EDITORIAL: Cell tower story adds fuel to fire of governance debate

Those who represent specific electoral areas have their votes changed by entire RDN board that's dominated by Nanaimo politicians

For many years there have been valid complaints coming from French Creek, Chartwell and Eaglecrest about the spotty, at best, cell phone coverage in these neighbourhoods, home to thousands of our fellow Parksville Qualicum Beach residents.

The issue has been raised in Qualicum Beach town council chambers, the board table at the Regional District of Nanaimo and consistently in neighbourhood association newsletters.

In case you may think this is just about some people who can’t play Candy Crush on their phones while sitting on their back decks with a cold one, the officer in charge of the local RCMP detachment brought it into better focus earlier this year when he said improved cell service there would “enhance the safety of the community.”

Finally, it looked like something was going to happen. Telus had stepped up to the plate and said it would build a $400,000 cell tower on Sunrise Drive, near Chartwell but technically in French Creek. (Why is it that seemingly every time we try to tell a story it’s a jurisdictional jumble? Too much government perhaps? Ah, but we digress).

The RDN, which works in mysterious ways when it comes to who can vote on which issues, decided it would send a letter of concurrence to Industry Canada, basically saying it had no objection to the Telus plan. But faster than you can say “Mayor Bill Who?,” the RDN reversed its decision and asked Industry Canada not to approve the Telus plan until a whack of demands were met.

The first RDN vote, you see, just involved electoral area directors. The second vote was the entire board, including the massive Nanaimo contingent, which seems to like to tell the country hicks what’s best for them.

Telus went beyond what was asked of them in terms of public consultation by Industry Canada, which has the final say on this cell tower. Industry Canada’s consultation standards are lame at best, sure, but Telus exceeded them regardless.

The RDN board was apparently swayed by passionate pleas by residents. Fair enough, but the whole issue raises more questions than it answers, like:

• if this is the flip-flop way this regional district’s elected officials operate, who in their right mind would want to do business with a group like that?

• and what, precisely, is the point of an electoral area committee if it can be overruled on specific neighbourhood issues by Mayor Bill McKay and his band of Nanaimo councillors?

— Editorial by John Harding

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