City projects could use more action, fewer studies and consultations

I read with some amusement, and absolutely no surprise, that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper has joined international law firm Dentons as a consultant. If it wasn’t enough that former politicians receive generous retirement packages, they almost always have a second career lined up for them in the consulting world.

To be fair, running a country through a global economic crisis is probably a fair qualification to provide expert advice to a law firm. I will begrudgingly admit that running a community newspaper is slightly less impressive.

Expert advice is great and often much needed, from law firms to small towns. Here in Fort Saskatchewan it’s no different, we want input and advice on the future. At first glance, undertaking a study before any kind of major investment seems an inherently prudent choice; it allows governments to defend their decisions because they were backed by expert advice (while also allowing them to drag their heels a little longer on those same decisions).

That said, Fort Saskatchewan seems to have a particularly acute case of excessive (and expensive) information gathering. I can’t even count how many stories we’ve written about various studies and reports underway in the community. In our Aug. 25 edition, we reported that the city is looking for a consulting group for its new city-wide Business Retention and Expansion Strategy (although a city official was adamant that it’s not a study, but rather an “action plan”).

And it’s not just the city which has an unquenchable need for information in the form of costly studies. In our Aug. 18 edition, we reported that the Poverty Awareness Fort Saskatchewan coalition is looking to secure $40,000 for a study on homelessness in Fort Saskatchewan.

Who can forget the $90,000 KPMG report that found that Fort Saskatchewan’s water billing system had no deficiencies? There is a sliver of cruel irony in the fact that people complaining about their water bill being too high (a perfectly reasonable grievance) only led to more (in my opinion) excessive costs, particularly in the form of a report that said nothing was wrong in the first place. Meanwhile, I still have residents emailing me about how their excessive water bill has effectively left them destitute.

Which brings me to the bridge. Ever since I started working at the Record (today happens to be my one-year anniversary), I’ve heard endless complaints about Highway 15 needing a new bridge. At first I would ask for clarification on which bridge, but now simply hearing “the bridge” makes it abundantly clear what people are referring to.

Shortly after I started, the city forked out $40,000 from reserves for a $1.5-million bridge study. Last March, Mayor Gale Katchur expressed frustration at the study’s sluggish progression. Nearly six months later, all I’ve heard are rumours that the province is committed to (eventually) funding a new bridge.

All the while, traffic volumes continue to grow. This month has already seen two vehicle collisions on Highway 15. Presumably, this is due to human error, but the gridlock and congestion I experience weekly when crossing the bridge probably doesn’t help.

Despite being a journalist, the inner workings of how governments function and why they spend so much on studies is still a mystery to me. Call me naïve, but I sometimes wonder what would happen if all the money spent on consultations and reports was instead spent directly on the issues that need resolving.

Or maybe I just need someone to consult me on how to become a consultant. 

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