Archive for the 'public meeting' Category

What are you fighting for?

By David Parkinson

Waves

There are people wearing frowns
Who’ll screw you up
But they would rather screw you down.

(Arthur Lee, “You Set the Scene”, 1967)

A couple of recent events have got me thinking about how we’re supposed to start working together as a community in order to produce positive changes in the way we consume, travel, eat, and generally live our lives here in (possibly) the final hurrah of the growth phase of industrial civilization.

The first was the City of Powell River‘s public consultation meeting last Monday evening (October 19, 2009) at Dwight Hall in Powell River. This was an Open Space event where those present got to determine the agenda in the context of a shaping question, which in this case was something to the effect of “Given Powell River’s future economic uncertainty, we need to pay attention to…”. Attendees were invited to fill in the ellipsis at the end of that sentence, until we had gathered up three sets of twenty-five potential things we needed to pay attention to as we move into an uncertain future. Some of the subjects for discussion were very much on the economic side of things (e.g., taxes, rates of pay for City employees, the cost of transportation and shipping), while others were much more concerned with the general livability of the region (e.g., accessibility for people with physical disabilities, green space).

Once we had created the ‘agenda’ of topics for discussion, we had three sessions of about 20 minutes during which we were free to find the group discussing the topic we found most interesting and contribute to that conversation. At each of these groups someone was documenting the main threads of the conversation as a record of the event.

The subjects which struck me as most interesting were those which were oriented towards the creation of a resilient region: food security, local currency schemes, micro-credit and the spawning of many small businesses, better transportation options, and so on. Of course, as always happens at an Open Space event, there were more things to talk about than time in which to talk about them, so the attendees had to focus on the three conversations of greatest interest or urgency to them.

The first of the three conversations I took part in was on the topic of “focusing on where we are now rather than where we have been as a region”, and this drew a group of about ten people. It was clear that the person who had originally proposed that topic intended it to spark some creative thinking about how this region can move forward and prosper economically, even if we lose the large employer which has traditionally defined this community (i.e., the paper mill).

I was the designated note-taker for this group, and I quickly became overwhelmed as the conversation spiraled off into a heated debate over the best way to create wealth in the community: by bringing in a small number of large employers from outside the region, or by encouraging a large number of smaller employers to spring up from within the region. Then we went off into a tangent focusing on the merits (or not) of Plutonic Power‘s run-of-river project in Toba Inlet, and things got a little tense for a few minutes.

The thought that came to me, as I sat trying to distill the conversation into notes, was that in this culture we have very few good methods for identifying the challenges we face, for talking about these challenges honestly but respectfully, and for working together on good solutions even in the face of disagreement. Obviously, a group of ten random strangers are not going to solve the problems of the world — or even those of their own region — in a few short minutes; but what is always slightly sad to observe is how quickly we harden our positions and defend them against all contrary opinion or facts. We thrive on controversy and conflict, to the extent that many of us would rather rail against the wrongs we see than imagine a better future and work backwards to figure out the positive steps we can take now that might get us there. Opportunities for genuine dialogue tend to hit dead ends quickly and dissolve in mutual distrust.

There is nothing wrong with conflict arising from differences of opinion. What is unfortunate, and what is really damaging our prospects of designing a decent future, is that our main means for settling conflicts is by applying the principle “money talks”. Increasingly, the mechanisms we use to determine our direction as a society is by selling the decision to the highest bidder. Anyone with an alternative vision is free to stand on the sidelines and kvetch, but that’s about as far as dissent goes.

I believe that less kvetching and more positive action is what we need now. We could all spend the rest of our short precious lives identifying all of the things in this world which we abhor and working to overturn them — and any successes we had would be wiped out by any number of new atrocities to seize our attention. But what kind of life is it to be always pitted against, never fighting for? We are going to have to become better at imagining creative alternatives to all of the lousy idiot ideas destroying our world, ignoring as best we can the junk and the rottenness, and pushing forwards into our own dreams. We need to learn to work with those who hold different visions, when this is possible without sacrificing our vision and our dignity — this might not come around too often, but we need to continue looking for those opportunities.

