenge me to live with what my friend, the late Mike Yaconelli, called “dangerous wonder,” which is the starting point for a generous orthodoxy.”

How amazing is the philisophy? And how different from many of the churches we’ve been to, and continue to see today? To me this is a challenge to how we meet with God, how we view our world and how we reflect on ourselves. It also challenges us to see how we do church very differently. I pray that we may always search and question, and find wonder all around us.

Father God, may we not become complacent in our belief, and mouth words we think may be pleasing to You but without our hearts. May we enter each day, each moment, with a thirst to understand you better, and to better be your hands and feet in this world. May we nurture our soul as well as our bodies, and be a better example of you. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Next post: Be the light

Shortly after writing Why Public Transit Matters, we had our second public participation meeting around London Budget 2013 (#ldnbudget13), with many great speakers around a variety of issues. A common set of themes for many was public transit, active transit, public health, the environment, and how they can all work together.

Photo credit: Wired magazine http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/10/bikes-on-board/

I searched online for future strategies and existing examples, and quickly found many. This picture is from a Wired Magazine article on San Francisco’s Caltrain system, which was one of the first to allow bikes on board. The article explains that the idea was so popular with commuters that it soon became unsustainable, because of the demand for bike space outstripped the availability of train cars. Possible solutions include having a bike renting/sharing program, or having additional bike racks at the station for “beater bikes”, one you can leave overnight so it’s waiting for you to get you from the station to work and back. Why is combining rail/bus transit with biking/walking transit so attractive? From the article:

“Transit trips are way up,” Tim Blumenthal, head of the national bike advocacy group Bikes Belong, told Wired.com. “More buses have racks on the front, and more light rail and subways are allowing bicycles on board even during peak hours.” According to Blumenthal, the benefits of bicycle transit trips are huge: commuters lose weight while the air gets cleaner, and highways get less crowded while America starts to recover from its oil addiction.

There are many benefits to both public and active transit, and creating a city that fosters both would help us towards being a sustainable, healthy community. A green strategy report by the City of Vancouver states:

How we move around a city makes a big difference to our quality of life. The air we breathe, the amount of land we need, our physical health and well-being, and the cost of travel are all impacted by our transportation choices. Green transportation includes transit, as well as active transportation like cycling and walking. It is also about the places we see and experiences we have on the way to our destinations.

This report “Walking to Public Transit: Steps to Help Meet Physical Activity Recommendations” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covers the direct health benefits of taking public transit. It identifies that the Surgeon General recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity, yet nearly half of Americans don’t meet these guidelines. Many may receive the recommended amount simply by walking to and from public transit, which increases their activity drastically over driving a personal vehicle.

 As well, Toronto has examined the health and financial benefits of encouraging walking and biking in the city in this report, “Road to Health”. As the quote below shows, there are a great deal of human and financial benefits to be considered when building active transportation infrastructure:

Higher levels of physical activity through increased cycling and walking can significantly reduce an individual’s risk of a number of chronic diseases and prevent deaths. Based on very conservative calculations, 2006 levels of walking and cycling in Toronto are estimated to prevent about 120 deaths each year. Total savings from these prevented deaths range from $130 million to $478 million depending on how deaths are valued. Savings in direct medical costs arising from residents staying active by walking and cycling are estimated to provide a further economic benefit of $110 to $160 million.

London as well as communities including KitchenerTorontoVancouver,  and Hamilton are shaping comprehensive strategies for our transportation future. London’s SmartMoves 2030 Transportation Master Plan (full report found here) lays out ambitious goals for lowering London’s reliance on cars and creating a city that is denser, more efficient and easier to move through alternative transportation methods.

Personal vehicles were once a North American symbol of empowerment, opportunity and freedom. However, younger generations are now driving much less than their parents, often foregoing driving a car entirely to embrace public transit, biking and walking. This shift is happening slowly, but this may very well be our transportation future as more and more people look for ways to get around that are healthier, more sustainable and better for the environment.

So what can we do?

London’s SmartMoves project is moving forward. We can follow its progress and advocate for the program. We can also work to change our commuting habits, and tell Council that we are looking for a public transportation system that makes getting around the city affordable, efficient and pleasant. We can follow the LTC and see how the service can be improved/enhanced to better service the London we want to build together. And we can push the city to continue to invest in path and bike lane infrastructure so we and future generations and move through our city effectively without relying on cars.

Thursday February 28, Council will vote on London Budget 2013 (#ldnbudget13), and how our tax dollars will be spent in the year ahead. It is an excellent opportunity to see how Council operates and represents us, hope to see you there!

