It’s challenging to find a political point on which everyone can agree, but transparency is certainly one. We all want to see our tax dollars spent in a reasonable way, and to know that all levels of government are acting in society’s best interests.
Since the media tends to pay more attention to federal and provincial governments, these levels tend to have more systematic processes in place for providing information. Municipal government activities may get less press coverage, but they have many contracts to tender with local companies, making transparency of the utmost importance. The corruption stories of the last decade in Montreal and Laval show why this matters. Regardless of whether corruption, collusion or just significant inefficiencies are current problems for any particular municipal government, transparency helps avoid problems either now or in the future.
Here in Gatineau, we’ve seen some recent concerns around access to information. One was when a local council member, Audrey Bureau, complained that even as an elected official the city wouldn’t share information with her on environmental dangers at the old dump on Cook Road. If the city can withhold important information from councillors, we’re left wondering how much access local citizens would have to reports on issues impacting their neighborhoods when the city deems them inconvenient to release.
Cost overruns for the more than $100M Slush Puppy Centre also raised concerns among residents across Gatineau, even resulting in corruption and collusion complaints to the province’s Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit (UPAC). Although these complaints have not led to formal accusations, full transparency is by far the best way to ensure confidence from residents in this flagship project.
Yet there are also positive signs coming from the new administration at city hall. France Bélisle, the new mayor, pushed to have documents on the transition from the previous to the current administration released to Le Droit after an initial request was refused due to personal information being contained in the documents. Hopefully this approach will be a hallmark of Ms. Bélisle’s administration.
Still, the need for vigilance is always present. A recent example is how part of the wall at Place des Pionniers collapsed, with substantial amounts of debris falling outside of fenced-off areas. This happened two weeks after internal demolition began. By pure luck no one was injured, as the accident happened late at night when no one was walking along the sidewalk on rue Principale. Regardless, we need to determine if the company performing the demolition was negligent. Few in Aylmer believe that the timing was simply a coincidence. Given the city’s commitment to the more than $50M project to rebuild Place des Pionniers, everyone wants to see the highest quality of work and an excellent end result. The collapse of the wall is a very worrying start to this major undertaking. By conducting a full investigation and publishing all results, the city can avoid cynicism and suspicion in the population as well as ensuring the highest quality outcome for the project.
As always, transparency makes everyone better off.