Citizens losing confidence in governments
Woolwich & Wellesley Township's Local Community Newspaper | Elmira, Ontario, Canada
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Citizens losing confidence in governments

Fresh off a refusal to look after an unkempt stretch of its property on Samuel and Ann streets in Elmira, Woolwich should keep an eye on something interesting brewing in Winnipeg. A resident there is challenging a city edict that he mow the grass on a boulevard adjacent to his home.

Richard Hykawy has taken the legal challenge to heart, saying his goal is to “free the citizens from slavery.” He says the onus is on the city to look after its own property.

“What cities do is they enslave people to work for them. That’s against the law,” he told the media.

Hykawy has already appeared in court on several occasions, battling the city over costs imposed on him after he refused to cut the grass. He hopes to launch a legal challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Some will undoubtedly see his actions as a way of shirking civic duties, but there’s a principle at stake here. It’s also an indication of our growing isolation in a system of governance that is increasingly undemocratic and does less and less for citizens. Politicians, bureaucrats and public-sector workers at every level are seen as more intent on their own salaries, perks and entitlements than actually serving the public. Civic spirit is supposed to be a two-way street, and when that falls apart, it’s easier to see where people like Hykawy are coming from.

In Woolwich, the decision to fob off responsibility for the poor condition of sod laid after a reconstruction project is sure to rankle some residents. In essence, the township has washed it hands of the issue, saying it’s the responsibility of adjacent homeowners to maintain municipal property.

Again, this would be less likely to become an issue if citizens felt that they were getting good value for their ever-increasing taxes. Instead, just the opposite is true.

Blame for the faltering legitimacy of government can be laid squarely on the shoulders of politicians and bureaucrats everywhere, from the autocrats looking to squash the uprising of the Arab spring to the entitlement mentality of those operating inside the bureaucratic bubble.

When it comes to local and regional government, many of us can’t be bothered to vote – typically, fewer than a third of us even show up – but that doesn’t mean we don’t notice that service levels suffer even as taxes increase and growth reduces the quality of life as it pads the municipal coffers … and wallets of those who are supposed to be working for the public, rather than the other way around.

Which brings us to something as visible as weedy and overgrown municipal properties. Unkempt boulevards, roadsides and parks are a very visible reminder that the kind of work that used to be done is now not, even as we pay more and more to those who are supposed to keep our communities in good repair.

Ignoring the basics got the regional government into trouble earlier this year, when public pressure forced council to reverse a decision to reduce weed cutting and maintenance on regional roads. It was a clear example of ever-more tax increases being used to pad the payroll and fund questionable projects at the expense of what’s really important to residents.

At the heart of the matter, ignoring the basics – cutting the grass, picking up litter and keeping facilities clean – makes for bad optics, reinforcing the notion that officials have their priorities wrong, attuned more to their convenience than public service. That leads to the grumbling about looking after property that belongs to a municipality that doesn’t look after its citizens. And a growing disconnect, ideally leading to citizens hitting the reset button.

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