Time is money. Or haste makes waste. Pay your money; take your choice of homespun wisdom.
There was spontaneous applause by a dozen or so disparate – perhaps desperate – Whistleratics at Millennium Place Monday night when councillor Nancy wrapped up her objections to the course council was about to embark upon by saying it was neither fair nor democratic. We – yes, sad to say I was so taken by her eloquent, and lone, statement of the obvious I too clapped my notebook – were quickly admonished by Mayor Kenny to cease our totally inappropriate show of support. It’s neither right nor fair to turn the individual utterances of councillors into a, what was it again, a popularity contest?
There wasn’t much risk of that. No one else said anything even remotely popular.
The issue at hand was the mechanism by which Whistler’s council would elicit a show of approval, or more accurately, disapproval from the public they so achingly told us – was it just last November? – they wanted not only to serve but wanted to serve by transforming council into a more open, more transparent, yea my good fellows, more democratic body. Money 0: Mouth 1.
It all would have been so easy to do. The choice was right there within their reach. Behind door number one was something euphemistically called the Alternative Approval Process. Since Alternative Approval Process is both long to say and long to type, let’s just call it the Bad Choice. I think the first hint of its badness is right in the name. Alternative. As in alternative to, perhaps, the democratic choice.
Which lived behind door number two. A simple yes or no referendum. A vote. The cornerstone of the democratic process. Let’s call it, oh, how about the Right Choice.
The issue requiring council to choose between the Bad Choice and the Right Choice was the proposal to enter a Partnering Agreement with one of four bidders, each being paid a hundred large, to bid on the chance to design, build and operate the sewage treatment plant expansion so necessary to ensure nothing our guests leave behind hits the fan.
Specifically, council proposes to award the DBO – design, build, operate – contract for an amount not to exceed $58 million and a term of 12 years. Because it would be a contract to an outside party for a term in excess of five years, council needs to get the assent of the voters to enter into the contract.
Of course, there isn’t really a contract… not yet. None of the companies being paid to bid on the contract want to actually submit a contract for approval. They’re afraid they’ll go to the time and expense – apparently greater than the $100,000 they’re already collecting – of drawing up a contract only to have the public disapprove it. So we’re approving any contract they may come up with, up to $58 million, assuming one is forthcoming when all this is over. Got that? Yes, it is a bit unusual.
Now, as stated, council has to get the public’s approval. That’s the law. But democracy being a messy form of government, our provincial leaders have seen fit to offer two approval processes. Remember? The Bad Choice and the Right Choice.
The Right Choice is pretty easy to deal with. We’re all familiar with it. It’s called a vote, or in this case a referendum. Are you fer it or a’gin it? Yes or no?
The Right Choice takes 90 days and would cost $35,000 to administer. It would settle the issue once and for all. If the public said, "Hey, great idea; let’s do it." that would be that. The people opposed to it would still be opposed to it but they could be told, with impunity, "Ha, ha; you lost." If their fears about what might happen in the future turn out to be true, the council of the day could, very rightly say, "Dudes, don’t you remember having the chance to vote on this? It was your choice."
The Bad Choice only takes 30 days. Being slightly more committed to the democratic process, our council – that is to say everyone except Nancy and Eckhard, both of whom favour the Right Choice – has granted 32 days. Thanks, guys; that’s big of you. Those extra two days… what can I say, I’m all choked up.
The Bad Choice only costs $5,000 to administer.
The Bad Choice requires 10 per cent of a "fair estimate of the total amount of electors" to accurately – and one presumes intelligibly – fill out a two page document stating they’re opposed to the proposal. After they’ve done that, they need to mail it or drop it off at muni hall. No faxes, no e-mails. To get this two-page document, they either have to go to muni hall and get it, or download it, or have somebody knock on their door and offer it to them, or maybe pass by a table where someone implores them to sign it.
Eight hundred and ninety-two people, all meeting the requirements to vote, need to do this. I won’t torture you this week with how that number was arrived at – Alison probably covered it in her news piece about this – but needless to say, the number is fuzzy. It’s just one of the many reasons the Bad Choice is called the Bad Choice.
So, the game’s afoot. Those philosophically opposed to awarding the DBO for a public works project to a private corporation have until 4:30 p.m. on June 12 to get 892 bona fide Whistleratics to formally object… during shoulder season… when many people are away… or leaving… or otherwise distracted.
There are many reasons for opposing the DBO contract. I’ll explore them further next week.
There’s one reason to be in favour of it: it’s supposed to save taxpayers money over the course of the next 12 years. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. At this point in history, for more reasons than I have room to list, I’m getting a little leery of promises made by governments and corporations that prove, in the end, to have been lies, sweet lies. I’m never certain whether or not to believe them because there seldom seems to be any consequences attached to their lies once discovered. Call me a cynic; I come by it honestly.
But while you go back and search the Pique for the ad council has to run this week informing you about all this, consider this one argument against the Bad Choice. It’s fundamentally undemocratic. It’s a ruse. It’s a weak attempt to be seen to be doing the right thing when the right thing is, in fact, the other option. It’s a flawed process built on flawed assumptions.
And it just might backfire. Stay tuned.