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COLUMN: Councillors should get no special treatment with street naming

'Doesn’t this action, which still needs final approval Oct. 4, seem self-serving?' asks city hall reporter
Sam Cancilla Park in Barrie, named after the late city councillor.

Sometimes our politicians can’t see the forest for the trees, as that old chestnut of a saying goes.

Such is the case with Barrie councillors taking steps to re-establish the policy of naming new streets after elected members of city council, and automatically adding the title and name of elected members of the 2022-26 Barrie council (this one) and onward (future ones) to the street naming registry — if they do not already have a park, bridge or facility named after them.

Really? And doesn’t this action, which still needs final approval Oct. 4, seem self-serving?

I don’t think it’s necessarily meant to be, but perception has become reality in this day and age, even for city politicians.

This doesn’t mean all 11 members of this council will get streets named after them, just that they could be automatically considered, eventually, by this council and future ones.

All of which begs the question: Why should new city streets be named after politicians?

Some undoubtedly deserve to have streets named after them, for good and/or long service to the city.

Former mayors Janice Laking (1988-2000) and Jeff Lehman (2010-2022) come to mind, as does former Ward 4 councillor (and deputy mayor) Barry Ward (2000-2022).

The late Sam Cancilla (on council 1985-1991) deserves having a park named after him (it’s on Dunlop Street East) not only for long and good service, but for calling, at a council meeting, two councillors “manure machines,” refusing to apologize or withdraw his comments, and getting kicked out of the meeting by Laking.

I could (but won’t) also name several former councillors, and mayors, who shouldn’t have their names on Barrie streets, not necessarily because they are bad people or poor politicians, but because just being a council member shouldn’t get your John Henry on the naming registry for a city street sign.

Or even considered, it says here.

It’s not that the majority of Barrie councillors don’t do good work, in their own way, or at least try to.

But first, they’re councillors because they want to be and feel they have something to give to the community. Give.

Second, they do get paid. Not handsomely, but on average, fairly.

And third, some use city politics as a stepping stone toward federal and provincial politics, which is where the real money is.

I could give you that list here, too, but it’s pretty common knowledge.

At this point, you might be thinking, ‘What do reporters know about being a city councillor?’

Fair point.

And I often judge councillors on how quotable they are (I write news stories) or if they ask questions at meetings that are answered in the third paragraph of the staff report dealing with the matter at hand, which means homework has not been done. (I rarely quote councillors who just ask questions.)

But if you can’t say something interesting and you don’t do your reading, you shouldn’t get your name on a street sign.

That’s an opinion, again from my perspective.

Barrie’s policy states any street naming for a councillor on the registry only takes place when that individual is deceased, and that it’s approved by the council of the day. Or words to that effect.

It’s unclear if the new motion allows streets to be named after councillors before they die, although it doesn’t say so specifically.

There is also some concern about naming a Barrie street after a councillor, and then discovering he or she had something nefarious in her or his background that would necessitate a name change.

To be fair, there is more to this matter than just naming streets after city councillors.

Also being considered is a motion that city staff review the existing list of names for originality, appropriateness and representation of the community and its residents (to weed out the bad eggs?) and that staff enact a policy that any Barrie resident who served in the Canadian Armed Forces and is killed in action, or served on a fire, paramedic or police department and is killed on the line of duty, have their last name added automatically to the street naming registry, again if a park, bridge or facility is not already named after them.

Fair enough.

But surely to heavens with all the committees this city council has, one of them could look at or ask for or research names of people in Barrie’s past or present who should have a street named after them.

City councillors could be slotted nicely right in there, just not automatically.

Right with the rest of Barrie residents, that is.

Bob Bruton covers city council for BarrieToday. Part of his job is to report on even well-intentioned ideas that might become poor policy.