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REPORTING · 14th January 2014
Walter McFarlane
Council merges two completely different yes or no questions which can have two completely different yes or no answers to form a basis of a plebiscite to gather information from the public on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. Are they serious in their commitment to gather the information or are they just wasting taxpayer’s dollars?

Kitimat City Council Discussed the Plebiscite on the Enbridge Question at the Committee of the Whole Meeting on Monday, January 13th. They had number of recommendations regarding how the Plebiscite would be conducted and they were about to make their big decision.

At the beginning of the meeting, Donny Van Dyk, representing the proponent got up and gave a short presentation concerning Enbridge. His presentation included information on an upcoming visit from the proponent, the JRP report and the Plebiscite.

During this time, he stated Northern Gateway saw there was value in having multiple questions to gather this information although he added the decision of how many questions there were going to be was up to Council.

“We avoid an adversarial feeling plebiscite and we generate dialogue and debate amongst the plebiscite but also so we as a proponent can come away with value and create a better project,” said Van Dyk. He told Council if the plebiscite included questions about greatest concerns, Enbridge will address these concerns further. If people wanted more benefits from the project, they would look into this as well.

He even proposed a question for the plebiscite: Is the project in the best interest of Kitimat?

Prior to making any motions, Council expressed concerns over the non-binding portion of the plebiscite. Councillor Phil Germuth was the first to express these concerns but Councillor Mario Feldhoff waved them away. Feldhoff told Council they decided this plebiscite would be non-binding at the last meeting and he did not want to debate the mechanics.

Councillor Corinne Scott said she wanted to know what would be done with the response. She told Council when the original motion was differed two years ago; Council was under pressure to make a decision, yes or no, while trying to uphold the decision of a past Council to remain neutral.

“We already know, in advance, that the community is split. There is a lot of people who are for it and there are a lot of people against it. It is a non-binding plebiscite so what are we trying to learn from having this plebiscite and what are we going to do with the information afterwards. I question why we’re even having one,” said Scott.

Feldhoff said they chose the option at the last meeting to survey the community. For now, they had to determine how to move the process forward. At a later point in time, they could ask whether or not the results were binding. He wanted to see the results and the voter turnout before he makes a decision about this.

Germuth agreed with Scott. “The whole reason to do this is to support the opinion of the majority of the people of Kitimat. If we go through this, we go through, we spend $15,000. We say ‘Thank you everybody for your input but we’re not going to do anything with it, we’re going to toss it out and keep going.’ We’re just wasting $15,000. We should have the courage to say beforehand that we’re going to, if it comes out that the majority are for it, this is what we are going to do, if the majority are against, this is what we’re going to do. If it’s anywhere near even, neutrality is than justified. To sit here a spend $15,000 to get an opinion of everybody and then do nothing with it, that we do not have the guts as a Council to say what we’re going to do, that makes no sense at all. It’s just a waste of money,” said Germuth.

Feldhoff mocked Germuth for using the words Courage and Guts. He stated senior ministers have made decisions before the JRP came in and this was wrong. He told Germuth he had the courage to go ahead with the plebiscite and ask questions. He stated they should get the plebiscite results before they make up their mind.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan reminded Council to keep their comments respectful.

“Of course, if somebody doesn’t get their way, what are they going to do? If the community comes out against, are we going to say: ‘we’ll stay neutral, thanks for your opinion,’” said Germuth. He wanted something in place for what they are going to do with the results.

Councillor Edwin Empinado stated this is why he voted against the plebiscite because he does not know what they are going to achieve, if it is in their jurisdiction and whether they have control.

Goffinet expressed when they voted, they knew why they voted, but then admitted, maybe they did not. He said the Council wanted to find out what the town wanted, not just factions or groups. He hoped that after years, and lots of information, people would be ready to make a decision. The purpose of the vote would be to have the people of Kitimat tell them how they perceive this project.

“If we as a Council want to use the result after the people of Kitimat have told us, that is our responsibility. Our responsibility tonight is to give them the chance to inform us as to their opinion. I believe this debate is totally out of order because we’ve got a report on how to carry out the vote,” said Goffinet.

Council moved on.

“With this plebiscite, what we intended to do here was look through the local government act and the local government association and they put out a binder on running an election. We looked at this and said, this is not going to be a formal election. It’s going to be a non-binding plebiscite,” said Deputy CAO Warren Waycheshen.

He told Council they were looking for suggestions on a report which was provided in the Council Package. Council quickly decided that they wanted to change the date of the advance poll to April 2nd and 9th and the General Voting Day on April the 12th. Staff told Council they will work with the dates and if they cannot find a location, they will try another. Council discussed the other options before approving the rest of the items.

