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REPORTING · 24th January 2014
Walter McFarlane
On Monday, January 20th, Kitimat City Council had spent an hour and a half on the Plebiscite question already, but they were not done. There were a series of questions which they were considering asking on this non-binding referendum.

Councillor Corinne Scott made a motion to have Council discuss them now rather than later. This was called and carried. Councillor Phil Germuth made a rather ominous motion, which you can read about in the next installment of this article.

Scott suggested they should debate what they plan to do with the results of the plebiscite so it is clear to the public what they plan to do with it. Then, they should discuss questions. She pointed out there was a reading assignment attached to the plebiscite. “How can people support the reports final recommendations if they have not read the report,” said Scott.

She also asked Council, based on a quote from Janet Holder about how Enbridge is working to understand the conditions as well, how the people of Kitimat can be asked to understand the conditions if Enbridge does not understand them.

Finally, she wanted to know what percentages of voter turnout would be an indicator of what the public wants Council to do. Feldhoff stated this was a completely separate debate for a future meeting. In the meantime he wanted to look at the questions rather than cloud the waters.

Goffinet agreed, they should look at what is in front of them.

Scott wanted to talk about whether or not the public if their opinion would change if the project if it were linked to a value added refinery. Feldhoff said he would only support the motion if it read: would you support if the project if it were linked to a value added refinery.

Germuth stated he was against the question because the project had nothing to do with a refinery. He reminded Council Black’s proposal was separate.

Scott suggested changing the question to appease Feldhoff, as she was never in favour of shipping out raw material. Goffinet agreed with Germuth.

“Are you in favour of a project, if it is a project which it is not,” said Goffinet. “That is absolutely impossible to put on a ballot.”

He expressed that without prejudice, the question should be: Are you in favour of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. He pointed out Enbridge has been coming to Kitimat for over 6 years defining their project, a pipeline, loading facility and export facility.

Goffinet pointed out that the question was an argument against Northern Gateway as it is presently constituted and this should be a judgement the people make. “We can’t put a make believe question that the project if it is something different than it is. It would be totally unfair to Northern Gateway,” said Goffinet.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan cut him off because he had been talking longer than she would allow.

Germuth made a motion to strike the question. Feldhoff said he thought it was a good question at first, but has now changed his mind. Council was told they do not have to motion to strike the question from the plebiscite, they could just move on. The motion was called and carried.

Council was informed at this time, something which should have come up earlier in the meeting. While it’s true they could rescind the motion, reconsidering a motion was a part of the legislative process.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff made a motion to remove the question asking people where their concerns were. “Clearly what we do is not going to be universally accepted by everyone, but having one question, I think hit upon a number of comments which were made earlier, the essence of question number three is incorporated into the question we agreed to with a split vote at a previous motion,” said Feldhoff.

The motion was called and carried.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff made a motion to strike the questions made by Councillor Scott.

As a part of an earlier motion, Scott had suggested several questions for discussion. They are as follows: Are you in favour of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. Have you read the Joint Review Panels report? Do you support the final recommendation of approval with conditions by the Joint Review Panel of the National Energy Board? Is your concern if any, more marine based, pipeline based both. Do you think this project will benefit Kitimat?

Feldhoff expressed first question, the third question and the final were already incorporated into his question. “I’m willing to support that one question we have moving forward and not ask additional questions at this time,” said Feldhoff.

Scott agreed on several points. She stated she wanted to have both the question posed by Feldhoff and the question: ‘Do you support the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline?’ as a part of the survey because Feldhoff’s question talks about a report.

Germuth agreed, but wanted project to be asked rather than pipeline. “If people can’t answer the first question we gave them, about JRP recommendation and all that, they might just forget that question all together and answer this one,” said Germuth.

