dr martens brogue boots They have forgotten why we elected them
The death of a young woman in this city revealed the bureaucratic process that determines if, and when, the city acts on pedestrian safety. It exposed the system’s fallibility. It also exposed how politicians who have spent decades in elected office can forget why we elect them.
Our stories on the Cariboo Road crosswalk during the last two weeks remind me of when I was a young reporter and covered fatal accidents accidents that often could have been prevented.
Part of the reason for this behaviour is legal. Lawyers have trained politicians to avoid saying anything that could be used against the city in court. Part of it is learned. Politicians who admit that something could have been done better on their watch often have their words used against them in future campaign battles. Honesty is not always rewarded in elections.
But, to be fair, sometimes there were politicians who stepped up to the plate and acknowledged that somewhere something went wrong, and they needed to find out how to fix it and make sure it never happened again.
But we haven’t seen this in the Cariboo Road case yet.
What we are seeing and hearing from politicians is repeated efforts to justify a system that relied on two year old ICBC stats and gave short shrift to citizens’ calls for action.
We are seeing evasion at the very least. Prevarication is more like it.
A neighbour, who had written to city hall, told us, “I felt responsible (after the girl’s death) quite honestly, because I didn’t push more, because I thought, ‘Oh,
they are the engineers; they do know; maybe I should listen,’ and that’s where I left it in December.”
That statement should have shaken city councillors to their cores.
Pietro Calendino, chair of the city’s public safety committee, told those at the meeting on Jan. 23: “We are a public council and a public committee operating on behalf of all citizens. We have processes to follow, and those processes take time. The processes are put in place so that we as councillors or staff as paid employees do not favour any area of the city over any others and that we treat everybody with respect, with dignity and with no sign of favouritism to anybody.”
I don’t think the neighbours who repeatedly tried to alert city council to the dangers of that crosswalk were asking for favouritism. They were doing their civic duty. They were hoping to save lives.
Did any city councillors go down to that street and check it out with neighbours when it wasn’t daylight? Would that have been “favouritism”?
It doesn’t take statistics to prove that that crosswalk was dramatically unsafe. If you drive on that road, you know that crosswalk is unsafe. The fact is that is it was pure luck that someone wasn’t killed sooner. Using statistics to justify inaction actually masked the danger.
We elect people not to just follow rule books and make sure everybody else follows them; we elect people because we hope those people care enough to make a difference. That they give a damn. And, that, in fact,
they are willing to really listen to people who are repeatedly waving red flags.
Politicians are not elected to dole out safety measures as if they are special favours. To rubber stamp staff reports and justify their existence.
Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, but after reading the comment from Mayor Derek Corrigan about not being “reactive” after the death and listening to Calendino’s interview with Gloria Macarenko on CBC Jan. 22, I was struck by the repeated reliance on the “process.” As Calendino told Macarenko, “we don’t want to deviate from the process.” At least Corrigan changed his stance in a later interview, saying that even though the crosswalk “didn’t meet appropriate warrants it’s very important that we recognize the reality of the situation.”
The reality, unfortunately, is that the “process” gave more weight to stale fender bender stats from ICBC than personal on the scene accounts from neighbours. The reality is that this death might have been preventable had politicians been representing people’s real concerns and not relying on statistics. If one politician had tried to cross that street at night in the rain and stared into the headlights of an oncoming car barrelling down the hill, I think there would have been a light up there much sooner. There is something very, very, wrong with relying on the “process” as the main definer of action or inaction where people’s very lives are at risk.
If Burnaby’s elected officials can’t see that their job, after a citizen under their watch loses their life, involves a lot more than defending the status quo “process,
” then we have a huge problem. The “process” doesn’t need more reinforcing and justification. What this tragic event should trigger is a complete review of the process.
If the elected officials were doing their jobs, that’s what they would call for. But perhaps they’ve just been in office too long to notice the difference between process and people.