Nanaimo thinks twice about Blue Community designation

Councillor says council moved too quickly on decision without considering implications of vote.

A hasty decision in March to designate Nanaimo as a Blue Community left elected officials scrambling to repeal the decision Monday.

After a delegation of representatives by the Mid-Island Chapter of the Council of Canadians appealed to council on March 26 to encourage official designation of Nanaimo as a Blue Community, Coun. Bill Bestwick made the motion to do so.

It was quickly approved by council.

To become a Blue Community, council resolved to recognize water as a human right, promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services, and ban the sale of bottled water in public facilities and a municipal events.

The latter aspect caused council to backtrack.

“I don’t think council was all that sure that they voted on designation as a Blue Community because the motion that went through wasn’t very clear regarding what was happening at that time,” said Coun. George Anderson, who rescinded the motion. “We thought we were voting on a report that said what the implications were and not that we wanted to become a Blue Community.”

By designating Nanaimo a Blue Community, city staff would have had to renegotiate its vending machine contract with Pepsi to eliminate bottled water from city facilities.

“It’s not impossible, but it would take time,” said Al Kenning, city manager.

Sales from city vending machines for bottled water are estimated at $8,500.

“I’m not too concerned about the impact banning bottled water will have on revenue,” said Bestwick, adding sales of other drinks would increase to help offset the losses.

The move would also ban the sale of bottled water at municipal events, including festivals hosted on municipal property, such as the dragon boat festival and bathtub races, something Coun. Diana Johnstone, who is also the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission chairwoman, said she had reservations about.

“I’m worried about over-legislation at community events,” she said.

According to the Blue Communities guideline for municipalities that support the program, cities should ensure access to tap water by installing and maintaining drinking water, promote the value of municipal water through education campaigns and protect and improve the quality of municipal tap water.

It would cost the city about $5,000 to upgrade and improve existing fountains, though that estimate does not include installing water fountains at all city-owned parks and recreational facilities.

After council rescinded its commitment to Blue Communities, Anderson made a motion to direct staff to report to council the implications of the three resolutions required to become a Blue Community and the full costs regarding banning the sale of bottle water at city facilities and public events and upgrading facilities to include drinking water stations.

Council passed that motion, though Coun. Diane Brennan voted against it, suggesting it would be a waste of time to work on a report that states drinking water is a human right.

“I’m not sure I need a report on whether water is a human right, in fact, I know I don’t,” Brennan said. “I think that’s a waste of staff’s time and we’ve already endorsed the concept that we want to keep water supply public.”

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