Which brings me to the second event, which resonated with these reflections about conflict and conversation. From this week’s mailbag, someone writes in to say this about my colleague Tom Read, who helps manage this blog and contributes a weekly column:

He [i.e., Tom] is using your site as a soapbox to promote his vision which is highly inappropriate for Texada–his dominance on the site has discouraged other contributions, surely, you must know that on the logging stats, so SlowCoast has become non-relevant.   He supported the Westpac LNG plant and now the Texada South Quarry. So not the best eco stats.

Tom has publicly expressed his belief that the proposed quarry development at Davie Bay is a potentially critical piece of Texada’s economic future. For the record, he did not support the proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal. If anyone wants to know more about Tom’s position, they can contact him easily enough. His opinion is nuanced and expresses his genuine concern for the fate of the place he calls home. And of course you can feel free to disagree with him. Sadly, though, it’s always seems to be more fun to make these intra-regional and inter-personal conflicts as black-and-white as possible; to start drawing up the list of enemies; and to backbite and shun the ideologically suspect. Perhaps our correspondent hopes that I will ditch Tom from Slow Coast so that my ‘logging stats’ (whatever the hell that might mean) will improve and Slow Coast once again becomes relevant. That won’t be happening. This project is an equal partnership and does not require a loyalty oath. I can’t ditch Tom anymore than he can ditch me — thankfully.

What I find especially irritating about this is that Tom has written directly about the Lehigh quarry proposal precisely one time, back on July 10, 2009. The rest of the time he writes about all kinds of things having to do with living on Texada: small-scale farming and animal husbandry, canning and food preservation, living in a remote location, and all sorts of other posts which I would file under the general heading of ‘sustainability’ or ‘regional resilience’. When he’s not writing for Slow Coast, he’s out there working on a number of worthwhile community projects. We need more of this; not mere ideological purity and monocultural thinking.

If anyone out there has something to say, please send your comments or your contributions. Better that than try to tear down the things you disagree with. This site is no one’s soapbox, but is intended to reflect the variety of opinions in the region. If we can no longer express our truths without someone trying to shut us down or shout us down, the conversation is over.

Local, local government

By Tom Read

Public meetings can be visually dull, so instead here’s a photo I took years ago showing the industrial scene at Blubber Bay, which in this case can serve as a rather loose, rocky (ahem!) analogy for how efficiently the PRRD directors ran through their agenda last night at Gillies Bay. Besides, I forgot to bring my camera to the meeting.

Public meetings can be visually dull, so instead here’s a photo I took years ago showing the industrial scene at Blubber Bay, which in this case can serve as a rather loose, rocky (ahem!) analogy for how efficiently the PRRD directors ran through their agenda last night at Gillies Bay. Besides, I forgot to bring my camera to the meeting.

Not a typo, the title of this piece means that Texada Island’s main local government body, the Powell River Regional District Board of Directors, actually convened in all its glory on Texada yesterday for its monthly Directors’ meeting. This made it a physically local, local government for the first time in anyone’s memory, according to a few longtime Texadans I spoke to. Usually, the directors gather in Powell River, not especially accessible for Texadans who want to keep an eye on the local politicians.

The Texada local government tour came about mainly through efforts of our own Electoral Area Director, Dave Murphy. Dave got to show off our island’s impressive range of public and community facilities to his political colleagues, driving everyone around in the Texada Island Inn’s 13-passenger van. The assembled dignitaries then dined at the Tree Frog Bistro.  And then everyone got down to business at the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay.

The meeting started a few minutes after 7:00 pm, with probably around 80 to 90 people in the audience. That’s an extraordinary level of attendance for a local government meeting on an island summer evening, in my experience. Why so much interest? Answer: most likely, Lehigh’s proposed South Texada Quarry at Davie Bay, virtually the only controversial item on the night’s agenda. That item drew speakers pro and con for about 20 minutes, while the directors silently listened.

No fireworks erupted, no discussion ensued, no decision occurred. That’s set for next month in Powell River, of course (fireworks optional). No, in Gillies Bay last night the meeting rather lacked entertainment value after each side had had its say, because Chairman Colin Palmer (representing Electoral Area C, “south of town”) closed the meeting to further public comment so the Board could get on with its business. Indeed, from that point on, the directors moved swiftly through their agenda like limestone dropping from a conveyor onto a barge.

