Another “Vote to get a Vote” referendum – water flowing underground
Ron Bolin: July 11, 2011
At its meeting of July 11, 2011, Council backed yet another “Vote to get a Vote” referendum, otherwise known as the “Alternatative Approval Process”, dealing with water. The negative option elector response which will require 6268 signed forms to require a real vote states that:
“I am OPPOSED to the adoption of “EMERGENCY WATER CONNECTION AGREEMENT BYLAW 2011 NO. 7131” which authorizes the Emergency Water Connection Agreement between the City of Nanaimo and Nanaimo Forest Products, without first obtaining the assent of the electors in a voting proceeding (referendum).”
Neither in this description nor in the report that was presented to the public in the agenda, was there any discussion of the costs and benefits of this agreement. While a question from Councillor Pattje elicited the information that at least $4.5 million dollars was involved in capital costs to the city, there was no follow-up on other indicated capital costs or on any annual operating costs. One can guess that these will not be inconsequential. The matter of the relation of this project to the water needs of the massive development projects in the area of Harmac was avoided. This report should have been sent back for lack of a proper financial and development plan. It was not.
As was the case with the $65 million water treatment facility, there is no urgency involved and both could just as well have been put onto the ballot in the November Council election at virtually no cost. Once again, the onus has been placed on citizens to defend themselves if they so wish as Council will not stand for them. While it has been made impossible to tell whether these projects are required or have options, financially sound or fiscally irresponsible, what is clear is that Council is acting on the theory that citizens and taxpayers are ignorant and deserve to be kept so.
I fear that the pro development Councillors who do not intend to run for re election are intent in going out with a bang..
The use of the alternate voting process has gone to ridiculous heights.
Perhaps we will be using the alternate vote to elect Council come fall!
The mind boggles.
Are we surprised?
I do not know just what a water emergency is!
Is this for fire or other reasons?
Harmacs water is not potable .
Any use, of that water, for other than fire protection purposes would require filtration & purification.
I think that,once again, a huge ammount of clarification is required.
If this agreement is to provide water to the whole Cable Bay development fiasco then it should be shot down right now.
If the agreement is to provide a water source for the city that is cheaper than building more dams, then perhaps it’s a good idea.
Between in camera meetings & alternative voting this Council (or most of it) continue to be a hide & seek disaster.
Does anyone really think that we are really building a $5.5+ million dollar emergency water connection facility which will just sit there waiting for an emergency? Or a $16 million dollar annex just waiting for an earthquake? Or a $65 million water treatment plant just waiting for polluted water to come our way? That is an awful lot of money for insurance. Or is something else at play here. And if there is, do we who must pay these bills not deserve to know what it is?
Anyone expecting clarity from council has been smokin’ something funny, I think. That would presume they actually know the answers to anything.
Is this just a city staff completely out of control with over the top spending? Remember unless there are grand projects to study and build, the average taxpayer may see no need for some of our city staff. I refer to the water plant as an excellent form of job security for some city staffers.
If this council is ever going to come out from behind the veil will be a miracle! Perhaps some good old fashioned civil demonstrations like picketing city hall and the city annex, and maybe sitting in at the city annex to demonstrate faith in the soundness of the structure would be a good idea. Mid August would be a good time for the first demonstration followed up by several others leading up to the election, which seems the only way this council will ever be held accountable for anything. Something has to be done to ‘wake up’ the 85% who didn’t vote for any on council, or else they will simply be re-elected by their core 15% who vote for them just because they like them.
As it is, they all just sit like bumps on a log during that semi-monthly theatre known as a council meeting. Usually when, they open their mouths, it is obvious why they usually elect silence!
One gets the feeling that City staff are getting kind of lazy. Council is too easy pickings, too easy to control. It is not necessary to prepare much paper, make good presentations, set out cogent numbers to move them in the desired direction, to get them to put the stamp on management decisions. In some towns the power vacuum around the council table would be replaced by vigorous local reporting. Unfortunately not in this town.
Gotta agree with you David but it is not just staff that are getting lazy so is council. What I really don’t like is that when a councillor asks a question they usually only get a partial answer, if that, and seem quite happy with it and don’t follow through with more or the right questions. Staff are quite fine beating around the bush and only will give the facts if asked the right/direct questions. The other is around variances; I have to wonder if anyone on council actually looks at them. Usually it is motion to approve, seconded and passed without question.