The staff explained their motivations, how they wanted Kitimat Residents to participate in the vote and not out of town workers who are only renting property and why they want to hold the advance polls in the District of Kitimat Offices. Then Council moved into the rest of the meeting, to determine the question.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff stated he had problems with multiple questions. He made his motion for a question, which would become: “Do you support the final report recommendations of the Joint Review Panel of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Authority and National Energy Board, that the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project be approved, subject to 209 conditions set out in volume 2 of the JRP’s Final Report?” It was seconded by Councillor Mary Murphy.

“I think that by having the plebiscite question worded in such a fashion, not only are we saying, are you in favour of Enbridge Northern Gateway or not, we’re saying are you in favour of the conclusions of the Review Panel conclusions. It addresses the questions posed by staff and it also addresses the JRP findings in one question,” said Feldhoff.

Feldhoff stated this would remind everyone in Kitimat who the Joint Review Panel are and it addresses all of the feedback Council is looking for.

Councillor Phil Germuth expressed the motion was too confusing, and should be something to the effect of a question: “are you in favour of the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, Yes, or no.” He pointed out people who have already made up their minds are unlikely to read the report.

Councillor Mary Murphy stated they wanted a survey and whether people are in favour or against the project, it is important to the community. She stated they could have made this binding and kept it as a referendum but they were waiting for a report from the JRP.

“People should be reading that report, agreeing with it or not agreeing with it is one thing but it is putting some meat into the decision that they are making and I am supporting this,” said Murphy.

Feldhoff stated Council has remained neutral while ‘certain other people’ in government were not neutral. With the JRP out, he wanted to ask the people of Kitimat if they supported Northern Gateway. He wanted people to read the long document. He wanted to go with one question, he wanted the question to be broad rather than narrow and he wanted to reference the joint review process.

Councillor Rob Goffinet suggested that portions of the motion be cut. “We would be accused of: ‘You must be kidding.’ This is like the referendum debate in Quebec on steroids. It must be a clear, easily understood question that has no nuances,” said Goffinet.

Goffinet pointed out a person at the poll would question whether or not they are commenting to Council on their opinion on the Northern Gateway Project or asked to analyze the proposal. He stated he would vote against it in favour of a clear ballot, a clear choice and people would be able to get informed about the project.

He expressed the people of Kitimat are aware of what the project is and know if they supported the JRP or not. He felt this was muddying the water and Council would be accused of creating a confusing ballot.

Feldhoff decided to remove wording ‘on the whole’ to find common ground. Councillor Corinne Scott stated she felt the motion was still confusing because of the section on the JRP.

Germuth reminded Council the 209 recommendations are recommendations with no guarantee that any one of them would take place. He just wanted to know if people were in favour of the project or not. Scott did not think the government would take conditions out.

Goffinet pointed out the average voter will not have read the 209 conditions prior to the poll. He added the motion was worded in a manner as to keep one side from coming out on top.

“When I put my name forward on the next ballot, I want Rob Goffinet, I don’t want any mention about my heritage, my long life, my pension account, how much money I make and my authority in the church. That is background information that will be good to know. All of that is what an informed voter will access,” said Goffinet.

He told Council the proponents and opponents would campaign based on the questions and could confuse the voter even more. He asked for the easier question, so the voter could get the information. He said there were very few people in town who did not have a point of view.

Councillor Edwin Empinado stated this project has gone through the experts and now is in the hands of the politicians. The Experts were certified and Council does not have their expertise. He stated the spirit of the motion was to open discussion. He wanted to know what the towns concerns were. He stated members of Council were opposed and some were for it.

“The people are divided, but do we want to divide the town again? Yes/no? I want to see each group come to the table, locally, because Provincially, Federally, we have no control but locally, we have. That’s why I always ask, what are we trying to achieve, how does this affect? How does this influence? Do we have influence? We know, right from the very start, how many municipalities around us have said no. And then the JRP Decision, still there. I can add, accept that, but even though I can say no or yes, I still have concerns because there are things that really concern us,” said Empinado.

He stated he wanted a continuous discussion. Germuth stated the motion was still complicated. The amendment passed and three words were dropped from the motion.

Goffinet pointed out there were still around fifty words on the ballot. He wanted to keep it to six words: ‘Northern Gateway, be, approved… question mark.’ He told Empinado the ballot forces the discussion which he desires.

“I still think this is very confusing. Maybe we should have a plebiscite on what the question should be,” said Germuth. Feldhoff stated his motion was not confusing.

The motion was called and carried with Councillor Mary Murphy, Councillor Edwin Empinado, Councillor Mario Feldhoff and Mayor Joanne Monaghan in favour.