Next post: Our transit future

trinity carving

Last summer, I wrote a series of posts about religion, spirituality, theology, Christianity, psychology, sexuality and equality (links are at the bottom of this post). I’ve been thinking for some time about renewing the series, continuing with themes such as religion and spirituality, spirituality and science, and how they may intersect and collide. I thought before I start though, I should back up and write about what exactly it is I believe. This post has been a struggle as I think and pray over this, and though I know it must still leave out a lot, it can adequately express what is in my mind and heart.

I grew up in the small town of Wiarton, a town of about 2,000 people and at least 10 churches. Our family was one of the few in town that only rarely went to church, something I was reminded of often. But what I didn’t hear from my classmates who asked me to come to their church (or roundly condemned me for not participating) was the spirituality of the church. What I came to understand was what church to go to depending on who I wanted to be friends with, but nothing deeper. Needless to say, this didn’t make my visits any more frequent.

With one exception. A close friend of mine and her family went to church more often than anyone else I knew, and from our group asking her to hang out after school, quickly saw how active she and her family were in the community. When we asked her what she did all those nights after school she’d invite us to join her and sometimes we’d accept, but it was really the only time she mentioned it. I understand now that they felt guided to speak through actions instead of words, something that has always stayed with me.

I grew up always wondering about Christianity and other beliefs, but never feeling compelled to step into a church. Too much of what I saw from the Christians I grew up with turned me away, for many years. Intolerance, anger, ignorance, and judgement. So much judgement. When I discovered the phrase “church burned”, I knew exactly what they meant. It frightens and saddens me just how many people this describes perfectly.

In time, I came to question and read many different religious texts, including the Bible, Torah, Qur’an, and writings by the Dalai Lama. I met my wife Sarah and my Baptist pastor father-in-law Dave, and was amazed at what I discovered. With them and through them I have met many liberal theologians intent on a message of peace, love, compassion and understanding. How much more amazing that it was all grounded in the same Bible I encountered as a child, the Bible so many know as a book of oppression and pain.

This takes me to what I believe. Through reading, questioning, searching, angst, anger, pain, confusion and prayer, I have come to believe in one God, that is three Gods. A God that loved the world that he gave his only Son to die for us. A God that fulfils an ancient promise, a God that is a contradiction. A God that created all, intending peace, love, compassion. A God…in a time we no longer need Gods.

The Bible is rife with contradiction, depending on how it is interpreted. I read the transition from the Old Testament to the New as a change in God’s covenant with us, one from fire, brimstone and judgement to one of relationship, forgiveness and redemption. In the personhood of Jesus, I believe that God sacrificed Himself for us, became us, died for us. And was reborn.

It is absurd.

It is also miraculous, though perhaps in a post-miracle time.

I grew up scorning the Christians around me, entertained they could believe in a fantasy, and a truly absurd one at that. If that self could see me now, would it laugh at who I have become? Maybe. In the darkness of the soul, I fear that I deserve to be laughed at.

Yet so much of what I have read, thought, questioned and tested has led me to this belief, strange and impossible as it seems. But I feel as if I am only grasping the edges of truth, or maybe even only mistaking illusion for truth. There is no certainty, but I am becoming increasingly convinced there shouldn’t be certainty, it may even be in the uncertainty that faith lies.

Part of what always bothered me growing up was the smugness of my classmates, even the adults. The certainty that they knew the exact nature of God, of a creator I was sure was in their heads. The presumption that they knew the nature of a being thought to be beyond space and time, in essence, the very opposite of our so-very-finite selves. I now think it was to cover a fear, a fear I know deeply, I think that we all do. No matter our belief, our perspective, our philosophy…could I be all wrong? Am I doing this all wrong? Can I even know?

I doubt often, as I suspect everyone does. I certainly hope we all do.

Then there is the nature of belief itself. My understanding of God informs who I am, what I believe, but I also pour myself into that new belief. How much do I believe because it is what I want to believe, and how much is what God leads me to believe? This is something I am never sure of, may never be sure of. My interpretation of God’s message is a very liberal one. I read, think and pray over my interpretations and seek strong theology, but I’m also a very liberal person.

Something that has always confounded and upset me is the apparent schism between science and religion/spirituality/theology, hearing both “Scientific belief X is blasphemous/disproven by scripture” and “Religion has absolutely no place in this century” far too often for my comfort. I take interest and delight in the latest scientific discoveries, the latest technological advancements…and believe that it is entirely appropriate for a Christian to feel this way. If God created the world and breathed life into it, why should we not delight in absolutely everything that teaches more about that creation?

