Council considers all things, big and small

Array

City council sure has a full agenda Monday night.

Seven committee reports are listed. There’s a contract award; a motion to review a resolution; something about the $1 million land disposition for the parking garage; and nine bylaws will be read, seven of which will be getting second and third reading, and so will be voted on. Council could be in for quite a night of it.

And oh yes, there’s also a public hearing for the Official Community Plan, crammed in the delegates time slot.

If you missed the notice, it might be because it’s announced on the city page under a heading that suggests the OCP is being closed out, that is, a thank you to residents for participating, and by the way, there’s a public hearing scheduled.

From the bargain-basement treatment this public hearing is receiving, you would never know with what regard this public hearing was held up to two levels of courts as Whitehorse attacked the referendum legislation in the Yukon Municipal Act. To hear them tell it at that time, this statutory public hearing was the Hope Diamond of the public participation enshrined in the act.

And the BC Court of Appeal agreed this public hearing was “important” and so on and so forth, all leading to the conclusion the single public hearing the municipal act requires, with all its meaningfulness, trumped the referendum legislation in the act.

This was later refuted by the former minister who tabled the act, but never mind that now. Certainly the Yukon Party is not troubled, and neither was the BC Court of Appeal, about a trifle like the intent of the Yukon legislation.

The Court of Appeal found the whole matter of the Yukon Municipal Act “of some public import,” but not “highly exceptional.” That’s what happens when you take a Yukon act to the big city in another province, I guess.

This is a very expensive public hearing indeed. The city complained to the courts that referendums cost $14,000. They preferred to spend $100,000 plus of taxpayers’ money fighting citizens’ rights in court. But with the encouragement of the BC Court of Appeal and the Yukon Party, that so very important public hearing is receiving a little less than the stellar treatment the city promised the courts was warranted.

A read-through of the second draft of the OCP finds something called “Participatory Planning and Decision-Making.” The allusion to “participatory decision-making” is misleading; what this section calls for is the usual one-way window where citizens submit their opinions to council and those submissions disappear into city hall and come back filtered through administration.

It’s always seemed to me public hearings are as much about giving us the chance to listen to each other as to speak to council. But that’s a dimension of public input that seems outside the imagination of city hall.

More than 400 people responded to this second draft; we will know almost nothing about what was said by each other, except what the city chooses to share.

Someone, or some group, complained that charettes “involved the public too much” so they’re gone now. A number of policies emphasize council as decision makers or “lead agency” and so on. Participation is alluded to, but not defined, and no process is outlined. The city is just gonna try.

I’m sure there are good things in the OCP; and some that are not so good.

Does it matter?

This is a plan that seems to be built for ad-hoc amendments – ironic in light of the Court of Appeal’s reverence for the Official Community Plan as “a collective process that focuses on the broadly-based interests of the community as a whole [not] individually-based interests that are more narrowly focused.”

Who is watching the decisions made for the OCP? Who is asking for an accounting of the decisions? Nobody. The referendum legislation was the oversight, the check that balanced the increased municipal authority granted under the municipal act – another little detail that didn’t catch the attention of the BC Court of Appeal.

In effect, the Court of Appeal decision, and the Yukon Party’s refusal to amend the municipal act to restore it to its original intent, has put a tall fence around the OCP, and the OCP is establishing policies keeping citizens well back from that fence.

By the time the next OCP is prepared, there may be no public hearing required at all. Minister of Community Services Archie Lang told the legislature in May that a review of the municipal act has virtually become the private domain of municipal politicians and administrators. And then he, and the rest of the Yukon Party, voted down a motion put forward by the NDP and supported by the Liberals, to restore citizens’ rights in the municipal act.

But the citizens waiting their turn to speak on Monday night, at a public hearing of dubious significance, can take solace in the view of the Yukon River outside council chambers, so carefully sited years ago to establish a “character fitting the function of the capital” – oh wait. No they can’t.

That’s gone too. Another judicious decision made by a few in the “interests of the community as a whole.”

Marianne Darragh

Whitehorse