Nanaimo council’s decision to forego a referendum on borrowing $22.5 million toward a $65-million water treatment plant isn’t the best move for residents.
By reversing its earlier decision and going with a summer counter-petition (now formally referred to as an ‘alternate approval process’), council is stacking the deck in favour of the direction it wants to go – borrowing.
The counter-petition process requires 10-per cent of eligible electors to sign in opposition of the borrowing, while a referendum would require a full voting process tied to the November municipal election.
The idea that a referendum would be a hollow democratic exercise, since the city was mandated by the Vancouver Island Health Authority to step up its treatment process, doesn’t hold water.
It’s true that the situation sets up a most unusual referendum and voters could easily be mistaken into thinking their vote is on whether to build the plant.
The onus is therefore on the city to undertake an appropriate and effective education campaign (just as should be done with a counter-petition) to ensure citizens know what they’re really voting on – whether to raise the necessary $22.5 million through borrowing or through increasing water rates, which would have to double for several years to raise the required amount.
Concerned citizens should take note that while council is looking to borrow the money, it could just as easily have gone straight to doubled water rates and foregone the current debate.
It’s the plan to borrow that necessitates the public process.
While it’s abundantly clear that borrowing is ultimately the better and more cost-effective route for taxpayers, those same taxpayers should be given the best opportunity to make their own minds and then live with their decision.