The Penticton Western News has penned an excellent editorial about ‘lessons learned’ by the city in relation to the attempted commercialization of Skaha Park (Western News, Sept. 22, Lessons learned).
It points out that the primary issue was not one of inadequate public consultation, as the city insists, but the antithesis of public consultation: sworn secrecy that project planning was even being undertaken.
The city says it’s learned its lesson about the need for public consultation, but this is belied by the next decision the city made, which is to use the Alternative Approval Process for the proposal to extend the city boundary southward.
The AAP is a beast that was legislated provincially through Part Four, Division Two, Section 86 of the 2003 Community Charter, allowing BC’s municipalities to evade proper public consultation on important civic matters — the sort of consultation that used to occur through local referenda.
The AAP is fundamentally undemocratic in a number of ways. Instead of seeking the public’s approval on a matter, approval is assumed to have been obtained unless a certain percentage of the city’s electors register their disapproval. But the belief that absence of a ‘no’ vote is equal to manifestation of a ‘yes’ vote is patently absurd. It’s only a seven-year-old who thinks he’s won approval when his mom fails to disapprove.
To put the problem another way, opponents of any proposal need to get out there and mobilize a ‘no’ vote. Meanwhile, the ‘yes’ side can put their feet up, confident that authorization of the proposal is assumed.
In addition, there’s a problem with asking people to say ‘no’ rather than asking them to say ‘yes’. Lots of people are simply not conditioned to say ‘no’. Hank Davis, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Guelph, says our culture provides us memes and rituals to completely avoid the dreaded ‘no’ word. Our province has crafted a process that forces us to say ‘no’ or say nothing at all.
No one should be surprised that B.C. government stats show 80 per cent of AAP initiatives do not win the required ‘no’ votes to defeat government proposals. The AAP is a seriously flawed process that favours municipal governments over residents. If that’s not enough, there’s also a problem in that AAP forms typically require the names and addresses of voters, and are received and counted without any independent oversight by city hall employees who may have a vested interest in the outcome.
Mayor and council apparently have not noticed that the next civic election is only one year away. It will be a golden opportunity to ask any number of questions of the public on a single ballot form without needing to pay the costs of a referendum.