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Every week during prorogation www.Brantmarc.ca will be the home of “The Week That Could Have Been.” Articles will look at an important issue in Brant Riding that could have been explored in the House of Commons if it was…well you know…open for debate.

One of the goals of this article is to bring awareness to issues that affect Brant Riding while also appreciating how prorogation affects our democracy and our ability to engage the debate. Every week for the remaining weeks of prorogation an issue will be highlighted that should have been questioned in the House of Commons.

Prorogation does not mean that issues Canadian’s face will go away.  They won’t go away for Canadians; and, they shouldn’t go away for this government.

I hope you find the topic this week stimulating. I certainly do.

LET’S LOOK AT STIMULUS SPENDING:

What can we afford?  What can’t we afford?

There are many good ideas being suggested to create jobs and get the economy moving again.  While we need to stimulate the economy, it needs to be targeted in key areas.  Infrastructure projects, renewable energy projects, and affordable housing – these are some of the great ways to create long-term employment. 

Projects that are ready for action are an excellent way to go about this.  Unfortunately, the current Federal government did not see fit to help our municipalities with the things it most needed.  Things that would have created the most economic growth in Brant Riding included supporting the municipal road repaving and reconstruction plans.  This would have created 1.1 million hours of work and improved the city’s and county’s infrastructure needs by 10-15 years.

Another example of a project that should have improved infrastructure would have been to allow for the municipality to blend the aquatic centre and arena projects together that were underway at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre. 

Again and again, the flexibility the municipalities need to complete projects under-budget and create jobs in our communities has not been provided.

Will the Federal government remove the arbitrary deadline of March 31st, 2010 on funding for stimulus funding projects that have already been approved by this government?

This lack of flexibility can be seen by what is transpiring on the south side of Colborne Street.  While deciding what to do with this space is a municipal matter, and there are valid arguments on both sides of the issue, one must hold the present federal government partly responsible for the controversy being played out currently. 

I attended a packed-house meeting on this issue last night and was very impressed with the level of discourse and debate that this has generated throughout the community.  It is a complex issue.  Complex issues are rarely handled well when an arbitrary deadline is attached to them.

So what has become the big rush? .  In this case, the current federal government stimulus funding must be spent by March 31st, 2010, or it will be lost to the community.

Myself, and members of the Federal NDP Caucus are trying to address this issue.  At the behest of many in the community and after receiving correspondence from historical agencies all over the country we are drafting a letter to lobby the federal government to remove the funding deadline to allow greater debate and more time for the municipality to consider all of their options after proper consultation with the public.

Stimulus money is being provided to the city for the demolition of some of the oldest pre-confederate buildings in Ontario without any plan in place for what to do with the space afterwards.  The current federal government has a role in this that needs to be addressed. Lobbying the government on this issue would be more effective if Parliament was in session and not prorogued.

Whatever your opinion on the possible demolition of these buildings, it is hard to argue that by-passing viability assessments, structural assessments, environmental assessments, heritage assessments, community discussion, or having a plan to preserve historically significant items is not prudent.  Tearing down these historically significant buildings, before a request for proposals is made by builders that also outlines what will replace them, is foolhardy.

Historical advocates, environmentalists, educators, and the economically minded have all made reasoned arguments on why some time to consult with the public and to develop a firm plan for what to do with the south side of Colborne Street is the best strategy. 

The current Conservative government representative has said that the $1.38 million to demolish the south side of Colborne Street is a “direct investment in our community, providing a boost to our economic future” and that it “paves the way for the continued development and growth of our post-secondary sector.”

Yet, perhaps the best person to represent Brant Riding’s post-secondary sector, Dr. Leo Groarke, disagrees. 

Just last week Groarke, the most recent Dean of Laurier Brantford wrote an opinion piece in The Brantford Expositor saying, “The only approach to the redevelopment of the downtown that has worked has wedded itself to Brantford’s history. Why throw this away on Colborne with nothing to replace it? Why take down all the properties before a proper, detailed, assessment of the history and the quality of the buildings? Why have councillors changed their minds on the wisdom of demolition without a commitment to build up?”

According to Groarke the answer is “a disappointing one: political expediency. Some politicians think that an appeal to knee-jerk reactions to Colborne Street is the way to win an election.” 

Big shiny cheques displayed on a front page are one thing. Prudently spending our own money is fine IF IT CREATES an adequate number of jobs, and kick starts the economy.

Using the economic crisis as an excuse to force municipalities that apply for infrastructure money to scrap viability assessments and heritage assessments, as well as environmental assessments that protect air, soil and water quality, is just plain wrong.

Forcing an unnatural deadline on municipalities will only serve to create fewer jobs, poorer planning, have a worse effect on the environment and disadvantage communities like ours.

In Brant Riding, this is something we can’t afford! 

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