How to NOT do public engagement…

It appears that my earlier post about this topic has disappeared into who knows where. So I’m going to rewrite it as best I can!

I’m a pretty solutions-focused kind of guy. I like to figure out what the problem is, at the most basic level, and then work on simple and elegant solutions to solving it. Which is why, when I see someone going out of their way to create problems (even with the best intentions), I feel the need to weigh in.

Take the recent efforts of Councillor Toews as he single-handedly takes on the role of public engager around Transit in Cochrane. Six months or a year ago, this would have been a valid approach to “taking the pulse” of the community. In the middle of an expensive, taxpayer subsidized, professionally operated (by Ipsos Reid) town-led engagement process? Inappropriate at best. Particularly when the question being highlighted is “how much $ would you be willing to pay?”. Remember when Councillor Toews made a motion to scrap the plebiscite? It was because Transit is too complex an issue to ask simple questions about, until it’s been appropriately scoped. WHICH IS THE ENTIRE POINT of the current public engagement process being undertaken by the town.

What I find most entertaining about this recent turn of events is that it was prompted by “rumblings from several in the community”. Several….hundred? Thousand? Who exactly is driving this? A handful of vocal anti-transit folks? In a town of 17,500 people, our elected officials should start getting motivated when they hear the same message from several HUNDRED people. Not to say that one voice isn’t important, or can’t make change in society, but elected officials at the beck and call of a few people with loud voices is actually the opposite of the democratic process.

It appears to me that the biggest problem facing this discussion around Transit is that it’s still a polarizing issue. The role of governance is to move the community forward towards a shared desired future. Not to champion their individual biases, or those of a few loud community members. Kudos to the Cochrane Times for their excellent coverage on this topic (they didn’t mention it this week), and interesting that it made the Eagle with a full page spread.

Maybe the solution here is to have the dog sit down with its’ tail and have a little chat about who wags who.

What do you think?

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