The “NO” side won the referendum ….

On Saturday,November 15, 2014, the answer to the question posed to the City of Prince George electorate, “Are you in favour of the City of Prince George fluoridating its water supply?”, was NO.

The referendum was non-binding rather than an assent vote based on a bylaw such as was conducted in Cranbrook and Sparwood. As a result, some people in Prince George seem to wish to reopen the debate. For example, there are over 90 comments in response to the article “Voters say no to fluoridation” in the Prince George Citizen.

The votes were 10,171 for the NO side and 8,764 for the YES side.  That is a difference of 1,407 votes That means there were 16.1% more votes to stop fluoridating the water than to continue to fluoridate.

The outgoing members of Council all stated in open session that they would abide by the vote if re-elected.

Those making that statement were Lyn Hall, the current Mayor elect, and the following returning Councillors: Brian Skakun, Murry Krause, Garth Frizzell, Albert Koehler, and Frank Everitt. I understand that at least two of the new Councillors indicated during the election period that that they would also abide by the vote on the fluoridation question.

The issue has been debated in public throughout the election period. Both sides have been heard. A vote was taken. Commitments by elected officials have been made.

The time for debate is now over. The time for implementing the wishes of the majority of votes has arrived. All parties, including the media, should abide by the ethical and democratic principles and processes which are used to settle the issue of community water fluoridation throughout Canada and the USA.

Jo G

The Report Card is in!

Mayor Shari Green’s inaugural speech in December of 2011 set the pace and the tone of the key goals for her three year rule.

Well, those promises which were made then were given a report card by the electorate of this City on Saturday, November 15, 2014. While she had wisely removed herself from participating in another election, two individuals fell on their swords in trying to continue the reign of angst under a new leader using the same formula we had been fed in 2011.

On the other hand, Lyn Hall had a better connection to how the community felt. He was certainly not cocky about that feeling. I am sure he had his moments of doubt and more than likely more moments of anxiety during those final days.

I have to say that the real spirit of Prince George came through loud and clear on Saturday and I am thankful that my trust in my neighbours has been given a badly needed boost.

Now, let us help this new Mayor and new Council to continue doing the things which gave us all those improvements over the last 3 decades or so while we had a relatively steady population base.

  • Let us continue to increase the diversification of our businesses and private and public industries during the next 4 years.
  • Let us build smarter.
  • Let us learn how true infill works to make our community more compact.
  • Let us not build monumental buildings for services which do not need monumental buildings
  • Let us plan the locations for services such as recovery centres before someone has to put pressure on a residential precinct because we have no one in the planning department watching emerging issues.
  • Let us be proactive rather than reactive.
  • Let us get back to participating in our community rather than being shut out through lack of transparency.

Finally, let us not go back to our private dens just to re-emerge 4 years from now to participate in a one day vote.

Municipal Government has to be watched as it operates to ensure it stays on the track that the residents want it to go. That is our job. That is our unending duty.

have been travelling

Recent travel commitments have kept me away from my responsibilities to post commentary on the first few election activities.

My apologies for that. I promise to do better in the next month as the forums rise to a crescendo …. or not … LOL

From reading the media and responses, it appears that there is general agreement that the Mayoralty forum saw both candidates crouching in the starter blocks, the audience hearing the starter’s gun go off  … and Zurowski and Hall seemingly looking at each other and agreeing it must just have been a thunder clap.

Guys, a waste of my time and, from the looks of it, many others.

There is limited time for this. If you want this to be more than just a lottery-like vote, we need some passion, some direction, some vision. That is the easy part.

Well, hold it, maybe for a consummate bureaucrat, which both candidates have actually been in their recent lives, passion is hard to come by.  🙂

Along with that vision, which takes care of the what, we also need to see the how. And that how, for the Mayoralty candidates, includes how the operating and governance structure must be set up to effect the change required after 30 some years of stagnation.

