Civic activist demands an ombudsman

Whitehorse needs an ombudsman, Carol Bookless told council Monday evening. “Whitehorse is a large, powerful entity,” said the Porter…

Whitehorse needs an ombudsman, Carol Bookless told council Monday evening.

“Whitehorse is a large, powerful entity,” said the Porter Creek Community Association president.

“An individual citizen has no protection when it comes to conflict between the city and themselves.”

Her demand comes in the wake of a recent confession the city misled citizens during the greenspace bylaw referendum process.

The bylaw, 2006-11, was initially prepared in response to a petition spearheaded by Bookless. It was passed by 51 per cent of residents in a city-wide referendum on June 22nd.

It requires a planning study, greenspace map and area plebiscite for new developments in the city.

Leading up to the referendum, the city used newspapers ads and its website to convince voters the bylaw would apply to every development, regardless of size.

It suggested such a bylaw would be financially crippling to the city.

But on August 8th, city administration revealed the bylaw will not apply during individual subdivision developments.

It will only apply during the planning stage of large neighbourhood areas, such as the Lower Bench in Porter Creek or the Long Lake area.

While this new interpretation comes closer to what the petitioners wanted, it is unacceptable the city gave citizens the wrong information during the referendum, said Bookless.

“It’s clear there should be some sort of review of what happened and how the city conducted the vote,” she said.

“Who is accountable for abuses of the system?

“Right now, there is no accountability for the fact that misinformation was sent out to the public.”

If the city is drafting a bylaw it doesn’t like, it may be inclined to make the bylaw misleading, said Bookless.

The city has no ombudsman and, therefore,  no one to turn to in the case of complaints, she said.

“Who does a petitioner go to if they have a problem with the process the city is following?”

In this case, the city told Bookless to take it to court if she didn’t agree with what it was doing, she said.

“This is costly and unworkable.”

Bookless suggested a review by territorial ombudsman Hank Moorlag.

But this must be requested by the city, she said.

And Whitehorse needs its own ombudsman so residents can address the issue more directly in the future, she added.

“I would like the city to create a position of municipal ombudsman as in Winnipeg and Montreal … so that citizens have some recourse to address different problems with the municipal government.”

That would not be appropriate, said councillor Dave Stockdale.

“I think it’s a little bit over the top at this particular point in time,” he said in an interview Wednesday morning.

“We’re a small town and for the benefit of what you get out of it I think most situations here resolve themselves in a fairly equitable way.”

Councillor Bev Buckway agrees.

“To say that we need an ombudsman to come now after one referendum, I don’t think that’s a realistic approach,” she said Wednesday.

The referendum was very complex and had no precedents in Canada, she said.

“I can’t believe, for one minute, that we could have convoluted that whole process to try and mislead the public had we tried.

“It just doesn’t work that way.”

Buckway has been lobbying the city to hire a communications officer for three years.

 “A position such as that certainly wouldn’t carry the role as an ombudsman would do … but I think that would alleviate some of these potential situations.”

The referendum passed despite the city’s poor information, said Bookless.

“The truth is that the citizenry of Whitehorse did not believe what you were saying. This tells me that there is a huge problem of credibility that you now have to face.

“The best way to get that credibility back, is to ask the (Yukon) ombudsman to look into what happened and to create a municipal ombudsman position.”

Nevertheless, everything turned out the way it was supposed to, said Stockdale.

“Obviously there were some mistakes made; it was a first-time affair and it seems to me they got what they wanted from the referendum,” he said.