Whitehorse trail plan gets a literary critique

What do Whitehorse City Council and George Orwell's novel 1984 have in common? Quite a bit, according to Keith Lay.

What do Whitehorse City Council and George Orwell’s novel 1984 have in common?

Quite a bit, according to Keith Lay.

The Porter Creek resident appeared before city council to detail his concerns over proposed amendments to the city’s trail plan.

The plan, adopted in 2007, called for the creation of the Trails and Greenways Committee.

Originally, it was to be made up of community associations and interested parties.

The committee was meant to work as an oversight body to ensure the interests of various user groups were well represented.

Last week, city administration presented some amendments to the plan that raised the ire of some people, including Lay.

The committee’s name was changed to Whitehorse Trails Committee and would no longer include community representatives. Instead it would be staffed by representatives of the various landowners – the City of Whitehorse, First Nation governments and the Yukon government.

However community groups and interested parties would still have a chance to participate through neighbourhood task forces.

“When (the trails committee) was originally conceived, it wasn’t totally fleshed out,” said Robert Fendrick, the city’s director of administrative services.

The idea is that the trails committee will act as an appeals body to mediate disputes that may come up regarding the city’s network of trails, he said.

“The idea is to keep arm’s-length from the community so if there is some sort of land issue, the appeals body is better positioned to come to some sort of resolution,” said Fendrick.

But for Lay, the changes contravene the original intent of the trail plan.

He accused administration of trying to rewrite history, likening it to the fictional, authoritarian government of Oceania depicted in Orwell’s famous, dystopian novel.

“They will read the trail plan next week and think that that’s the way it has always read,” he said, punctuating his point by brandishing a paperback copy of the book.

With only a week to contemplate the amendment, Lay urged council to reject the amendment or at least put it off so the public could have its say.

The majority of council agreed.

“I think you make some good points,” said Coun. Ranj Pillai.

However, he felt Lay’s comparison of city administrations to that of Orwell’s fictional authoritarian government was a bit hyperbolic.

When it came time to vote on the amendment, Pillai tabled a motion to defer the decision and send it back for more public consultation.

The public input session on proposed changes to the trail plan will take place at the regular city council meeting Feb.13.

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