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REPORTING · 21st January 2014
Walter McFarlane
Kitimat City Council had a large portion of their meeting dedicated to the question to be asked by the Plebiscite at their Regular Meeting of Council on Monday, January 20th. They saw 9 presentations concerning this topic.

Glen Stenson presented to Council first. “I have spent the last few days perusing the wording of this proposed plebiscite, and I believe I’m of average intelligence but I’ve a hard time making sense of the wording. The best I’ve been able to come up with is it’s trying to get approval for the JRP Process. This makes no sense as the JRP was, in my opinion, a flawed process,” said Stenson.

He told Council the report had no power. They could make recommendations but, in his opinion, it will be ignored by the Federal Government. He told Council the motion should have been tabled for further discussion.

He suggested a simple question would have been better, such as: ‘Do you approve of the Northern Gateway Project?’ He added it would mean the average person would not have to read a 500 page document.

The next presenter was Sylvia DeSousa. “I know that as Mayor and Council, you are used to this type of language. But, I feel, for the general population, it is confusing, and intimidating, as well as a little long winded. So much could be read into this question. I am wondering, if at all possible, if this question could be simplified or, if this motion could even be rescinded,” said DeSousa.

She stated the plebiscite should be a concise question with a yes or no answer, she pointed out if anyone was undecided at this point in time, they would not come out to vote. Third, she wanted to know how much the plebiscite was going to cost. Finally, she wanted to know what Council would do with those results.

She reminded Council it was not binding. However, she asked Council what they would do if the result was a resounding no, or a resounding yes. Would they take a position.

Councillor Mary Murphy asked what DeSousa wanted with a binding question. DeSousa replied if it were binding, Council would stick with it and represent the community with the point of view. Murphy asked if she wanted Council to take Enbridge to Court.

“No, just that the Council would really be firm on where they stood in regards to this issue, in regards to Enbridge and the Joint Review Panel’s Decision,” said DeSousa. Goffinet expressed the Municipal Government could not affect a higher level of government. He wanted to know what she wanted them to do.

DeSousa reminded Council the Councils of Terrace, Smithers and Rupert have taken a stand and a position. Feldhoff expressed in his opinion, the communities made their decisions before the Joint Review Panel finished their process. He said this was unfortunate, but Council will debate their position after the results of the Plebiscite.

Murphy said they will take this under consideration.

David McRae was the next to speak. “It’s my feeling that it should adhere to the following criteria. 1: Only one question should appear on the ballot. 2: That one question should be clear and concise for its intended purpose. 3: To avoid confusion, the question should be as simple, as short as possible. 4: The question should require a simple yes or no answer. The question I have in mind would read as follows: Are you in favour of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project?”

He explained this was a concise question and would produce a concise answer. He said there was no multiple interpretations derived from it. McRae expressed the question could be interpreted multiple ways by multiple people. He expressed he was uncomfortable with the direction Council was taking with the lengthy, compound questions.

“The way the current plebiscite question is worded, you would be asking the people of Kitimat to do the same thing as the JRP did. That is, to toss aside the fears and founded concerns of the 9000 people that took the time and effort to write letters and attend the hearings. The JRP had no trouble in tossing aside these fears and concerns because, in their view, they did not fall into the very narrow mandate the JRP was bound by. I find it less than forthright to include such content in our Plebiscite Question,” said McRae.

He told Council what they were doing by muddying the waters was Political Obfuscation and he did not want Kitimat to venture down the past. He added the refinery proposal should be left for future referendums as it is a separate question. He suggested a show of hands at a town hall meeting would give them a cheaper response.

There were two presenters next, Walter Thorne and Dennis Horwood from the Kitimat Valley Naturalists Association. Horwood spoke first.

Horwood stated he poured through the documents and preparing evidence. “Although I spoke to the Joint Review Panel, the subject was always the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project,” said Horwood. “I feel Council’s Proposed Question is confusing, wordy and speaks more to a report than to the project itself.”

He said his evidence spoke to the benefits or the flaws and shortcomings of the project. The evidence was not about the hearing process or a ‘mythical’ refinery.

“The topic of the Northern Gateway Project has been in front of us for over two years. Newspapers, editorials, national news, local news, public forums and community advisory boards, Kitimat residents have had more than ample time to hear both sides of the debate. In my opinion, it is no longer ok to sit on the fence and say, well, I’m still not decided. The option of being undecided is no longer an option,” said Horwood.

He told Council the question should be simple, to the point with little wiggle room. Horwood said it should be: “are you in favour of the Enbridge, Northern Gateway Project, yes or no.”

Thorne stated he brought a prop, the longer of the Enbridge Reports. He stated Northern Gateway has been before Kitimat for 7 years. They have been dealing with it forever. “There has been a huge debate near and far, recorded testimonials, research proceedings now number in millions of pages, believe it or not,” said Thorne.

He told Council he presented to the JRP on five occasions.

“In Kitimat, Information and Misinformation abounds. We have all heard enough. Kitimat with its residents on the front line of this project needs to have a straight forward question with no room for slippage. ‘Are we in Favour of the Northern Gateway Project, yes or no,’” said Thorne.

His suggestion to Council was the question had to be simple, as history had taught them.

