Chelsea, Quebec needs to give citizens greater say in decision-making

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by admin on March 23, 2011

By Allison Stoddart and Claire McNeil

 

One of the main benefits of living in a small municipality is the opportunity for involvement in decisions that will affect the community. The Chelsea, Quebec municipal council is in the midst of making decisions for a number of major projects, including proposed infrastructure related to sewage and water systems in Old Chelsea, the Meredith Centre and a number of development proposals.

Mayor Green and council supported the Visioning process, they have been willing to meet with citizens and small local groups on these issues, and held a number of information sharing meetings.

However, these opportunities do not absolve them of responsibility for continued engagement, nor do they represent a commitment to meaningful public participation. The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) lists the following core values for true participatory process:

 

1. It is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.

2. It includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision.

3. It promotes sustainable decisions by recognizing and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.
4. It seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision.

5. It seeks input from participants in designing how they participate.

6. It provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.
7. It communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.

 

While it is great to have a mayor who takes time for informal chats with citizens, what we really need is a comprehensive approach to laying out the proposed projects (all of them together!), mapping out their potential implications, and deciding what we want together (i.e., not by breaking up projects to provide limited decision opportunities to certain groups such as developers).

We can’t pass off the visioning exercise as having accomplished this, as it didn’t and wasn’t intended to. The PPU exercise might have done this but is off the books right now.

We encourage the mayor and council to investigate resources such as the IAP2 website to learn more about effective and meaningful public participation. This may help them understand where the frustration and sense of disempowerment echoing through this community is coming from.

There is an incredible opportunity to engage the diverse, talented and intelligent citizens of Chelsea, and put them to work in shaping the future we envisioned, if mayor and council are willing to give them a voice in the decision-making.

 

Allison Stoddart and Claire McNeil are residents of Chelsea, Quebec.