Thus, much of the audience departed shortly after public comments ended. It was, after all, a pleasant summer evening.

But those of us who stayed got to applaud as several distinguished islanders received much-deserved public recognition for their decades of volunteer efforts. We witnessed the founding of the Texada Island Heritage Commission, a new public service on our island that emerged through the efforts of the Texada Heritage Society. Plus, we got a subtle lesson in local government: all the real work happens in committees; the monthly directors’ meeting merely ratifies decisions made earlier in the process. The whole thing lasted only about an hour and twenty minutes.

Finally, the directors, their two staffers and a lone newspaper reporter all adjourned to the Texada Island Inn’s pub in Van Anda for a bit of libation and conversation before heading back to Powell River, the true seat of Texada’s not-so-local, local government.

One down, eleven to go

By David Parkinson

Seeds, awaiting the right moment to create new life...

Seeds, awaiting the right moment to create new life...

Last Wednesday (May 20 2009), the Unitarian Hall in Cranberry was the scene of a meeting which might end up having some historical importance. I was happy to be part of this meeting, and I’m excited to see what the next steps will be, since this was the inaugural get-together of a new group, Transition Powell River.

It seems as though 2009 is the year that Transition starts to go mainstream: none other than the New York Times published a recent piece on Transition, and even Elle magazine got into the act with a piece titled “Do Worry, Be Happy.” So what is this thing called Transition?

All it really is a set of procedures for starting out with two big realizations:

  • we are approaching — or possibly have gone past — the point of maximum worldwide oil production;
  • climate change is a real problem, largely man-made, and we must reduce carbon emissions drastically and quickly.

Little by little, these realizations are seeping in from the fringes of respectable public discourse and starting to occupy centre stage in average people’s understanding and in the decision-making of political leaders. But they are such enormous and far-reaching sets of facts which pose huge problems to us all, on an individual and community level. How are we supposed to deal with the fact that we are at the end of the era of cheap fossil fuels? How can we reduce carbon emissions quickly enough to have a meaningful effect on the earth’s atmosphere?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by questions like these. And in a society which tends to keep us all separated from one another, we all feel as though we are dealing with this on our own. Should we buy the recycled toilet paper? Change our lightbulbs? Start bicycling to work one day a week? Ditch the car altogether?

So we start from the two big assumptions and add to them (as if they weren’t enough) the geographical isolation of the Upper Sunshine Coast. So now we’re facing an ongoing and accelerating decline in the availability of fossil fuels, leading to ever-higher prices. And the need to sharply reduce carbon emissions. And to deal with the fact that higher prices for gas and oil mean higher prices for all goods shipped to us from outside the region. And maybe we need to start seriously planning for occasional disruptions in supply.

And so what are we supposed to do with this litany of seemingly insurmountable problems?

This is where the Transition movement comes in (and not a moment too soon). The main idea behind creating a transition to a future of limited fossil fuel supplies and reduced carbon emissions is that we need to harness the creative energy of the whole community in order to have the greatest chance of success. Here are some of the questions we need to start answering:

  • How are we going to feed ourselves as the costs of oil-dependent agriculture and transportation rise?
  • How can we travel around the region more efficiently?
  • How can we heat our homes as oil, natural gas, and electricity become more expensive?
  • What will the basis of our regional economy be?
  • What are the expected effects of climate change on our water supply and on our capacity to produce food regionally?

What attracts me most about the Transition approach is what it is not. It is not something for our political leaders to sort out. Nor is it something that individuals are expected to cope with (which would almost certainly mean: through their choices as consumers). Instead, it is a community-based approach to coping with some very heavy realities and coming up with solutions and mitigations which make sense to the community.

The City of Powell River is still engaged in its effort to create a Sustainability Charter for the region. At the point of writing this, the City is looking to hire a consultant for the final phase of creation of the charter, which will be a brief document outlining some goals and policies for making the City more sustainable (however that is defined). This is a good thing, but it’s not clear how regular citizens will engage with the outcome of this charter — for all we know, the resulting policies may have much to do with lowering the City’s consumption of fossil fuels and overall carbon footprint and not so much to do with helping all of the inhabitants of the region to reduce their individual and collective footprint. Governments are good at some things, but galvanizing activism is traditionally not one of them.

