It’s about more than stop signs

By: Mark Gentili - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Jan 20, 2014 - 1:47 PM |
If you look up inspiring quotes about leadership, you’ll find countless trite phrases about how leading is really serving. And while that sounds good as an aphorism, the world is not governed by quotable quotes.

In fact, the world is governed by tough decisions. What’s more, it has been some of the toughest decisions, the most unpopular ones, that have propelled human society the farthest. Think desegregating schools in the southern U.S., or battling British colonialism with non-violence, or defying the powers that be to say, in fact, the Earth revolves around the Sun.

These positions were unpopular, supremely unpopular, but they were also right and the people who made them, made them despite the consequences because they knew the rightness of their actions.

Which leads me to council’s decision last week to keep all-way stops at Lansing Avenue at Melbourne Street, Hawthorne Drive at Westmount Avenue, Madeleine Avenue at Main Street and Madeleine Avenue at Alexander Street.

Staff had already determined these stops signs were unwarranted and instead of improving safety in the neighbourhoods where they were placed, actually impaired it.

This is not merely an opinion. It’s based on the abundant data on traffic patterns and driver behaviour municipalities use to make infrastructure decisions.

But the majority of council — in spite of a plea for common sense from Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau — decided public opinion (including petitions from residents calling for the signs to stay where they are) trumped empirical evidence.

This position was perhaps best summed up in something Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli said.

“That’s what (taxpayers) want, we should give it to them,” he opined.

Now, I like Coun. Belli. He’s a hardworking councillor whom I believe cares about his ward, his city and his constituents, but with all due respect to him, he’s mistaken.

Elected officials are not elected to give voters what they want, or what they think they want — they’re elected to give them what they need, to make decisions that are in the public interest.

Sometimes the best way to show you care is by saying no.

Don’t mistake me, I’m not equating New Sudbury stop signs with the struggle for freedom and racial equality. I’m drawing a parallel. Having the strength to make the tough decisions moves a community forward, while catering solely to public opinion can lead only to stagnation or, even worse, regression.

We see this in the Harper Government’s continued populist push for stiffer prison sentences and mandatory minimums when empirical evidence shows crime is going down.

Being tough on crime gets votes, but it also creates more criminals and more costs.

We see this in the Ontario Liberal decision to scrap gas plants that were necessary, but unpopular. Again, aimed at getting votes, massive costs be damned.

The world won’t end because these all-way stops are still in place. But the neighbourhoods where the signs reside aren’t any safer (the evidence shows they’re less safe, in fact). And council wasted staff time and our money in dithering over them.

Beyond that, with rising insurance costs blamed on rising municipal lawsuits, going against staff decisions when public safety is involved could come back to bite us in court at some future date.

This is an election year. Tough decisions need to be made all around and they need to be made rationally, not emotionally; carefully, not rashly; pragmatically, not idealistically — both at Tom Davies and in the voting booth.

Mark Gentili is the managing editor of Northern Life.
Mark Gentili

Mark Gentili

Staff Writer


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