Councillor Phil Germuth proposed the simple question with yes, no or undecided as possible answers. Councillor Mario Feldhoff vetoed it. “Point of order, that is covering ground that we have covered. We have new ground to cover Madam Mayor. To cover the same ground that we just voted is counterproductive,” said Feldhoff.

He suggested they have a yes, no or undecided response to the plebiscite. Monaghan disagreed as there are people who are in favour of the project and who are opposed to the project. She stated three choices would be confusing and not get the answer the Council wants. Murphy agreed. The motion was called and carried.

Councillor Corinne Scott looked over the other options which staff gave Council. She stated these questions were possible. She suggested they try and get as much information out of it as possible within reason. Goffinet highlighted several questions, but pointed out hypothetical questions would confuse the matter more. He said the question was already confusing and he did not want to muddy it further. Feldhoff said he wanted to consider a second question about adding value to materials for export. He felt they have the essence of what was needed.

Scott stated she liked some of the secondary questions. Feldhoff moved a tabling motion to have staff come back and it was called and carried.

As the meeting drew to a close, there were two points raised from the gallery to Council. The first point is: it is possible for a person who is in favour of the pipeline to put no as an answer because they may disagree with there being 209 recommendations made by the JRP and want less.

The second point is: it is possible for someone who is opposed to the project for reasons not part of the JRP mandate to be stuck between yes or no for agreeing with the report and the conditions but not the project.
Comment by rick on 20th January 2014
just another one ,who slipped threw the cracks of the education system... must have been one in your class. at least i know right from wrong and it didn`t take money to swing my vote. not like many others in this town.... it`s who you no ,and who ya blow for profits ....glad you still have yours on. keep goinggggggggggggg.good luck have many followers. maybe you should become a sales rep for knee pads.. there,i checked spelling.....hope its satisfactary for your reading.
Hey Rick
Comment by Teacher on 19th January 2014
Did you attain a degree in literature?
Time for Council to Grow a Pair
Comment by Campion on 18th January 2014
When I vote for any candidate running for election I look at what they stand up for and what their values are.
I have never voted for a candidate in any election whose values and beliefs are gathered from public opinion.
It’s time for each Councillor and the Mayor to speak up on this issue as an elected official.
We the residents of Kitimat will decide on where future Kitimat’s Councils stance is on the Northern Gateway Pipeline in the next Municipal Election by voting for candidates who support what our values and beliefs are.
A Plebiscite is a waste of my tax dollars, we elect our public officials to make decisions
Council grow a pair and make the decision by a vote
Rick Costain
David Suzuki
Comment by rick on 17th January 2014
says ,if Japan has a another earth quake, it could take out Japan and the north coast here. so... those of you ,made decision on everyone behalf. do your dam research... Kitimat will be whiped off the map and them Canada will have one hell of a mess to clean up... poor choices will cost thousands there lives. who the hell are you to decide for the people. this is a complete shammmmmmmm . i guess science is wrong... i think, it should be up the scientist, and environment, who monitor the earth crust....... just goes to show who you are..... a dam nobody.
Comment by Ford on 16th January 2014
Is the government interested in our opinion? Will our plebiscite affect government decision? I don't think so. All that talk is a waste of time and plebiscite is a waste of money. And I agree with Germuth Council does not have courage and guts.
Same old same old
Comment by linda halyk on 15th January 2014
Shouldn't the motion have been to make up a question for the plebiscite.
Same old same old. One councillor still running the show, and to few to stop the show, or to few to care, or to afraid to rock the boat. The people of Kitimat voted these people in to do what is best for the whole of the community not for a few big corporations, or a small clique.
Time to hold them accountable at the next election.
Try this question?
Comment by Apocalypse now on 14th January 2014
Are you in favor of Northern gateway and the JRP endorsement and the 209 conditions set forth if It means you will be tossed out of your rental apartment and your property taxes will double and the air you breath will be bad for you ,and your water could end up undrinkable? Yes or no
Comment by Rory Brown on 14th January 2014
Another thing.
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 14th January 2014
Donny is sounding more like his mentor Roger Harris every day.
Concerned resident of Kitimat
Comment by . on 14th January 2014
I am only making an observation here but I think many people would agree that although Mr. Feldhoff speaks of council staying neutral it is obvious where he stands on the pipeline to Kitimat. It is his right to chose but as a council member and our rep he should keep his personal decisions separate. Should he not be representing us, the residents of Kitimat? Hats off to Mr. Germuth for his ideas despite the very unprofessional heckling from Feldhoff. Bottom line is let's get this thing going and I hope the results are made public right away.