Why is NO ONE challenging VIHA on this arbitrary decision that is resulting in a $65 million water treatment plant we neither need, nor can afford.
Why would it seem that everyone has spaghetti spines when it comes to challenging the ‘authorities’. What was the hard science behind VIHA’s decision? I understand why staff won’t oppose them, big projects represent job security for city staff.
If I understand a recent letter from Gord, he is now convinced we have to just bow down and blow off another $65 million.
Has anyone noticed the kitty is empty and our water, sewer and roads are not being funded properly according to staffs report last Oct. by nearly $13 million per year, in spite of the $5 million figure council keeps throwing out there. All at a time, when the economy in Nanaimo is seriously shrinking.
“What colour do you think we should paint the deck chairs on the Titanic?”.
I don’t believe we have to bow down but can see that those that should be standing against this don’t have the where-with-all to take VIHA on. Spaghetti spines is an appropriate analogy. One has to wonder how many communities not just on the island but throughg-out BC have spoken against VIHA’s mandate, a good starting point would have been at the UBCM but will lay dollars to donuts that spaghetti spine is a disease that runs rampant through-out the province.
The “Alternatative Approval Process” is as council knows the means of least resistance by which the treatment plant borrowing can go through. There simply are not enough people opposed to this to gather the signatures needed. Council should have looked at all the options but alas they did not.as they choose to do with some items of even what would seem a trivial nature.
Gordon: It is not that there are not enough people opposed to this, it is the case that not enough people are even aware of it, let alone have a balanced view of its costs and benefits. The same is true for the emergency water Alternate Approval Process. If these projects, well understood, are supported, the so be it. Why can our Council not rise to such standards?
Why would or should they??? City Hall executes a very effective means of doing as they please. They know there will be little, to no response from the public, a case in point was the front page story with the mayor looking at a glass of drinking water. The headline declared our water might not be all that safe!
How many calls did the city get? ZERO!
How many letters to the paper about our dangerous water? ZERO.
I am going to play the same string on my fiddle …… unless you can engage the public, you are just whistling in the wind. City hall knows this better than anyone, hence, they do as they jolly well please with impunity.
Might I suggest, that anyone wishing to get the public’s attention and stand out above the crowd, being willing to campaign on a promise to stand up to VIHA?
And the provincial government as a whole.
Jim: I don’t believe that we have any difficulty in identifying the problem as one of apathy. The question is how to get the general public to take a greater interest in municipal affairs. It seems to me that the public is, in general, sufficiently satisfied with Council and with what it is doing. Despite this satisfaction perhaps having more to do with ignorance (as opposed to stupidity) of what is slowly happening, the fact remains. We can only invite the public to the well. We cannot make them drink. When the taste of the water is sufficiently off, they will act. In the meantime we can either continue to present some options or abandon our perceived civic duties ourselves.
Searching for a magic wand for curing the lack of public attention to municipal matters is as futile as is Council’s search for a grand project which will bring fame and fortune to Nanaimo. While they seek the grand knockout project, young families leave Nanaimo, the unemployment rate is double the provincial rate, our children are among the most deprived in the province and we continue our dependance on attracting pensioners whose pensions may soon evaporate.
What is it? Apathy or satisfaction with what council is doing?
As to a ‘magic wand’ to gain public attention, that is not what I am suggesting. What I am suggesting, is clearly defining what anyone would do differently than the current or past councils have done, if they are seeking public support in an election.
What solution would you offer the public to make them think you have anything different to offer than anyone else?
Not being able to do that, would give little reason for anyone to pay any real attention.
For example if elected would a new councilor:
1.Throw out the new staff office project?
2. Put the water treatment plant on hold, and lobby VIHA and senior government?
3. Rip up the agreement for the ’emergency’ water line?
If future candidates are not willing to step out and offer something different from the current bunch, then why in blazes should anyone listen to them at all. If it is just another face, saying the same thing?
As a friend of mine kindly pointed out, when I (Jim Taylor) say something which seems contrary to what the mayor has said on an issue, the expected public response would be “who the hell is Jim Taylor, why should I believe him instead of the mayor?”.
