If the city communicates less, there will be more transparency?
We are all pleased that the mayor is seeking to cut spending; we all endorse frugality in public administration. However, cost-cutting is not a benefit in every case (and we are speaking of recurring expenses, not one-time extravaganzas like the new Olympiques arena.) For example, the city could also freeze equipment purchases, limit the travel budgets for administrators, and suspend offices and office furniture purchasing.
Here’s an idea: save even more money by ending elections, or by doing away with city council entirely – let the bureaucrats run the city! Many, including councillors, feel they do so already. That would really save money, not the nickles and dimes the mayor is referring to when he says he wants provincial permission to stop publishing official notices in various media, including this newspaper. These are extremes – ending council and ending use of the media to inform the population – but they’re much closer than the mayor may think.
A civil service-run city would not be a democracy. A democracy, by every definition, requires a strong “fourth estate” – the media, radio, TV, newspapers and social media. By not using public media to report to the population, the city would be ignoring this critical element of government in two ways. First, the citizens would be deprived of information, and, second, the media would lose the revenue from this which it uses to keep its reporting services working.
Another of democracy’s essentials is “an informed citizenry”. How will cutting information create a better-informed citizenry? Developers and other businesses may search the city’s website for information necessary to them – the public won’t. Gatineau has over 260,000 residents; sorry, compare actual web searches to that number.
The mayor’s fiscal report deserves praise – but let’s not toss out the baby with the bathwater. Cutting all and any expense is not necessarily wise.
Nor are we asking the city to “give subventions to media”. It’s mistaken to call purchasing air-time or page-space “a subvention”; buying a new snow plow is no subvention for equipment dealers. These are fair exchanges on both sides. Buying radio time or page space is a transaction like buying nursery trees or road salt.
Political cynics say politicians wish to “control the message”, since the only source of city information will be the city’s own complicated website. Harper was accused of exactly this; the media, he complained, was investigating deeper than government explanations.
This is trashing the media, and although this is standard for rightwing politicians, it’s hard to see why our mayor would join in. He clearly wants to economize . . . but at the cost of one of the main supports of our democracy? Fewer newspapers and radio stations may not be the end of the world, but it could be the first steps toward the end of functional democracy, Mr Trump’s world. Transparency is a higher goal than budget-cutting.