One of the strongest guides on my path to Christianity was Grace Miedema, a former chaplain at Fanshawe College when I was there. Grace taught me a great deal about the Bible, but also taught me that scripture of any kind can only take us so far in understanding ourselves and our purpose in the world of today. Grace taught me that the entire world is a second Bible, one that informs and shapes who we are, and the two must be read in context of each other to gain a deeper understanding.

In some ways, my belief is confusing, complicated, even frightening. But at the same time, it seems blissfully simple, if only it could be fulfilled.

We are called to love our God and to love one another. How truly terrible it is that the experience for so many, including myself, when in God’s community is only pain, fear, prejudice and hate. I hope that this year may be a year of returned relevance for the global church as well as all spiritual communities, as we all work to step out of exclusive circles into one of brotherhood, sisterhood, acceptance and assistance.

As we enter Lent, I pray for healing. Healing within myself, within every church between members, within every denomination between churches, between every denomination, between every faith, between all people. All people, may we find commonality long before we find difference. How simple to write, how horribly difficult to put into action. But may it happen, each with our own acts of goodness.

It all comes down to this, the Greatest Commandment:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

May I, may we all, help fulfil this commandment, every day.

Previous posts:

Next post: Spirituality & Religion

not in service

I wrote this post last month about why I believe that the public library is a core pillar to the vitality of any community, and why London Public Library should be granted the increase it needs during the London budget deliberations to maintain their excellent level of service.

The library is one of several pillars we depend on for a truly vibrant, livable and desirable city, and it ties in with others including education. We also need to be able to easily move throughout our community, and the experience should be as safe, comfortable and pleasant as possible. Placemaking, urban design, land planning, and an integrated transit system including public transit are key components. It is about this last area that I want to cover in this post, even as it is under consideration for (further) underinvestment/cuts from our city.

I came to London in 2004 to study at Fanshawe, and graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Integrated Land Planning Technology. As a student and new resident of the city, I accepted the public transit pass I was given with my tuition gladly, and used it to explore all over our city. Many trips were crowded, noisy, smelly, hot/cold and uncomfortable, but they got me where I needed to go.

But as I continued to travel year after year, I was turned away at the door more often as the bus was packed to capacity, and more often the bus never came at all. But the real awakening happened for me when I spent a summer co-op working in Hamilton/Burlington at the Royal Botanical Gardens, living in Hamilton. The bus wait times were extremely short, there was BRT to the McMaster area where I lived, the stops already had unique numbers posted so you could call to check schedules, even the high traffic commuter routes weren’t overcrowded, and the service was always excellent. If the driver saw you running, they would stop and wait. That’s right. Stop. And. Wait. For. You. It was tough to say goodbye to the HSR and return to the LTC at the end of the summer.

I am amazed that as the city talks about economic development, being an enterprising and forward-thinking community grasping for the future, we slip backwards in so many ways against our surrounding neighbours, and competitors. Groups like Emerging Leaders work tirelessly to work with the city to encourage and keep young talented minds in our city, and advocate for services students and new graduates depend on, including an efficient, effective and affordable public transit system. But despite this, I have watched the LTC slip further and further behind as it is underappreciated and underfunded by City Council, under both mayors AMDB and Fontana.

In my undergrad thesis project “Estimating Population…”, I examined through GIS technology how we currently examine population, and how estimates may be performed to create a more accurate understanding of our populations, our people, who they are. But the crux of my research was to examine not just where they are but how they move, how they get to where they desire to go, and how easily this is done. A multitude of different movement systems, including affordable, dependable and efficient public transit, are necessary to create a community where people of all walks of life have an equal opportunity.

This is the bare minimum. Layered on top of these considerations by urban designers is the much more intangible experience, examining what one experiences as they move through their environment, and how this can be heightened for the betterment of the entire community.

As I said, we rely on public transportation as well as the sidewalks, bike paths and nature trails of the city to get to everywhere we need and want to go. We depend on London’s public transportation system, yet have watched the service quality and quantity deteriorate instead of improve since I moved here in 2004.

I’m frustrated as I hear many say they would like to use the transit service, only it is always too crowded, and that the wait times are far too long (completely legitimate concerns), then as members of council criticize the low level of service, imply that the LTC is squandering what little money they do receive, and say that, somehow, it will get better subsisting on less, they’re not being “creative” enough. The LTC’s main webpage now displays a breakdown of their expenses, and what will have to be cut to reach a budget increase target of 0%, including a staggering cut to ridership (351,400 on conventional and 17,000 on specialized).

