A plea for civility in Wakefield, Quebec

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by admin on July 8, 2009

By David Morgan

I think Ms Kathleen Clarkin made a couple of very good points in the letter posted in the last edition of the Low Down (Valley Voice, “Don’t let connected few decide for Wakefield, Quebec”): First, that working on a community plan involves an inherent tension between private and public interest, and that it is very hard to separate these; and second, in her specific suggestion on how to balance private and public interest in the case of Vorlage lands.

All of us who worked on the PPU, and all who contribute to Wakefield in so many other ways, do so because “it is in our personal interest” to help create a Wakefield we and our children will want to live in. It is inherently difficult to separate private and public interest, and very easy to get the balance off.  This is harder yet when engaged in a process, the premise of which is that “we can’t just let things unfold as they will”.

We are explicitly engaged in a public enterprise that will have impacts on private decisions: that is actually the point of the whole PPU exercise. We are in the realm of the “how” do we do this, rather than “should” we do this, from the get go.

That is why everyone was publicly invited to apply to the Advisory Committee, why applicants were assessed on their merits, why we tried to build on the work that had been done before, why our work was put out for consultation, and will continue to be challenged and consulted, and why Council alone can determine whether to accept the Advisory Committee’s advice, the staging of implementation, etc.

 As regards suggestions in the PPU that impact on specific people / properties, we made a point of having the municipal planner at the consultations so people could address their particular issues directly. For Vorlage lands, we went beyond this, inviting the owner to a “pre-consultation”. And at that meeting, Mr. Saunders himself suggested then, rather than designating much of his property as “Natural Conservation”, it could be described as subject to particular bylaws (PIIAs) as had been done for other sensitive properties / areas: it was a suggestion “on the merits”, dispassionately conveyed, in an effort to get the public-private balance better. For what it’s worth, it strikes me as an elegant solution too. I am sure there are other things that can be improved, and look forward to people being engaged to make the product better.

But can I ask that when we think about Wakefield’s future, and when we talk about the PPU and more generally, that we do as Mr. Saunders did, i.e., start by assuming people are acting in good faith, are trying their best to get a difficult balance right – but might have goofed – and that a civil discourse is possible and preferable?

After all, we are all neighbours.

 

David Morgan

Member, PPU Advisory Committee