So one of the nice things about this Transition Powell River effort is that it belongs to us. It was started up by one local person, Kevin Wilson, who read The Transition Handbook and got fired up with enthusiasm. He contacted some friends and put the word out through a few local email lists and in Immanence magazine. And so we met last week and started the ball rolling; you can read Kevin’s brief summary of the meeting here.

And that brings me to the title of this week’s column: “One down, eleven to go”. This refers to the twelve steps to Transition, which are a good introduction to the whole idea. If you take a few minutes to read through them you’ll get a good sense of how loose and organic the process is. Transition is not a set of rules and formal procedures for getting from here to there; they’re designed to be more like a set of attitudes and approaches which allow the genius of the participants to find expression. Like the twelve principles of permaculture, which I discussed last week — what is it with the number twelve anyway? — they are ways of thinking about a tough problem and maximizing the chances of coming up with good solutions. I am very drawn to problem-solving strategies like these, since they allow for the greatest amount of human creativity and freedom. Any jackass can follow a set of rules, but only a community of people focused on a common task can converse, debate, argue, disagree, and eventually (we hope) work towards the best overall solution — which may be no single person’s preferred solution, but one that everyone can live with and contribute to.

And so the “one down” is the very first of the twelve steps: “Set up a steering group and design its demise from the outset”. Which is what we did last Wednesday. The slightly funny part of this step, of course, is the second clause: “… and design its demise from the outset”. Why is that a critical part of the formation of a steering group? The idea, as explained in the twelve steps document, is that one of the first actions for the steering group to get going on is to start forming working groups which will tackle specific areas of concern, such as food supply, water supply, housing, energy, transportation, etc. Once a few of those groups are up and running, the steering group dissolves and a new group is formed by appointing a delegate from each of these working groups.

We have a lot of work ahead of us. Success depends on bringing more people in and getting them involved in making a real impact on our region’s resilience and capacity to withstand some coming challenges. It’s scary stuff sometimes, but better faced as a community than as a bunch of isolated individuals. Interested? If you want to know what’s going on with our Transition effort, email Kevin Wilson and keep an eye on the Transition Powell River blog.

Landfill hearing in Powell River: More democracy in action

By Denise Reinhardt
(Updated April 24, 2009)

Where it all begins...

Where it all begins...

Next week, people in Powell River have an extraordinary chance to hear why Catalyst Paper and the BC Ministry of Environment (MoE) think there should be a huge flyash dump at the top of the Wildwood hill. The Environmental Appeal Board is holding a hearing to decide whether the permit amendment issued to Catalyst on August 6, 2008 — which allowed the flyash dump to grow nine stories tall in a residential neighbourhood — should be rescinded or modified. It’s a public hearing, so everyone interested in the future of our region should turn out for at least part of the hearing, which will run from 9:00 am till late afternoon from Monday, April 20, through Friday, April 24 at the Town Centre Hotel.

Powell River Legacy is the community group that has opposed the massive expansion of the flyash dump ever since it was proposed. PR Legacy members and other people in the Powell River community were worried about the possible health effects of airborne flyash from dump operations and the possible escape of toxic materials from an old dump that would lie under the new flyash mountain. Community members had many other concerns about living next door to a huge contaminated industrial waste dump. Despite their opposition, the BC Ministry of the Environment’s Director, Environmental Management Act, issued the permit amendment allowing 620,000 cubic metres of flyash, waste asbestos and miscellaneous mill waste to be dumped over the course of 25 years.

Two members of Powell River Legacy, Dennis Bremner and David Harris, appealed for themselves and for PR Legacy; three other citizens, Patricia Picken, Rhonda Alton and Dr. J. Andrew Davis, are presenting their own appeals. PR Legacy’s lawyer will argue that the amended permit will not adequately protect the environment and that the mill’s financial situation compels the Ministry to require Catalyst to post a bond for cleanup costs in the event that it stops operating a paper and pulp mill in Powell River. Picken, Alton and Davis will point to the impacts on the community, especially health impacts, and ask why the amendment was issued. Catalyst will try to justify the permit amendment by presenting the testimony of its environmental experts, and the people who decided to issue the permit amendment will testify for the Ministry. The appellants will have the chance to cross-examine these witnesses.