Promises are no longer enough. We need to see how each candidate can work to effect change and how each candidate can adjust to the yet unknown twists and forks in the road ahead.

For starters, given that we were to have a population of 250,000 by now, those who say they are shooting for 100,000 in 4 to 8 years are dreaming. At least Hall is trying to make Councillors more accountable by restructuring the workload so that we can expect some more depth to be developed on Council. Since no one seems to like a Ward system, that at least goes partly in that direction.

Finally, I would like to hear some Councillor candidates expressing their opinion on both those topics …..

  1. 100,000 within 4 to 8 years …. is it doable and how?
  2. Councillors assigned to specific specialty areas and/or departments … will Council candidates agree to work under such a system, or do they have a better system?

Let us try working together during the next 4 weeks to get views on some key topics.

Water fluoridation to prevent cavities is not a municipal responsibility

The referendum on the ballot will ask whether the City of Prince George should continue to fluoridate the public water.

There are several serious issues surrounding the fluoridation of public water. This article only looks at the cost issue and who should be responsible to fund fluoridation.

Fluoridation is a Health Care preventative initiative.

Whether we refer to them as dental caries, cavities or tooth decay, they are the results of bacterial infections which cause demineralization and destruction of the hard tissues of the teeth – enamel, dentin and cementum. Poor oral health can have a considerable effect on whole body health.

Water fluoridation is defined as: “the controlled addition of fluoride to a public water supply to reduce tooth decay by promoting the remineralization of teeth.

Health Care is defined as: “the maintaining and restoration of health by the treatment and prevention of disease especially by trained and licensed professionals as in medicine, dentistry, and public health.”

Health care in Canada is delivered through a publicly funded health care system paid primarily by the Federal and Provincial Governments which collect taxes from Canadians to fund the system.

Given that line of thinking, the question which needs to be asked is why Prince George is funding the fluoridation of City water. The Province and Northern Health must be laughing all the way to the bank.

Senior Governments Downloading Responsibilities by remaining silent.

A small minority (about 3%) of the population in BC has access to fluoridated water. There is no directive from the Province or from local health authorities that public water MUST be fluoridated. In contrast, about a third of the States in the USA have some form of mandatory water fluoridation law.

Once again, for emphasis, the question which must be asked is: “Why is this City spending local taxpayers’ money to fund a Health Care initiative when that is not the City’s mandate under the Canadian Constitution?” In this case, the City seems to have voluntarily taken on a responsibility it does not have with money collected from local taxpayers, which they have no right to collect for that purpose. And …. they have been doing so for some 60 years!!!

The City Council of 2011 to 2014 increased the budget for chlorination and fluoridation (the two are reported together in the annual reports) by 24.6% during the first two years over the previous Council’s last term year of 2011. We cannot afford those kind of increases anymore, especially if they include providing a service for which the Provincial and Federal Governments have the responsibilities.

The KPMG recommendation to cease fluoridating the water was valid.

One of the several reasons to vote NO to fluoridation on November 15, 2014.

Jillian Merrick, a millennial, enters the Councillor race

On September 10th, 29 year old Jillian Merrick announced she was running for a seat on City Council. She is the coordinator of the Beyond the Market Project at Community Futures of Fraser-Fort George.

Jillian Merrick could fill the gap of a young person’s point of view, a gap we have had for the 40 years since I have been in Prince George.

At the same time we have also had a gap of anyone who has experience and knowledge of operating any of the hard and soft infrastructure of a city. We all have experience as users of that infrastructure. We all have accolades for the operation of some of it and criticisms of others, but few can bring forward credible ideas for improving either effectiveness or efficiency. As we have seen lately, Councils have been ineffective in their oversight duties of City operations.

We cannot continue to have Councils filled with those who know little about setting direction for a city and then, to top it off, when a direction has been set, change their minds. That was certainly one of the unprecedented characteristics of the “Green” years.

Council cannot be a three or four year learning curve. At this stage Prince George cannot afford that. Council is for those who know the business of operating a city and setting a direction for a city and are prepared for a steep learning curve to pick up the things they did not bring with them in their personal toolboxes of life.

Whether Ms Merrick will be a good candidate to fill the millennials’ perspective gap while applying herself to a steep learning curve is yet to be determined. Her knowledge and skill growth between now and November 15 will be an indicator of that. There are rumours that other millennials may jump into the race. It could become an interesting campaign.

Jo G.

Susan Scott – will she bring a continuation of the “Green” years?

On September 10th, Susan Scott officially announced her candidacy for Prince George City Council. It is not easy to be one of the first ones to announce. All eyes are trained on you.

I was not there to participate first hand. With the help of Charles Scott, her campaign manager, her first campaign speech was on YouTube within a couple of hours. In addition, the campaign website was online to peruse the chosen platform. For Facebook fans, there is a page on there as well.

This city has been managed on a wing and a prayer long enough. My observation in the early stages of Susan Scott’s campaign is that she cannot offer anything but more of the same. She has two months to show that she can listen, that she can learn something about cities and how to govern them in today’s world and that she can change to accommodate the people who do not wish to elect another ineffective crew in the seats of the direction setters of this City.

From the Susan Scott campaign web page:

“Focusing on the needs of today, and a legacy for tomorrow”

Legacy. Such a nice sounding word. A gift from the past.

We just tore down a 40 or so year old legacy called Kin 1. We rebuilt a legacy for the future in its place. If we take care of it, it might also last 40 years. Given past experience, it too will likely be torn down by 2055 or so. In the meantime, it will cost money to finance, operate and maintain. If we do not maintain it properly, someone may have to tear it down before 2055.

Is it a legacy or is it a liability which we are handing down to our children and their children?

That then brings us to the actual utility of the building. We will be able to continue to skate, hold exhibitions and trade shows, and attract larger tournaments to our city. For a few years we will also be able to proudly show off a great recreation facility to our visitors.

So, is the building a need or a want?

Legacies or liabilities? Needs or wants? Easy words to use, but not that easy to determine what they are meant to convey. It all depends on one’s point of view. Such ambiguous statements have no place in a campaign which, according to the web site, promotes a Council which “explains its thinking clearly”.

Then we have the green. It is the colour of harmony and balance; the colour of growth and renewal, the restoration of depleted energy, an emotionally positive colour. In fact, those who already know Susan Scott, it is the colour which probably best defines her.

But it is also the reminder of the “Green” era. An era too many of the people in this city want to forget. An era which began with promises which never bore fruit. It is thus not surprising that the media particularly mentioned the presence of our Mayor along with Cameron Stolz in the audience at the announcement.

Conventional wisdom says that name recognition ranks high in importance when running for City Councillor. In a similar fashion, association with people as well as political organizations is a good indicator of a person’s true colours. Are we seeing the real Susan Scott, or someone who is being groomed to be a different person?

We cannot afford 4 years of the same mindset as the “Green” years.

Jo G.

We cannot afford 4 years of the same mindset as the “Green” years

The September 11, 2014 editorial in the Prince George Citizen speaks of Prince George being in a stationary state, a state with excessive government bureaucracy; a growing divide between the wealthy and the rest of the population; small businesses with little chance of success against oppressive red tape; a population which sees its wages and spending power frozen or declining and personal debt levels soaring; Governments slashing spending and services; fewer and fewer residents voting, volunteering or take part in community-building exercises.

The editor then suggested that the candidates in the 2014 local elections need to be asked what they plan to do to address the stationary state Prince George and region find themselves in.

The notion that Prince George is in a stationary state is an alarmist one with little understanding of human nature and the history of mankind.

The editorial spoke about Adam Smith’s notion of a stagnating economy as written in 1776. We have come a long way in economic theory since then.

Some 70 years later, John Stuart Mill started to enlighten the world when he wrote: “… a stationary condition of capital and population implies no stationary state of human improvement. There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress; as much room for improving the art of living, and much more likelihood of it being improved, when minds ceased to be engrossed by the art of getting on.”

Moving into the 20th century, economist John Keynes reflected on a time when society could focus on ends rather than means. He wrote: “The day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems – the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.”

It is high time this resource based community of ours shifts to a more positive point of view by looking outside of the community on occasion.

Rather than a stagnant economy let us start to refer to it as a steady state economy or sustainable economy as others do. Let us change our focus as a community from bigger to better and from quantitative expansion to qualitative development.

This is nothing new. We know that there are many who, when they are looking for a new place to settle, have the lifestyle of the community high on their list. As much as they may be looking at quantitative improvements, they are also looking for qualitative matches to their work and recreation experiences.

Our City Council and Administrators have the  future qualitative scenario documents sitting on their shelves. The “Smart Growth on the Ground” view of Downtown Prince George, the “MyPG” documents as well as the “Official Community Plan”. These documents speak about quality of life.

Together they cost well over $1million to develop. Unless we start to learn from them, it was money ill spent on this community.

Which candidates for Mayor as well as Councillors understand such documents and the notions they represent? That ought to be the question posed during this election, an election which will take us 4 years down the road.

Continuing to take the wrong fork down that road will continue to set Prince George back even further.

We cannot afford four years of the same mindset we have endured for almost 20 years.

The City alleges Kevin Millership had no reasonable basis for claim

Hansard from July 29, 1998 records the debate in the British Columbia Legislature about section 43 proposed to be added to the “Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act (NO.2)”. These are the described events:

  • In 1954 Prince George breached provincial statutes when City Council, by resolution, sanctioned the fluoridation of the city’s water supply. At that time, legislation required measures for the preservation of public health to be undertaken by bylaw, not by a simple resolution.
  • As early as 1957 W.A.C. Bennett’s government enacted a law which required the assent of the people to fluoridate municipal water. That law continues to this day through Section 68 of the Community Charter.
  • The Honourable Jenny Kwan stated in the Legislature that in discussion with the Prince George Mayor he advised her the original resolution of Council in 1954, some 44 years earlier, is still “indeed the opinion of the electorate”.
  • Following the debate in the Legislature section 43 was added to the “Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act (NO.2)” as proposed. This had the effect of bypassing the legislated requirement for a referendum on the issue in Prince George. It is as if Prince George had actually had a referendum.

In summary:

  • In 1954 Prince George City Council made an intentional or unintentional error in law.
  • In 1957 W.A.C. Bennett’s government failed to deal adequately with the Prince George issue as they brought in the requirement for the assent of the public to allow a municipality to fluoridate water.
  • In 1998 Glen Clark’s government enacted legislation which had the effect of disenfranchising the citizens of Prince George once again.
  • Not a single representative government applied the principles of due diligence in favour of the people of Prince George. That is the intent for the assent of the people.
  • Throughout the entire period the average person in Prince George had no idea of the events.
  • currently, Kevin Millership has begun legal action against the City of Prince George claiming the breach of various statutes with negligence, assault, nuisance, and battery resulting from those breaches.

Today about 97 per cent of the province does not fluoride its water, yet our dental health does not suffer.

In contrast to the approach by the City of Prince George, Cranbrook has  enacted a “cease fluoridation” bylaw, thus given the people the power to decide as intended under Section 68 of the Community Charter. A “YES” vote in Cranbrook will stop fluoridation; a “NO” vote will continue it.

On the same date in Prince George a “NO” vote might stop the addition of fluoride. Then again, it may not.

We are once more dependent on the whims of City Council. That has been the case with respect to fluoridation since 1954.

To read the recorded debate, click on the link below and scroll to page 10739

You will notice that the Honourable Jenny Kwan stated: “We’re enabling the city of Prince George the authority to not go to referendum on this issue if they so choose.. When the matter was brought up in 1954, the law then did not require them to go to a referendum either. But having said that, the city of Prince George still has the authority to go to a referendum on this question, and I would encourage them to take that into consideration.

It took another 16 years, with a prod by a legal claim for damages against the City, to take up the “encouragement” offered by the government of the day.

The question remains, why was section 43 not written with a condition which would require the City of Prince George to correct the error by having an assent vote (not just a referendum with no teeth) at the next municipal election?

Not only is the City responsible for disenfranchising the population on this issue, but the Provincial Government of the day failed to do the right thing as well.

1998 was 1954 all over again.

The characteristics of a good City Councillor

When selecting a candidate, name recognition, the amount of financial support and the corporations and people behind the candidate should be of minor importance.

Most people running for Council are sincere in that they think they can help to make this a better city. That is a start. But we really need to make sure that they have the proper knowledge, skills as well as attitude to do the job we entrust them with.

City Council performs three crucial functions that no other body can perform: representation, legislation, and oversight. If it fails to fill these roles adequately, Prince George is not well served.

We need Councillors who will seek first to represent the interests of their constituents while being mindful of the needs of the entire City. Most will naturally be more familiar with the area they live in, the industry they work in or have worked in, the recreation they participate in, etc. Those are their “natural” constituents due to their personal association. Since we have no ward system that is the best we can hope for when we choose to vote for a candidate, someone who has some affinity to the voter’s interests.

Councillors need the intelligence and desire to do the hard work of thoughtful legislation. They must be able to ask polite but tough questions to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. Not many can do that well, especially in Prince George. Good quality debates at Council are rare. Yet that is the most important role of each individual Councillor.

A Councillor needs to have a grasp of the complexities of the law, and an awareness of the risks and potential rewards of a change. We have too often seen the “Law of Unintended Consequences” point out a poor decision. Poorly made decisions can undermine years of hard work and thousands of dollars that homeowners and business owners have invested in their properties. A Councillor must also be able and willing to consider creative solutions to reach as close as possible to a win-win outcome for all concerned.

To fulfill its oversight and legislative responsibilities, City Council needs the independent resources and freedom of action to research issues and to evaluate the information it receives from the City Administration. To that end, we need Councillors who protect the right and duty to have access to city staff who are the issue specific experts and creators of the research and recommendations which get passed on through upper management as reports to Council. Second hand information is not true fiduciary oversight.

From time to time, exercising effective oversight means saying “no.” A good Council will cooperate with the Mayor whenever possible, but some plans are wrong for Prince George, and the Council needs the guts to send them back to the drawing board. The responsibility of patting staff on the back is not Council’s, it is the job of senior administrators.

What we should be seeking from candidates in November is a clear display of the kind of knowledge, skills and attitudes that are needed for the next 4 years which will give us assurance that when future issues come before Council they can handle the responsibility which they have been entrusted with. They should be able to identify that they bring specific desirable qualities to the table based on past experience, not to wishful thinking. We need experienced people. Good intentions are not enough because they will be beaten to a pulp by Administration as well as forceful Councillors and Mayors without knowing what has hit them.

We have had three years of the worst Council in the recent history of Prince George. The indicators are clear: the number of decision reversals; the entire KPMG farce; the ignorance about the notion of being able to reduce taxes while knowing the state of the physical infrastructure; and the false hope that we can actually have a conversation rather than continuing lectures from the civic pulpit.

We are told that we deserve what we vote for. So the finger is pointed straight at us. Time to point the finger back at every single candidate, whether new or old. It is time for us to ask the tough questions. It is time for us to point the finger at the media and all those special interest groups who hold ineffective all candidates’ forums.

Meet with the candidates. If they do not have time for you, they will not have time should they be elected. If you do not have time to talk to them, you are not making an informed decision should you vote.