Peter Ponter stepped up next to present to Council. “I’d like to get a clear understanding from Mayor and Council of their intentions in regards to this Plebiscite,” said Ponter. “I believe each of you is trying to do the right thing.”

He told Council how they came to the neutral position over three years ago to participate in the Joint Review Panel, to learn and understand if the project will be beneficial to Kitimat, the Northwest and BC. The motion has not been rescinded or recommended.

When Council was pressed on the position, Feldhoff chose to follow the JRP. He asked Council what they did to represent the interests of Kitimat in the Joint Review Panel. He stated the District of Kitimat had the opportunity to participate but could not see any participation.

He added there was a letter from Mario Feldhoff presenting his personal comments. He expressed the letter speaks the sum of Council’s actions and read a few passages from it. Ponter recommended it as it expressed opinion varied in Kitimat. In his letter, he suggested the JRP release a draft to the community so Council could survey the community about whether or not they are in agreement with the JRP prior to the final decision.

“’The assessment of environmental risks and inadequacy of measures to address those risks are very important to our community’s future. I believe that the prevailing community sentiment is that a project be allowed to proceed only if the can be demonstrated to do so in a safe fashion. The Material risk has been eliminated,’” read Ponter from Mario’s letter.

He asked Mayor and Council what input they put in regards to the positions. He stated undecided was not an answer. He suggested Council should use this to make a decision. He said the Council should bind their decision to this plebiscite.

Like the others, he stated he wanted a simple question on the Plebiscite with a yes or no answer.

Jack Riddle was the final presenter who was scheduled to speak. He told Council he has been looking into Enbridge. He said there have been numerous visits from the Joint Review Panel and everyone has spoken except the District of Kitimat. He stated it was too late, the JRP was finished.

He asked why they were having the Plebiscite. Monaghan stated it was because the Council wanted to know what the people thought of it. Riddle said he has seen their reactions and know which way everyone in Council would vote. He has seen their reactions to speakers. He stated most people have a good idea. He suggested Councillors come out and tell the community what they think of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project.

Monaghan stated she thought the Councillors were waiting for the results of the Survey. Riddle reminded Council there was an election coming up. The gallery broke out into applause. Riddle began his next thought but Councillor Mario Feldhoff interrupted.

“Thank you Mr. Riddle, you were a candidate in the last election were you not?” said Feldhoff.

“I was not lucky,” replied Riddle.

“We spent more than 50% of all candidates debate answering questions individually about what our view points were… and I guess I shouldn’t be debating with you. I take your input,” said Feldhoff.

Riddle stated this is not easy. “But if we have a plebiscite now, it could divide the community, is really what it could do. If you have the plebiscite, are you going to tell the people what the results were?” asked Riddle.

Monaghan stated they will make it public.

There was some debate over Council procedure. Goffinet explained the point of the Plebiscite. “We’re attempting to follow out to the letter, those motions of two years ago,” said Goffinet.

One more presenter wished to speak on the Plebiscite, Patricia Lange. “I just want to say that the Plebiscite Question is convoluted and it appears biased to me. Although I am not a member of an environmental group, I would suggest that the wording of the question be put together by somebody from the Douglas Channel Watch and somebody that’s a proponent of this project so the community can see the question is not biased,” said Lange.

She discouraged Council from putting other questions on the plebiscite, particularly those relating to hypothetical oil and gas projects. She stated she had thought Council would stay neutral until they found out what the community wanted, as opposed to the JRP which was supposed to be scientific. She asked Council to act on behalf of the community and stand for the community and represent the community as a yes or a no. She expressed concern with temporary construction workers voting.

Lange asked what Council was going to do with the result of the vote. “Because if you’re not going to make a stand on behalf of the community, then I don’t see a point to having that question even asked.

There were two other items on the agenda relating to the plebiscite but those stories will be told at another time. To put a long meeting short… Council would spend the rest of the plebiscite discussion going nowhere.
Why
Comment by Vern on 22nd January 2014
I just do not understand the need for a plebiscite, it is well known how people feel about the project and we elected the Mayor and Council to represent us. They should just take a stand on the issue, but no they would rather waste time and tax dollars in an effort to cover themselves.
plebiscite
Comment by bill franklin on 22nd January 2014
When voting, I suggest we put our own question on the ballet...
Do you approve of the Northern Gateway Project
Yes or No
no small matter
Comment by A concerned citizen on 21st January 2014
I don't know if it was just me or is our Council so dysfunctional that one Council member is permitted to insult a presenter without being taken to task by the Chair, and another is almost incoherent.

Councilor Feldhoff took it upon himself to address a presenter that was NOT in favour of the wording of the plebiscite, reminding him that he he had run in the last election. I guess he was suggesting that because he HAD run and lost.."not lucky" that he somehow wasn't to be offering comment. The Chair should have ensured a apology was immediate. But...nothing. If I follow the logic in this, Councilor Feldhoff will not be attending any Council meetings when he is no longer on Council?

Councilor Empinado went off on a tangent that was an unintelligible mish mash, all the while trying to explain why he wouldn't support a motion. I will assume he knew what he was trying to say, but I don't the foggiest notion.