In Dante’s “Inferno”—the first part of his epic poem—fortune tellers are destined to travel through eternity with their heads on backwards, unable to see the road ahead as a repercussion for trying to doing the same in life. To cite Dante himself, “…he looks behind and walks a backwards path”. A poetic justice, to say the least.
Contrapasso, in Italian is a form of poetic justice which I always find so useful in describing much of what I see in the Government. Sometimes I feel alone in saying: Different day, same issues. As many of you know, I had been absent from city hall for a number of years, yet I cannot help but to be struck by the fact that we are still actively discussing the same issues we had attempted to solve ten years ago. Our city needs more money, our infrastructure needs more maintenance, misalignment of snow removal, the photo radar services debate, and keeping Edmonton’s City of Champions title a reality are just a few of the issues that are still on the table.
Regardless of which issue you find yourself most personally involved in, it would make the most sense to look at who has been appointed to solve these issues…and ask why they aren’t being solved. Are these the right people for the job? Are they competent in managing our affairs? Or are they simply promising things that never come to fruition? “Good Campaigners”, some might call them, then. I personally call them the political class for they truly live in a different world. The world of M.P.s, M.L.A.s, Mayors, and Councillors would be comparable to a bubble in its decision making and fishbowl-like in regards to its scrutiny. It often becomes a teeter-totter of surreality and reality, but in truth it is never dull, often it is exasperating.
There is an expectation from many in the voter population that City Hall is an all-powerful and all-seeing entity. Some believe that as tax payers we elect Councillors and Mayors to be, not just on top of the issues, but to be quick and decisive in their decision-making whilst using the most relevant and newest information available. Currently we are amidst the information age, are we not?
The fact is that although I personally believe this expectation to be completely reasonable, it is not true in practice. There are many barriers to making good decisions, and then to put the hypothetical notion of a good decision into practice brings its own issues. Problems always arise in a multitude of forms.
Nearly a century ago, Walter Lippman described the media as a spotlight: only able to shine light on a limited amount of facts for a limited amount of time—always constrained by the structure of the medium. Truth be told, it is the same in politics. We are often given the limited ‘need to know’ truth by the administration, seldom expressed factually, and all too often expressed in administrative tribal verbage. It is nearly impossible for the average person to understand the complex language of consultant speak and unexplained acronyms used. This also affects, not just the citizen population but also your City Council, as these barriers also end up leaving most on Council to work more on deciphering the administration’s recommendations than plotting an appropriate course of action for our City. If what we are seeing in that Council administrative reports are not commonly understandable by the public or members of Council, then we have a problem with both transparency and civic accountability.
Does clarity matter in civic political discourse?
I believe that it does.
In one of Alan Parry’s speeches, I heard him say: “In my experience, answers to questions are often better expressed in numbers rather than adjectives”. Measures, metrics, and targets expressed in plain numerical form, tracked from year-to-year are better help for Councillors to make decisions than words like ‘lots’, ‘progress’, or ‘cultural improvement’. I understand we must have commonly understood and meaningful measures but like Groucho Marx once said, “politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” 
I think perhaps we can do better. Do you?
 Dante’s Inferno: Canto XX, Lines 13-15 and 38-39. Mandel brown translation.
 Parry, Alan. Edmonton, January 3, 2012.
 “Favorite Authors.” BrainyQuote. Accessed February 17, 2015. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes.