Consider the impact of a split vote


by admin on June 17, 2009

The Editor,

A referendum, by its very nature, divides communities: there are only two sides. The “no” campaign attempted to introduce a third option: slow down and engage in a real dialogue with the community. That the result of the referendum was so close (despite heavy campaigning by the “yes” side, and very limited public education-oriented activity by the “no” side) suggests that the community has a lot of concerns about the proposal, and a lot of alternative ideas as well.

So, what are the lessons learned?

1.  Consultation means more than a municipal survey with a small response rate. The limited response to the municipality’s 2007 survey on spending priorities in connection with its 10 year budget forecast, which put the community centre at the bottom of the priority list, should have triggered a much more careful analysis of community wants and needs in connection with plans for a community centre.

2.  Inclusiveness: Community centres need to include the whole community. The Meredith Centre has almost nothing to offer seniors – and seniors were strongly represented at the polling stations.  There is no provision for cultural activities, although early discussions had included this. There is no youth centre (not all youth play hockey). Budgets and volunteers are limited: there will not be an opportunity for major investments in additional community infrastructure for some time. What have we lost?

3. Where do we go from here? As an “observatrice” on the two polling days, I appreciated the opportunity to engage with my counterparts from the “other” side of the campaign.  We tended to agree that there remain a lot of unknowns about the financial details of the Meredith Centre; that the centre leaves out some important groups, and that, most importantly, Chelsea residents needed to have much more opportunity to consider options. 

This, then, is the charge for the Chelsea Foundation and Chelsea Municipal Council: take some time to reflect on the very nearly split vote on the Meredith Centre. What do the results say about the community’s social and cultural needs – seemingly, much more than sports. Consider the very real fears of those on fixed incomes and the self-employed whose pensions and businesses have been hurt by the economic crisis. How will they absorb not just the tax increase associated with the community centre, but a host of additional expenses that we can anticipate with Chelsea’s rapidly growing suburban community (policing, water and sewerage treatment; road construction and repair, for example)? 

Heather Gibb