If you can’t find the cure for the lack of public attention, then nothing is going to change, and we will all just keep preaching to the choir.
As for the picture you paint of Nanaimo’s future, I think that is likely already cast in stone. But, not spending every last penny on major projects which are not needed and not affordable is a good place to start when it comes to attempting to remove some of the burden we are laying up for future generations to pay for.
“how to get the general public to take a greater interest in municipal affairs” This is the question. “It seems to me that the public is, in general, sufficiently satisfied with Council and with what it is doing” The public really have no idea of what council is doing, they are in most cases spending their time trying to survive, and to assume they are satisfied because they say nothing is kinda an Altentate Approval Process rationalle.
A good point Gordon. It all depends on your definition of satisfaction. I would define it as inertia. Things will move in the same direction until there is some energy which causes it to change direction. Without that energy, inertia is satisfied, i.e. if we are dis-satisfied we will do something to change direction.
But it all hinges on the numbers of the disatisfied. Since first meeting you while running for council in 2002 I have seen very few people willing to get and stay involved on a continuing basis such as you and I do. Even when it comes down to a group like FPN their involvement was mainly to do with the Convention Centre and Urban containment. By 2007 FPN was essentially an organization without a cause. There is no easy answer, as you know, on how to get people enrgized around municipal goings.
It is not only the public that has no idea what council is doing, council has no idea what council is doing either.
Would have to agree with you Jim.
Just a question – Has anyone gone to the provincial gov’t about he AAP process? Questioning why there is not more oversight around this process and what can be done to improve the possible abuse of using this process?
Lynn: I have raised questions about the AAP with MLA Leonard Krog. There has been insufficient time to ascertain whether he will be able to do anything. In the meantime I have also discussed the matter with other provincial authorities and am in the process of considering how best to approach the issue with them. I will keep the blog apprised of any updates.
I thought the alternate approval process was originally intended to deal with items in ‘off election years’ when a referendum would be considerably more expensive.
The only reason this staff and council have opted for this method is because they are absolutely gutless when it comes to standing up to VIHA, and have all just rolled over and played dead and from that point of view see borrowing the $22 million as the ONLY option.
Ever wonder why they didn’t apply the $12 million cash for the annex to this plant, and ask the public if they could borrow $12 million to build that shiny new office??
Don’t know about them seeing it as the only option, my feeling is they see it as the easy option. If they were not to do the borrowing they might actually have to let the public know of the other options available, god forbid they inform the public.
I have also sent a note to the Premiers office with questions regarding the use of the AAP process and where the oversight of it’s use in in the Community Charter can be found. From my perspective, there should have been a dollar amount applied to the use, specific placement in the newspaper, should also be on all the radio stations withn the city and area, should not be allowed during an election year, and council should have to justify why they are using.
Lynn: Please pass on the information which you get back from the Premiers Office. If you would like to read the Provinces view on the AAP, see:
Remember that it was this Liberal Government that used the AAP for the HST because they did not think that there would be any way to get the required amount of signatures to stop it. They were wrong and then chose to put it to referendum. In my opinion the AAP should be abolished.
I will pass on any response I get. I have read the attached document you sent Ron regarding the AAP process and I find it lacking in detail and oversight. They even mention that it could be hard to get the 10% requirement. From a totally personal point of view I do not see any value in this process, and would be very happy to see It removed fromthe charter. It does have the capablity to allow cities to push through items, knowing that they will not get the 10%.
When I was talking to Legislative Services at city hall, I believe they said the AAP officially starts on July 28 which is the date of the second publishing of the newspaper notices. It is then open until Aug. 28, during which time, those who disapprove of the process have to make their wishes known either by printing off an online ballot, or attending at city hall.
Using it for an issue such as this, is indeed an abuse of the intended purpose. But then, again, this bunch is hell bent to fund the plant this way.
I’d like to clear something up here. Are those opposed to the AAP, and I would include Ron, Gord and Lynn, opposed to the $65 million project or just the way it is to be funded?
If you are only opposed to the borrowing to fund the $22.5 million, what are you proposing in it’s place? Higher water rates? Higher taxes? Taking funds from other projects?
Clarification would be good.