There are questions about how effective this appeal may be, but the hearing is the community’s only chance to hear the decision-makers and experts explain themselves. It is our only chance to hear how the MoE and Catalyst witnesses answer our friends and neighbours, who will ask why they consider this flyash dump safe and appropriate. Although much of the proceedings will seem formalized and bloodless, there will be moments of great importance when our friends and neighbours will speak out to the government about why there should not be a mountain of flyash and other industrial waste in Wildwood.

The hearing will probably run all day continuously, with lunch and other breaks at unpredictable intervals. We won’t know the exact schedule of witnesses until the hearing is underway but, if you come on Monday morning, you may hear a rough schedule, so you can plan when to come. Also, Monday will almost certainly be the day that Bremner, Alton, Picken and Davis will testify and be cross-examined by Catalyst and the MoE, and you’ll want to hear what they have to say. Otherwise, drop in for a few moments when you can.

So stop by when you can. Maybe you will catch a great moment, and you will certainly be giving support to PR Legacy and the community.

Update (April 24, 2009): With permission from Powell River Legacy, I have posted the PowerPoint presentation they made to Powell River City Hall on March 20, 2009. The file can be found here.

It’s ba-ack

By Denise Reinhardt

North Harbour and Millennium Park: Should we borrow $7.43 million? Who gets to decide?

Democracy is in trouble again in Powell River. Last November, City voters approved the borrowing of $1.43 million for the land under Millennium Park and $6.0 million to rehabilitate the North Harbour. The Municipal Finance Authority is the provincial agency that sells bonds for capital projects like these, and we might think that the City could just go to the MFA and borrow the money, after its citizens agreed to the borrowing.

Not so fast. Under the rules of the MFA, Regional Districts must consent to a municipality’s borrowing, so the City needs the Regional Board’s guarantee for the borrowing of the combined $7.43 million. The City asked the Regional Board to issue the standard “security issuing bylaw” containing that consent, and the bylaw was on the agenda at the last Board meeting, without any previous discussion by the Board. At that meeting, the bylaw was referred to the Board’s Committee of the Whole for discussion and it will probably be sent back to the formal Board meeting for action on April 23rd.

There, the security issuing bylaw will probably pass, because the City’s two directors can outvote the five rural directors. If the City defaults on either or both of the loans, the rural citizens of the Regional District will be on the hook for up to $7.43 million for these projects without ever having the chance to say yes or no to the borrowing. And the voices of caution in these times of financial uncertainty may never be heard, except at two upcoming meetings of the Regional Board.

How is this possible that the City can outvote the rural areas?  Because the provincial rules established for Regional Board voting say so. In the Powell River Regional District, there are five rural directors, from:

  • Area A, north of town;
  • Area B, immediately south of town;
  • Area C, south of Area B to Saltery Bay;
  • Area D, Texada Island; and
  • Area E, Lasqueti Island.

The City has two municipal directors who sit on the Board. For many matters, the votes are unweighted. But for some issues, chiefly decisions on money matters, votes are weighted. City directors only vote on matters that affect the whole Regional District, including the City, as this security issuing bylaw does.

The weight of votes is based on “voting units” of up to 2,000 people here in Powell River. So, because Area C has over 2,000 voters, its director gets two votes. All the other rural directors get only one vote because they all represent areas with fewer than 2,000 people in them. The rural directors thus have a total of six votes. The City’s population of over 13,000 gives the City directors seven votes. So, unlike in most Regional Districts, one municipality can determine the financial health of taxpayers of the whole Regional District.

In contrast with City taxpayers, the taxpayers of the Regional District will not have a vote on whether they want the Regional District to borrow almost $7.5 million. There is little opportunity for public debate. Still, Regional District taxpayers will most likely end up as guarantors of this huge amount of borrowing.

