Government mistrust starts at home


by George Le Masurier, Decafnation

The strong undercurrent of government mistrust that shades the American landscape is something relatively new to Canadians. But the recent Comox Valley Regional District open house on the HMCS Quadra sewer line replacement shows how and why that mood is changing.

The open house meeting should have been an opportunity for citizens, bureaucrats and elected officials to communicate in a collaborative manner that resulted in some positive meaningful action.

Instead, the HCMS Quadra meeting erupted into a vitriolic condemnation of the CVRD’s transparency on this project. You can read a report of the meeting here.

It’s a sad commentary on the openness of local government in general that this expression of anger and frustration surprised no one at the meeting, including the presenter, CVRD Senior Engineer Marc Rutten, who appeared to accept the citizens’ mistrust as routine.

Throughout the contentious meeting that at moments threatened to spin out of control, Rutten never once acknowledged the possible veracity of a citizen’s concern. But why would he? The project’s details were presented as a fait accompli which “are too far along in the process to change now.”

Rutten couldn’t have done a better job of fostering distrust in the regional district.

If government don’t genuinely want input from citizens, especially those directly affected by a specific project, then why invite them to a meeting on the pretence that their input might matter? It’s disingenuous and elevates people’s rage. And it creates mistrust of government. People start concocting conspiracy theories to explain what might seem like simple logistic solutions to CVRD staff.

Open house public meetings are usually held before finalizing a project’s details, when citizen input might actually mean something. The CVRD presented several options to Royston and Union Bay residents at an early open house on the South Sewer Project, and residents picked their preferred one. READ MORE


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  1. Until there is a legal framework for public participation/consultation this will continue. The “open houses” are more about communication strategy or what most would call “dog and pony shows” little of these open houses provide for true participation and consultation.

    The US does a better job of involving the public in determining the scope of the consultation process and any other process. The US also provides for referendums when it comes to spending the public’s money however this current provincial government has allowed local governments to side step referendums and consultation when it comes to major expenditures.

    Again, we must provide a legal framework for fully open public participation and consultation. The following may be a start.


  2. Closer to home, in the Cowichan Valley, I would like to see an open discussion at the region district as to why we are burning up hydro carbon fuel, and our taxes by shipping our garbage all the way to southern Washington state. Why can we not find a site closer to home??

    Don Graham.

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