Arab Spring was the name given to civil unrest movement in the Middle East some years ago. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia resulted in a revolt that spread to Egypt and Libya.
What was the spark that ignited this tinderbox of unrest and discontentment? Muhammad Al Bouazizi, a poor Tunisian, had started selling vegetables on the street to support his family. It was his effort to pull his family out of the generations of poverty experienced by many of his fellow Tunisians. He was repeatedly harassed by the police who eventually seized his cart claiming that he was working without a permit. Do you suppose that could happen to Saint John street vendors? But that’s another story.
Al Bouazizi went to government offices and demanded they return his cart and vegetables or he would set himself on fire. The authorities refused and on Dec. 17 Al Bouazizi, a 26-year-old-street vendor set himself on fire in front of a government building. He died 18 days later. Riots followed and shortly after the 24-year dictatorship of President Zine El-Abidine Ben collapsed. Unfortunately Bouazizi never lived to see the change brought about by his act of desperation.
Less than one year after Al Bouazizi death Tunisia’s first democratic elections were held with more than a 90 per cent voter turnout. People who had never had an opportunity to vote walked for miles and stood in line for up to five hours. There was laughter and tears of joy, For many it was the first time in their lives they would have an opportunity to choose who would represent them.
How does the Tunisian experience compare with us, Saint John voters? Would you believe nearly double? The turnout in our municipal elections typically runs about 50%.
Spring, which is just a few weeks away, is a time of optimism, hope and rebirth. As we approach May 14th are we happy with our current Council’s effort to bring about transparency, accountability and deliver better value for the tax dollar? Did they find the courage to make the tough decisions?
We’ve been told that bus we will be eliminating some routes and cutting back on others. Excuse the expression, but who’s driving this bus? Who will be hurt by these less-than-forward thinking and less-than-astute decisions? The answer: The elderly, those on fixed incomes and the poor.
We have had tens of millions spent on a police headquarters and a publicly subsidized parking garage while granting wage increases to fire, police, inside worker, outside workers , at the same time we are asking kids to dip into their piggy banks to pay for ball field fee increases? I pose this as a question because quite frankly it boggles my mind that we don’t provide free ball fields for our kids. Why am I paying property taxes? So that city staff can have year after years raises while many of us are forced to live on a fixed income?
Transparency, accountability, investment in recreation, revitalized neighbourhoods that are safe, vibrant and attractive as well as services delivered efficiently and effectively at an equitable tax rate. Have they been delivered? It’s reflection and report card time in Saint John.
Come May 14th will there be another crop of brave souls hell-bent on forging a brighter future for Saint John or will we have a Council that is long on promises and short on delivery?
The city is currently facing some serious challenges, when if ever will spring come to Saint John?