Many of us think that there are open questions about the City’s projects. The City has not given the Regional District any North Harbour business case or forecast of the users they assume will pay moorage fees to cover debt service on the $6.0 million loan. Some of us see the North Harbour venture as an updated version of a cargo cult — if the City builds it, they will come from Alberta and dock their big boats. But when desirable moorage is going begging in Nanaimo, a harbour that is far friendlier to the boating community, why exactly would people come here? What are the predictions of North Harbour use when people are losing jobs and investment funds at record rates, and no one says that recovery is near? Is building our local economy on carbon-spewing power-boat tourism a good contribution to sustainability?

We are living in most uncertain financial times. The MFA model was developed in times of steady growth of our economy. Under MFA shared liability, if the City defaults, the debt belongs to Regional District property taxpayers. If the Regional District defaults, then the debt belongs to all BC property taxpayers. That means that we should think about big borrowing in context of existing debt and financial outlook. Locally, the Regional District’s existing MFA debt for 2008 was $556,222 and the City’s was $3,554,464, for a total of $4,110,686. The City’s principal, $158,836, and interest, $234,746, will total $391,584 due from taxpayers for 2009. Regional District taxpayers will pay $82,660 for MFA debt in 2009, almost evenly divided between principal and interest.

The Regional Hospital Board, which covers the same area as the Regional District, also is already carrying debt that we all must pay. Additionally, it has committed city and rural taxpayers to pay back a loan of $18 million, as its share of the construction of the facility to replace Olive Devaud. The north side taxpayers will be paying for over $800,000 for a new fire hall. Is this really the time to take on whopping new debt?

We also need to look beyond our parochial interests. The MFA has top ratings from investors’ services, because the liability for loans is spread throughout the province and the risk to lenders to the MFA has historically been low. High ratings mean money is available to the MFA at low interest rates, which it can pass on the its borrowers. But there are rumblings in the financial community that the MFA’s paper could be downgraded, because of the concentration of two-thirds of debt to the MFA in Metro Vancouver and TransLink and the overall financial state of BC, Canada and the world. This could lead to higher interest rates throughout the province, and therefore higher property taxes.

What is more, even the MFA admits that our current financial situation is unprecedentedly bad. Just because there has never been a default on an MFA loan does not mean there never will be one, especially as the financial future looks so bleak. The MFA can raise provincial property taxes to cover an actual municipal or Regional District default or even a threatened default. We may end up paying for all that Lower Mainland debt. Perhaps it is time to ask whether an overheated economy has led us already to overextend our borrowing. Shouldn’t we, like consumers everywhere, be thinking about reining in our debt?

We have two last chances to speak out on this borrowing. The Regional District’s Committee of the Whole can discuss this new borrowing in the context of the entire financial situation, including existing debt and the economic forecasts of no growth or “negative growth”, as well as consider other important questions. The Regional Board will take the formal vote on the security issuing bylaw. That vote should not be a rubber stamp. We can tell the Committee of the Whole and the Regional Board whether we think it is wise or sensible to borrow $7.43 million for these projects now, and bear witness to what the Board members do.

If you think you might want to speak at either or both of these meetings, you can ask to be a delegation by calling (604) 483 3231.

Committee of the Whole: Thursday April 16, 2009 at 4:15 PM
Regional District Offices, 5776 Marine, Townsite (Powell River)
(parking at the rear via Birch Street)

The meeting room holds very few people. If the Regional District thinks that many people may attend, they may move the meeting location, so check at (604) 483 3231 to be sure.

Regional Board: Thursday April 23, 2009 at 7:30 PM
City Hall Council Chambers, 6910 Duncan St., Powell River

See you there.

Block at a Glance

By Giovanni Spezzacatena

Community is a series of repeating elements, with differences.

Community is a series of repeating elements, with differences.

A look at Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging:

Overall Premise: Build the social fabric and transform the isolation within our community into connectedness and caring for the whole. Shift our conversations from the problems of the community to the possibility of community. Commit to create a future distinct from the past.

The Context for a Restorative Community: The existing community context is one that markets fear, assigns fault, and worships self-interest. This context supports the belief that the future will be improved with new laws, more oversight, and stronger leadership. The new context that restores community is one of possibility, generosity, and gifts, rather than one of fear, mistakes and self-interest. Citizens become powerful when they choose to shift the context within which they act in the world. Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness. The conversations that build relatedness are created through associational life, where citizens are unpaid and show up by choice, rather than in large systems where professionals are paid and show up by contractual agreement.

