8/12/10

Governance: Make Public Consultations Meaningful

Municipalities often hold public meetings to discuss major projects facing their residents. Such meetings can foster a useful dialogue that shapes decisions, or they can be a way to pretend to gather public input for decisions already made. Our Town's public consultations on septage treatment are an example of the latter.

On June 2, 2009, the Town held a public meeting to discuss septage treatment options. Most of the meeting dealt with the design of the new sewage treatment plant, not septage.

When residents demanded to know if the Town had already decided to add the septage facility to the new sewage plant—the most expensive way to treat septage—the Mayor stated that no decision on the treatment option had been made.

The Mayor promised to hold another public meeting in September 2009 to discuss septage treatment options. In reality, the Town had already promised the province that the new sewage plant would include septage treatment.

In November 2008, the Town applied for financial assistance for the sewage treatment plant through the Canada Building Fund. Page 6 of the Town's application includes this paragraph: "The proposed Treatment Plant will include septage receiving facilities, which will provide the community with an environmentally friendly and cost-effective approach to septage management…"

The Town did not hold the second public meeting promised for September until February 18, 2010. By that time, the tender documents were written for a septage treatment facility attached to the new sewage treatment plant. At the February meeting, the Mayor said it was too late to consider other septage treatment options.

In reality, it had been too late for 15 months. The Town's commitment to the province in November 2008 eliminated other treatment options. So, why hold two public meetings and pretend people's ideas mattered?

My Position: I advocate a bottom-up approach to decision making, where the Town consults with people before Council makes decisions on key issues. I will strive to prevent a repeat of the flawed public process of which septage treatment is a sad example.

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