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STAHN: Can council really keep their mouths shut during Ajax delegations?

January 16, 2016 - 6:30 AM

The intent is great: Give everyone a voice. But in practicality I think council was unrealistic in deciding to reopen council meeting delegations to discussions about the proposed Ajax Mine.

Council delegations have been closed to Ajax-specific talk since 2013, when council of the day decided to cut it off until the application was submitted, which at the time was supposed to be later that year. After a couple years of delays, KGHM Ajax Mining is finally filing its application on Jan. 18 and some councillors want the public to once again be able to speak about the project at meetings, at least during the six-month review period.

That will likely mean more of the same. It’s often the same groups speaking for and against the mine bringing up the same arguments — more jobs, poor air quality, no dust, lots of dust, et cetera. After being shut down at council, they found other ways to be heard though — rallies, social media, open houses, emails, stopping people on the street, and many other creative, and not very creative, outlets.

Do they really need one more venue? Will it add any value to the conversation? Apparently five councillors believe it will. Those five councillors are also the ones who either A) have been very vocal against the mine, or B) are very pro-public engagement and always think more is better.

I hope the public proves me and the council members against the idea wrong and is able to bring something new to the debate, but I doubt it. More than 500 different types of questions were submitted to the city during a public input session last year. Those questions are meant to cover off concerns people have about the proposed mine so the consulting company hired by the city, and paid for by KGHM, can review the 18,000-page application and help council come to a conclusion about whether to support the mine or not.

A lot of time and effort has already been put into this piece of the puzzle. But what some people keep forgetting is that while council can support or not support the mine, that decision means nothing. At all. Council is being asked as a courtesy. The province may or may not actually care about what the city has to say. Ultimately the Environmental Assessment Office will decide whether to approve the application. Not city council.

That aside, the most interesting part of the whole hour-long discussion was the fact that even after nearly two hours of discussing Ajax-related items on Tuesday, some councillors actually believe they will be able to keep delegations down to 20 minutes total, 10 for the presentation and 10 for council to ask questions of the delegate. As Coun. Marg Spina pointed out, many on council tend to be a bit longer winded than that.

I’m hoping council won’t become a gong show of pro and anti groups yelling at each other. I’m hoping council will be able to keep from talking more than they agreed to. I’m hoping other important city business won’t get sidelined by unnecessary Ajax talk in council chambers.

I’m hoping by the end of this, no matter what happens, council can make what they feel is a sound decision based on the information put in front of them, not just the opinions on either side of the table. I’m sure that debate will be one of their longest on record.

To contact a reporter, email Jennifer Stahn at jstahn@infonews.ca or call 250-819-3723. To contact an editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
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Tags: Ajax Mine

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