Audiophiles: here is a 15-minute audio excerpt from Block’s book., and a more substantial 1 hour interview (mind the interviewer).

Block’s book and interviews discuss many aspects of community and leadership that focus on “possibilities”: the possibility of sustainability, of a society that cares for itself and others, of full employment of people’s talents and skills, to create stronger communities.  One very practical focus is on how our meetings can be conducted to create meaningful outcomes. Some of these seem to make so much sense, that I have become really suspicious as to why meetings are generally not held this way. Then again — looking around at all sorts of disabling infrastructure we’ve built for ourselves on every level — it does seem that the ‘full-steam-ahead’ approach has been favored over thoughtful purposefulness.

So, here are some tips on meetings in very short form that I have gathered and paraphrased from Block’s book:

  • Level the playing field: avoid the stage/audience separation. Everyone on the same level, literally. Leaders cannot allow themselves to be part of an elite group: their job is to convene and engage the community. Elevating themselves as paternalistic forces for good does them and the community a disservice.
  • Meet in a room with windows and natural light (preferably on 2 sides), with a view, with plants (real or plastic), art on the walls, swivel chairs for all, and a round table (no more than 8 ft in diameter), or similar arrangement of chairs. Make sure people can be heard (use microphones if needed).
  • Even in a large group, have small meetings with 12 people or so in each group, producing a ‘network of networks’. This way, individuals feel they can have their say, and that what they say matters.
  • Each group is facilitated by a ‘leader’, but the leader is there to keep things on track and provide a literal and allegorical “space” and not to provide a vision or example. The leader provides the space and the good question.  No one knows what the other groups have as their question.
  • Late arrivals must be acknowledged, and early departures as well– departures are a loss to the group, and as such they have to be taken seriously. Ask all participants to not sneak out but to voice their reasons for leaving. Remove their empty chair once they are gone to reduce real underlying feelings of loss.
  • Have the members of these smaller groups introduce themselves, their gifts, and why they are there to do deal with a good question. The Good Question deals with possibility and gifts: what would we like to see/do and what can I give toward this goal in terms of my gifts & commitment?
  • Think of the gathering as a work of community art; ask at the beginning of the meeting if anyone would like to recite or share a song/ joke/ poem… If the meeting concludes with a ‘document’ that can be held up or preserved, even better.
  • Provide good food at your gatherings– sharing food is so primal, and actual food (i.e. raw fruit/vegetables, pure water, juice, as local as possible) as opposed to donuts and coffee sets up a crucial aspect of community gathering. Pot-lucks are great ideas, as long as nobody feels they are excluded if they can’t cook or afford to bring food.
  • Welcome the participants with a clear presentation of why you are all there: the possibility you wish to pursue.
  • The important thing is to not dwell on the problems of the community, but on the possibility of community. The idea here is that if the community is strong, this will in itself solve what seem to be the insurmountable problems of the community. This reminds me of the fact that only weak garden plants attract the attention of damaging bugs. The creation of community through each and every meeting/gathering/association is the ultimate goal. The community’s strength and vitality will attract only good things.
  • Leave room for dissent, and handle it carefully, but avoid trying to control the world. If a person has a problem with an issue, then that should be out in the open, and accepted. Saying no to a stance is as useful as commitment. Lip service is the opposite of commitment.
  • We have as a 21st century Western society, a sort of “Expertitis” (my pseudo-word): we give up our control to experts in whatever field (and usually from outside our community), to tell us what to do.  We outsource our problems and hope for ‘big daddy/mama’ to take care of them. When ‘big daddy/mama’ invariably fails, we think that changing government will fix that problem. How about if we change and develop a community that ‘big daddy/mama’ will support… and they will, too. because it makes them look good, and maybe because they also want to be part of a bigger movement.
  • Nurture compassion. A commitment to empathy is the only way community will heal itself and survive.

I think that the points above will help facilitate a gathering that goes somewhere valuable.

