Westward Independent

The illusion of public consultations

by Westward Independent
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Municipalities often boast about their transparency and commitment to engaging with the public. However, recent events have sparked doubts regarding the efficacy of this process.

Residents in the Cowichan Bay area have recently organized several town hall meetings to discuss the potential removal of a protective dike that shields farmland. A recurring sentiment among these discussions is the lack of awareness until the matter was brought up in the newspaper. According to information from estuaryresilience.ca, project partners have purportedly engaged with the farmer and adjacent landowners during the project’s development. Nevertheless, a landowner adjacent to the subject property claims to have never been consulted. Notable organizations involved in the project include Nature Trust BC, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, among others.

Elected officials such as council members and mayors frequently emphasize their reliance on public input. This is particularly evident in projects with designated public consultation phases, which wield significant influence over the direction of the community. An illustrative example of this participatory approach is exemplified by the deliberations on the Municipal Forest Reserve (MFR) in North Cowichan. In the conclusive report submitted to the North Cowichan authorities, a total of 110 participants engaged in one of four online workshops.

Having actively taken part in all four workshops, we had the privilege of firsthand experience with the process. Each session featured breakaway groups comprising roughly 10 individuals, providing a platform for voicing opinions, queries, and concerns. Regrettably, out of the 10 participants within each breakaway group, merely 3 to 4 individuals were actively engaged. Of these, 1 to 2 individuals expressed apprehensions about financial implications, while a comparable number voiced concerns regarding ecological impacts. When we posed queries concerning financial burdens, tax ramifications, or sustainable practices, the response often directed us to address these concerns with our local council. Regarding ecological viewpoints, we observed multiple moderators intervening to expand questions, offer feedback, and steer the discussion’s trajectory. The moderator responsible for taking notes diligently incorporated this feedback into their records.

Significantly, none of our inquiries, thoughts, or concerns pertaining to the potential implications of carbon credits or logging were incorporated into the council’s official documentation.

This prompts the pertinent question: is this an incidental oversight or suggestive of inherent bias?
In conjunction with the involvement of 110 participants online, records further indicate that 1,145 respondents actively participated in an online survey. However, it is disconcerting to learn that certain community members were able to complete the survey more than 50 times due to the absence of stringent login or email verification mechanisms. Intriguingly, out of the 14 inquiries posed in the survey, a mere 2 queries pertained to matters of annual revenue and jobs tied to logging and management.

While we extend appreciation for the concerted efforts towards public engagement, alongside the attention garnered through social media and print advertisements, our experiential vantage reveals inherent imperfections within the process. Continued alignment with stakeholder groups predisposed to specific viewpoints invariably results in predictable outcomes.

We earnestly advocate for a more robust commitment by local authorities to foster a diverse spectrum of feedback and opinions. Selectively engaging with organizations driven by distinct thematic or operational perspectives tends to yield outcomes that may not genuinely mirror the broader sentiment within the community.

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