Both talked about whether or not they agreed with the phrase, yes no or undecided. Feldhoff suggested they decide upon this part first and then revisit the undecided. He reminded Council that his question was not about people voting on the final decision of the Joint Review Panel, they are voting on the results of the JRP. Councillor Edwin Empinado agreed with Feldhoff.

Goffinet agreed with Germuth about wordsmithing the question. Scott agreed with striking questions 2, 3 and 4, and pointed out that Feldhoff appeared to be moving towards a one question plebiscite. She did not know if someone who was against the project would benefit Kitimat.

“Realistically, if the people in the community and if we thought about it, any industrial project is going to benefit Kitimat in the way of taxation, that type of thing. We’re always trying to have businesses come to the community and we’re trying to increase our industrial tax base and tax assessment. That’s why, when I put this question in there, do you think it will benefit Kitimat. It’s a matter of, will it benefit our tax base. I like that question,” said Scott.

For number one, she argued the question they have relates to the Joint Review Panel report and not to whether or not the community supports the project.

Goffinet looked at the question and stated it looked like a leading question. He suggested it the opposite way: “Do you think this project will ruin Kitimat or ruin the environment of Kitimat.”

“Hold it. This project is a huge thing. It has a lot of benefits and a lot of risks. What you are asking is: ‘yes or no, on the whole, does the benefits outweigh the risks or do the risks outpace the benefits. There is benefits, without prejudice is how I would vote. There is benefit that can be seen in each project, somewhere, of course. If I vote for a project, I don’t just look at the jewels, I look at the big picture and I make a final analysis. Do the risks, or the non-benefits outweigh the benefits,” asked Goffinet.

He argued question number one could be dispensed with if they can reconsider the wording. If they take questions one to five and reworked the wording it might be better, because there were people on Council who did not wish to change the wording.

Council was told there were reconsideration motions for the Mayor. It could come back at the next meeting for reconsideration. Council could later reconsider a motion without having to rescind. It was well within what they can do and the staff can make it work.

Scott asked to split the question of what to strike. Question one was called and was struck. Councillor Corinne Scott almost immediately voted how Councillor Phil Germuth voted against it. However, he said there was another motion coming. By now, most of the room was laughing at Council, while they tried to determine what they were voting on.

They moved on and the second, third fourth and fifth questions were struck.

Scott put forward a motion to ask: ‘Are you in favour of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, yes or no.’ Feldhoff stated he was against the motion.

“I believe the question that we worded previously might not be perfect in the eyes of everyone, but it is a good question that incorporates the very question being proposed. I believe that it is incorporated into the existing question. Personally, I’ve moved a lot tonight,” said Feldhoff.

He stated he came to the meeting wanting multiple questions, but now liked where they were with one question.

Germuth stated he would vote in favour of the proposed motion out of respect of people who do not understand Feldhoff’s question. He added also said he was in favour of one question, so long as it was this one question.

“Clearly, the public has come to us and said, that is a confusing question. It’s going to cause problems. I don’t want to vote to come back, there are people who are going to say: ‘I didn’t understand that.’ I want it to be so simple so there is no misunderstanding or anything,” said Germuth.

Goffinet stated the council should understand how confusing nuances in questions like this are and gave them some examples. He hoped to get the point of a simple question.

Scott stated it was an attempt to add a second question to the plebiscite. “I think that with the number of emails we have received, the people who have taken their time to come and let us know that they found the original question confusing. They are asking us to keep it simple. The first question is fine. It’s talking about the support of the report. The second question, are you in favour of the project, I think is very important to add that second question to the plebiscite,” said Scott.

The motion was called and it failed. Germuth, Scott and Goffinet in favour.

Feldhoff suggested making the original question just yes or no. He asked the Council how they felt about this. Goffinet stated he was willing to strike undecided as an option. Scott stated she was not going to because it was just the one question. However, if the question was straight forward, they would drop undecided. Goffinet agreed.

There were no further questions so they concluded they were done. However, there was one question which we did not touch upon in this article. It was at this time, Council decided to get into it.