An amazing public meeting

By Tom Read

Photos of public meetings can be pretty boring, so in light of this week's post topic, here's Rumbottle Creek on Texada Island, instead (taken Thursday am)

Photos of public meetings can be pretty boring, so in light of this week's post topic, here's Rumbottle Creek on Texada Island, instead (taken Thursday am)

For years, our region has tried to avoid implementing a poorly conceived, oppressive piece of environmental legislation spewed forth from Victoria called the Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR). I’ve written about it in this space before, pondering Texada Island’s fate. Alas, we can dodge this bullet no longer, because the Powell River Regional District, which includes Texada, is finally moving to comply with the RAR. This means public meetings.

The first Texada meeting happened this week. Islanders were invited to a “roadshow” featuring three regional district directors, one staff planner and one consultant. So on a cold but dry Tuesday evening, off we drove to the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay, stopping first in Van Anda to pick up an elderly friend who doesn’t drive anymore. Our friend, Phyllis, lives by the ocean and has drainage ditches on either side of her property. She was quite worried about the RAR’s potential impact, and she wanted to attend the meeting to ask questions and express her opinion.

About 25 islanders showed up, a decent-sized group. I had already seen the consultant’s presentation (posted online here), so I knew that he wanted to saddle us with development permits, or “DPs” as the jargon goes. At this point I’d like to remind the reader that our Regional District is one of the very few in BC that deliberately employs no building inspectors or bylaw enforcement officers. We enjoy a greater degree of freedom – and a greater degree of personal responsibility — than other places as a result of this policy. Texada’s Official Community Plan Vision Statement starts with the words, “The Texada Island community is committed to maintaining a spacious, independent and sustainable rural lifestyle with minimum regulations.” And we mean it, too.

So I was feeling a bit resentful at this meeting because our tax dollars were being used to hire a consultant who claimed we had to adopt one of the most expensive, intrusive and therefore oppressive of urban-style land use regulations, the dreaded “DP.” This new regulatory push arrived in the name of protecting the island’s fish and to help our Regional District avoid potential lawsuits (not necessarily in that order).

The consultant lives in the city of Courtenay and served as a regional district planner on Vancouver Island for many years. He spoke in jargon. He gave off an air of “I’m an experienced professional planner and I know what’s best for you.” He kept referring to places on Vancouver Island, (population 700,000) as examples that Texada Island (population 1,107) should emulate. He claimed, over and over, that we had to adopt DPs as the only effective way to protect Texada’s fish. He insisted that only DPs could offer significant protection from legal liability to our Regional District, leaving the vague but menacing threat of potential lawsuits in the air. Most of all he tried to convey his biased viewpoint as having a sense of inevitability, which reminded me of the “resistance is futile” mantra of cyborg conquerors in a Star Trek episode.

Mr. Consultant obviously underestimated Texadans. We politely pointed out to him that nobody protects the fish on this island the way we do. We explained that local residents possessed more common sense than to pay $2,500 or more to a consulting biologist just to determine whether a particular body of water near our property contained fish, as would be required using the DP approach. Mr. Consultant appeared surprised to learn, from research done by yours truly, that a legal opinion on the RAR, paid for by the Union of BC Municipalities, showed that the risk of legal liability for Regional Districts is low.

A glimmer that something good might happen came when the audience told Mr. Consultant that we wanted to hear details about other options for complying with the RAR. The least readable of his presentation slides showed a text-packed chart comparing five different approaches; he had only discussed two in any detail: DPs and the even more oppressive Zoning option. What about the others, we asked? So, with some reluctance, Mr. Consultant gradually explained the less regulatory ways to comply with the RAR, all the while peppered with questions from what had become a very animated audience.

The attending Regional District directors caught the mood, too, as they heard Mr. Consultant concede that there are very real, much less costly and less egregious options spelled out right in the RAR legislation. To cap things off, Texada’s area Director, Dave Murphy, stood at the end of the meeting and proclaimed himself firmly in favour of freedom — there will be no RAR-inspired DPs on our island if he can help it.

As we were leaving the hall I heard someone call out, in a triumphant voice, “who says public meetings are unproductive?” And as we drove Phyllis back to Van Anda, she sounded much relieved, too.

“Decisions are made by those who show up,” goes the saying; this was a night for Texada to shine as a community.


Post facto

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