I’ve also been dismayed to see and hear many refuse to use the transit service, with a great deal of words like “I’m not a bus person”, “I don’t want to share a bus with them“, etc. What dismays me about this kind of language is this othering, placing space between who we are and who “they” are, both implying a betterment of one over another, as well as the assumption public transit is only for those that can’t afford to have their own vehicle, instead of a legitimate transit option for everyone. I often say “But I’m a bus person”, which is sometimes met with bafflement, or, “No you’re not…you know what I mean”.

The thing is, I wish we were all “bus people”. Our transit system is part of the lifeblood of our city, and it deserves investment from us, but it also needs to be recognized by City Hall as a necessity. That’s why I’m so glad to see the new advocacy group LTC bus people (covered recently in this Londoner article, found on Facebook and on Twitter @LTCBusPeople). Amanda Stratton (@‏AmandaStratton), who started the group, has this to say: “Everybody recognizes the importance of (public transit) and building a city around it except the people who are setting the policies”.

Shobhita Sharma (@LondonerShobh), who wrote the Londoner article, made this observation:

The LTC Bus People collective has come up during an interesting time in the city’s history as councillors battle to maintain Mayor Joe Fontana’s promise of a zero per cent tax increase in property taxes for a third straight year. The flip side to the tax freeze? Despite how politicians like to word it, services, including those provided by the LTC, could receive a severe blow resulting in restricted service on some routes and complete elimination of certain others.

Public transit is vital to our city. Quality of public transportation is even one of the factors used to measure the world’s most livable cities. In the preliminary budget talks, service cuts that were on the table were voted down, but councillors did vote to eliminate the $500,000 transit replacement request the service made, despite warnings that failing to maintain the fleet only kicked problems further down the road.

The LTC is a vital service, and only one of many being voted on during the budget process. This week on Wednesday Feb 13 is the second public participation meeting, and the final deliberations are Feb 28. These are the biggest decisions Council will make all year, choosing how our municipal taxes are spent. Make sure to speak out, participate, and have your say!

Next post: Public transit, active transit

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I’m glad to be writing again! It has been a few weeks since my last post. I’ve had a lot happening personally, including ongoing winter illness, adopting a new rabbit named Sammy (who was originally Samus until we discovered she is a he), following the budget process (but due to writer’s block unable to articulate my thoughts about it), and getting Sammy fixed (vet care at King Animal Clinic was perfect as always, and he’s recovering well). I’m hoping to get back into the regular habit of writing, and posting about a variety of topics in the weeks ahead, although this month will be likely dominated by London budget issues. Speaking of… 

We’re nearing the end of the London 2013 budget process! This is where we are in the cycle:

  • Budget 2013 overview: January 9: COMPLETE
  • Build a Budget public information session: January 12: COMPLETE
  • First public participation meeting: January 14: COMPLETE
  • Operating budget meeting: January 24-25: COMPLETE
  • Operating & Capital budget meeting: February 7-8: ONGOING
  • Special budget meeting: Monday, February 11th (continuing Feb 7-8 meeting), 4pm, Council Chambers
  • Second public participation meeting: Wednesday February 13th, 4pm, Council Chambers
  • Final budget vote: Thursday February 28th, 4pm, Council Chambers

You can continue to voice your opinion in a variety of ways:

  • This handy page is the “Build a Budget” project, where you can select the items you believe should be cut or kept, with the tax increase (starting at 4.3%, and widdled down as you select items to cut) shown live. It also contains the full council contact listing for your convenience, as getting in touch with council is an excellent way to lend your thoughts to the process!
  • The budget finance team is also collecting input through social media, including on the city Facebook page and through twitter, to their handle @CityofLdnOnt and using the hashtag #LdnBudget13. You can also follow the proceedings on Twitter through the variety of people that will be live-tweeting, including me (@BrianGibson13).
  • Seeing the process live! You can check out all of the budget documents (broken down for easy reading by major sections of interest)here, and join in the conversation by coming out to the public participating meeting. See the decisions being made at council meetings today and on the 28th. You can also watch the proceedings from home through the city’s livestream.

This is a terrific opportunity to participate in the city, and learn how your tax dollars are spent. It’s also a great way to come to City Hall for the first time if you haven’t been there before, and watch the 15 people that shape our city on our behalf. It is my hope to stay for the entire February 28th meeting, I’d be very grateful for company if you’ll join me!

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