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Paying lip service to public input

Elmira Independent Editorial

There is a disturbing trend that can be easily seen from a few items on this week’s council agenda.

The first item involves the province’s current round in the Feed in Tariff (FIT) program, in which applicants for green energy projects can gain valuable project points if they gain municipal approval for the project.

The only problem is that the deadline for municipal approval is Jan. 18. At least one applicant, Woolwich Bio-En proponent Chuck Martin, claims that he was informed of this deadline on Dec. 14, giving him only 35 days to develop a proposal, seek municipal approval, and submit an application.

The premise of this approval process is that it would allow municipalities to have input on the projects —something that was sadly lacking in the first round of FIT.

Yet, given the tight turnaround, it is quite fair to say that municipal input — at least, any meaningful kind — is not really being sought. It is the illusion of input, and nothing more.

Councillors had their first look at some proposals at this week’s council meeting. They will not have enough time to review at least one of the proposals prior to the Jan. 18 deadline, and will likely give another — a diversion of heat and excess biogas from the planned Woolwich Bio-En digester — a cursory look at best.

It is a similar tale when we look at Ontario Lottery and Gaming’s proposal to expand its presence in southwestern Ontario, by bringing a mega-casino boasting 1,200 slot machines and 57 gaming tables to this area.

The presentation on the “modernization” of gambling was made in council chambers in late November. While the OLG did not give firm deadlines on when they needed to know the township’s position on the proposal, it was made quite clear that sooner would be better than later.

And so the township rushed into a postcard and online campaign, seeking input from township residents by the unrealistic deadline of Dec. 21, just days before the Christmas holidays.

At this week’s council meeting, councillors heard complaints that not every household received a card, and that residents were unable to register votes for every member of the household, when they attempted to vote online.

In the end, the input from the public will be limited, due both to the poor timing, and the lack of time the township had to develop a method to ensure all residents would have a chance to register their votes on such a serious matter.

Both these stories highlight what happens when a municipality is forced to follow the schedule dictated by a provincial government that has seemingly no understanding of how much time and energy is required to provide input on matters of such great importance — not to mention the difficulty of making decisions during a time period in which there are traditionally few council meetings.

And yet, we know the province does indeed know how to set its own timetable, when it is in charge of a project. Highway 7 comes to mind.

It is inherently unfair for the province to seek input from municipalities on a timetable that is unreasonable, and all it does is make us come to this conclusion — the province really doesn’t care at all about what we think, regardless of its attempts to make us believe it does.

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