Editorial: Quesnel Council back at the trough: business as usual

Monday, November 28th, 2011 was the final get together for the old Quesnel city council. After the dust had settled on November 19th and those in the mayoral and council races knew their fate there remained one final opportunity for the former group to wind up business before the new slate of winners is sworn in on December 5th. Given the events of the past couple of days It was an interesting last meeting.
As a quick recap, throughout the campaign of 2011, which basically began in the early months of the year and ran, off and on in the media right up to election day, the main bone of contention between Mayor Sjostrom and her supporters on council and then finance chair, Sushil Thapar, was the heated issue of spending of taxpayer's money. Thapar, attempting to fulfill his responsibilities regarding the portfolio he was assigned to administer, found that he was being stymied and blocked by the Mayor and her followers whenever he attempted to procure documentation that would address the discrepancies he was finding in council's paperwork. Sjostrom, on the other hand, was persistently consistent in her own defense and that of council decisions, in always downplaying any attempt on the part of Thapar to provide a greater measure of transparency by insinuating that the finance chair was merely playing politics in order to gain votes during the impending civic election in the fall. The message was that the Mayor was taking good care of the taxpayer's purse and there was no need to fret.
Mary's motto throughout her campaign for the position of corporate CEO for Quesnel was that she was the best one to keep the Gold Pan city "moving forward" into a new dawn of prosperity and that under her leadership the municipal ship would steer the safest course through whatever troubled waters might lie ahead.
Well, Tuesday's announcement by B.C.'s Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, that the province can expect a whopping $3.1 billion deficit for the 2011-2012 fiscal year; an additional increase of $313 million over his previous predictions three months ago, certainly ought to sound warning bells for any municipality in the province concerned about rising debt.
I find the synchronicity of the timing rather intriguing given that only one day before making this disturbing announcement, the final day in fact when the Mayor and her old council would be in a position to make any last minute decisions, Mayor Mary and her old guard, consisting of Councillors Cave, Roodenburg and Couldwell, would have the audacity to pass a motion giving herself a 2.4% pay increase.
Could it be that Mary's ears are so finely tuned to the subtle vibrations of provincial politics that she was somehow able to discern in advance the warning bells that would soon be ringing loud and clear only hours later and thus was able to accomplish her preemptive pay hike just in the nick of time?
The answer to that riddle lies with Mary I suppose but her timing for eeking out yet a few more pennies from the pockets of local taxpayers couldn't have been better (or worse, depending on one's point of view).
Part of Mary's program for moving Quesnel forward over the next three years would involve, as she herself stated, having to make "tough choices". Possibly Mary's decision to follow through with the motion to grand a pay hike to herself during what appears to be turbulent and challenging financial times ahead was what she had in mind. I'm sure it must have been tough for her to do what she did.
Then again, I guess her thoughts and concerns were likely more with the new slate of councillors due to take office next week and not wanting to burden them with such onerous, mundane matters as having to suddenly increase the city's overall debt for taxpayers the moment they have their inaugeral photos taken and take their seats at the council table. Whether or not Mary's move forward brings success or ignominy to the new council only time will tell.
One thing is fairly certain though and most people will likely have sensed it in the provincial government's pronouncements on the economy on Tuesday – global events are not casting many rays of hope for people anywhere and the time for serious attention toward government spending is long overdue. The trough no longer runneth over with surplus revenues and it's time the new city council and their controversial Mayor wipe their collective snouts clean and quickly develop a new attitude toward those who are paying for any and all municipal debt.
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