It took a war veteran to set me straight.
“People bitch and complain because they care,” he told me after we’d wrapped up an hour-long interview at the Lantzville Legion. “They want to make things better for the people who come after them.”
I chewed on that comment on my drive home. I’d mentioned to him that there was a lot of negative energy floating around Nanaimo lately and I was, quite frankly, getting tired of it.
But I’m always willing to listen to another perspective, especially from a person who has put his life on the line for his country.
I have a lot of time for war veterans.
So over the last few weeks it was with this fresh perspective I have attended council meetings, listened to complaints from callers at my desk and sifted through the sometimes nasty debate of whether to put highrises along Stewart Avenue, among other issues.
He was right. All the bitching and complaining is getting us somewhere. Nanaimo, like a teenager suffering growing pains, is moving forward in its transition from a small city to a large city, and with that comes some painful growth spurts.
These are what could be called Nanaimo’s formative years, and the foundation we set today will set the tone for decades to come.
When you take a step back the big questions is: Do we want to announce to the world we have a little piece of paradise here and all are welcome? Or do we muzzle that and deal with the inevitable slow trickle?
But the big questions are easy. It’s the million-and-one details that the people who live here every day must deal with, and it’s those little sparks that start the biggest fires.
What do we want Nanaimo to become? Do we want to be Canada’s Monte Carlo with exclusive clubs, marinas and casinos that serve the wealthy? Do we want to be a retirement community that relies on the pensions of retired Canadians? Or do we want to cling with all our might to our blue collar heritage that has defined us in the past but serves of little value going forward when it comes to paying for services?
What do we want to be? In the new economy, the City of Strip Malls is no longer an identity that will pay the bills.
Which is why every decision we make today is so important. How will LED lights affect business investment in the future? How will highrises on Stewart Avenue affect the quality of life for people in the Brechin and Newcastle neighbourhoods? How will future infrastructure costs affect the city’s ability to pay for other services? What did we learn from the Oceanview Resort debacle?
It’s a huge responsibility we’re all part of and sometimes that moaning and groaning really means an individual is passionate about the direction of our city.
Recently, Mayor John Ruttan’s new economic development strategy gained traction with council’s approval of an Economic Development Corporation, an organization that will address the needs of economic development and tourism at an arm’s length from city hall.
Under this new organization, the intent is to take the burden of increasing taxation off taxpayers and apply it to outside investment, such as a possible hotel tax that could seen visitors contribute $400,000 annually to city coffers.
The message? We’ve got a great city primed for great businesses to set up shop, but if you want in you have to contribute to the success.
It’s an exciting shift to a new era that will benefit all of Nanaimo and in 20 or 30 years, I get the feeling we’ll be living in a bustling port city that is truly the envy of the rest of the country.
So if what my war veteran friend says rings true, Nanaimo’s future will be built on hard work, tough decisions and a good dose of bitching and complaining.
Sounds good to me.