Hard to make it clear. Is the water treatment plant ie filtration the right way to go or are there other means to accomplish the same ends. If I were to be elected I would want to see the city challenge VIHA’s right to mandate it. If there were no recourse but to meet VIHA’s criteria then I would want to know the options and seek equal funding from the feds and the province. The borrowing hinges on if there is no way but to build the thing as it has been presented. I would prefer all the options be laid out on means of acquiring the fiunds needed if there was no way to get equal amounts from the Feds and Province. Be it increased taxes, water rates, funds from other projects, the citizens should have a say in how we pay and not as implied by the AAP ptrocess.
I think I misunderstood a letter of yours I read in the paper. I thought you were saying to just get on with it as you feared privatization of the water supply. no?
Just to make it clear: I am opposed to the AAP under the circumstances involved. I am opposed to the use of administrative force without sufficient science, cost/benefit and risk analysis.
The penalty for non compliance seems to be to lose our water license. It is unclear to me what this entails.
Well said Ron. Jim: The fear of privatization would be in the event our water license is removed could the province because of Health Authority regulations bring in a private company to build and manage the plant. In the event we are forced to comply then we will have to do something but exactly what is unclear as all we are hearing about is the type of plant proposed and the borrowing aspect for part of the costs.
I am opposed to AAP in principle. If there was more criteria around how, when and why, etc AAP I may not be as opposed. It should not be used in this particular instance for sure. I have not read anything on the Water Treatment plant.therefore I can not comment as to whether it should go ahead or not. I am certainly interested in what it says.
It seems to me, that putting the brakes on the water treatment plant is really the issue. Opposing the AAP (which I do) only would appear to change the process of how to ask the taxpayer from the AAP to a referendum tied into the election. If you want to force a referendum, it will require the effort to defeat the AAP, which will require a more involved effort than questioning the AAP as a legitimate means of voting on an issue.
This is being presented by city hall as being a done deal, and they are merely asking the taxpayer how they want to pay for it. If that is the case, isn’t long term borrowing likely the least painful approach, considering we still need to leave enough cash around to build a new office.
Since city council and city staff have no appetite for challenging VIHA’s authority, what can the average Joe do about it anyway?
Challenging the AAP is one thing,but ultimately challenging the water plant is the real issue.
I offer the following speculation as to how we have come to this point with this water treatment plant. Remember this did not just happen this last month, but has been several years in the making. It has also required the approval of city council, some of whom now ‘appear’ to be expressing a concern about the project. The question of course is, why has no one been paying any real attention up until now?
I think, in the first instance, everyone thought we would only be paying for one third of the total cost, and so no one was all that excited about paying $20 million or so for a new plant, confident that the feds and province would be picking up the other $40 million. Like the VICC, council and staff started up the locomotive without having the required approvals in place, and entered into agreements with VIHA to improve our water treatment.
During this process we have engaged engineers, visited other plants etc. and it would appear as if council and staff decided in their collective wisdom we were making the right choices, of course, like the VICC, they never made sure what the actual end cost was going to be. Deja vu all over again!
So what we are now dealing with is the result of an incompetent council aided by an equally incompetent city hall management team, having more or less committed Nanaimo taxpayers to a major project for which they never really knew the cost to the local taxpayer.
Now, city council and city staff would just like the loan to go through so they can get on with it, without having to ask any embarrassing questions, the least of which would be “what in hell were you thinking?”. They probably thought they were agreeing to spend $20 million and it turns out they are having to spend $40 million, not unlike the VICC.
This is also an example of all that high priced city hall management we keep being told we are so fortunate to be able to afford.
JIm, I don’t know what VICC stands for, and can anyone tell me where to find the document that VIHA has instructed the City of Nanaimo what it must do. I have found some documentation that talks about VIHA new water treatment policy for surface water. Was there a timeframe provided? I saw were we are receiving I believe it is a grant for 17.5 m. I have also found some newspaper articles on this subject. Was there any indepth cost analysis done as to which way to go?
Sorry guys I still don’t have a complete picture regarding a new water treatment plant.
Lynn: Read the report on this subject in the Agenda for Mondays Special Council meeting. It will give you more information than the public has had up to this time.
VICC = Vancouver Island Conference Centre.
For the record, here is the reply to the City from the Inspector of Municipalities which discusses the need for a referendum. It appears that the city desired to get the province to mandate this expenditure by one way or another. They declined.
Click to access ministry-letter1.pdf