‘Curiouser and Curiouser!’

Ron Bolin: July 21, 2013

Just when you think things can’t get any Curiouser, the City of Nanaimo rocks us back on our heels again.  After just passing a motion on July 8, which states that:

“Therefore, be it resolved that the City of Nanaimo will seek to conduct further discussions, over a 30 day period ending 2013-AUG-08, with the Snuneymuxw First Nations, exhausting all possible options and considerations before awarding a contract for the removal of the Colliery Dams.”


The next thing we see from the City is a statement from the City’s General Manager of Community Services, that:

“There is no work being done to revisit, re-assess or confirm the information on other options.”


And from the Mayor:

“Since Council’s motion for a 30 day break was tabled July 8th, I, along with City staff, have worked closely with the appointed facilitator, Katherine Gordon, to provide the Snuneymuxw First Nation with information pertaining to the Colliery Dams. The transfer of material – including reports and studies – is consistent with past efforts to share information with the Snuneymuxw First Nation dating back to November 2012.”


And from our lame duck City Manager:

“The Dam Safety Branch says that the risk created by the dams must be mitigated this year. Staff are not aware of any other practical way to do this other than removing the dams. “

One can only speculate on other practical ways to mitigate the risk this year.  None appear to have been seriously contemplated. Regardless of how one estimates the risk of the dam or dams being destroyed during this next rainy season (the City says such an event would be a 1 in 475 years event (a 1 in 173,375 days event?), it is clear that either City Council had no intention of keeping the resolve expressed in their July 8 motion, or that their Staff have chosen to ignore them (as is often suspected).

This situation left Chief White and Ms. Gordon, the facilitator hired to assist in the exchange of ideas during the 30 day period, with no choice but to withdraw from the process due to the City’s declared intention not to act in good faith, but rather to be magnanimously prepared, in this, as in most matters, for communication to be a one way process, i.e. from their lips to our ears.

One waits with bated breath to see what will happen at tomorrow’s Special Council meeting in an environment where we have lost three senior City managers. Though our City Manager remains for a few more weeks on salary (or vacation) as a lame duck, his anointed successor must also, under these conditions, find himself in a very poor position to demonstrate any leadership with which to begin his reign.  The Colliery Dams matter is leaking money, has neither a designed future nor any plan to determine one, and can only continue to create disharmony on many levels.  The ambiguity expressed by the Province through their Dam Safety Branch has only exacerbated the situation. It remains to be seen if a pearl can be snatched from this rotting oyster.

It is ironic indeed that on the agenda for tomorrow’s (July 22) meeting is a report from our Communications Officer putting forward a Communications Plan for City Council’s approval.  The Objective Set in the Communications Plan is that:

“We intend to be known and earn respect for positive relationships, community engagement and participatory democracy based on effective consultation and open communications.”


Among its Objectives are:

·         Strengthen the City’s ability to anticipate issues and prepare timely information

·         Continuously improve the process by which citizens can connect with Council and staff

·         Improve dialogue with citizens by boosting Council and staff awareness about what is taking place across the organization

·         Introduce planning, processes and training that supports open communication and builds quality customer service

·         Improve the manner in which community engagement events are promoted and how feedback is obtained

·         Boost awareness and understanding of local government process, policy and priorities

·         Balance the use of formal communication with opportunities for informal dialogue

·         Ensure all corporate messaging is sensitive to the reception and cultural needs of a diverse population.

It would be difficult to find a time when a Communication Plan were more needed. One could speculate, however, that last summer, before the Colliery Dams debacle was begun in a secret in-camera meeting the minutes and recorded vote of which have yet to be released, would have been excellent time for its inception. In my opinion this whole disgusting affair is the result of ignorance, wretched communication and a lack of honest dealing.  I applaud what the Communication Plan attempts, but looking around at the environment, although I expect it to be passed by Council, I don’t see it landing on the kind of fertile ground which would allow it to live long or prosper.  By the way, where is that report on in-camera meetings?

Those who favour form over content may also wish to peruse the Strategic Plan Progress Report, April 1, 2013-June 30, 2013, which is also included in Monday’s agenda.  One may note that most of the items are due to be completed this fall.  Perhaps Mr. Kenning is retiring now to avoid the avalanche of coming attractions. One may also note the absence of priorities and financial or personnel resources which have been allocated to them.

Those who wish to know more about the Communication Plan or the Strategic Plan Progress Report can see the agenda as of Sunday night, at: