What if you held a referendum and nobody came?
It’s nine days until the official voting day — advance voting starts today — for the referendum asking Parksville residents to give the city permission to borrow $5.6 million for a new water treatment plant that will cost a total of $26.8 million.
In November of 2014, only 35 per cent of roughly 9,000 eligible voters cast ballots in Parksville’s civic election. It’s often said a good mayoral race produces a spike in voter turnout. Two city councillors — Marc Lefebvre and Bill Neufeld — were fighting for the mayor’s chair in 2014 but just a little more than a third of eligible voters cast a ballot.
Then there’s the ‘No’ factor that comes with most referenda. The No voters in these types of questions seem to be more motivated to get to the polls. Without the proper research, that comment is anecdotal at best, but it comes from years of experience covering referenda.
If you are Mayor Lefebvre, or city operations manager Mike Squire, or the board members of the Englishman River Water Service (ERWS), all of this is a bit unsettling.
It has to be said the city has gone above and beyond to educate the public about the plans. There have been a number of open houses, newspaper ads and news stories related to the project. City council and ERWS board meetings about the subject have been open and have always allowed for questions and comments from the public.
Some people seem to think other options haven’t been considered. It’s our view the ERWS and the city have done their homework and have looked at other options, including those that have appeared late in the game from members of the public like they are some kind of revelation. This plan has been 20 years or more in the making.
Nanoose Bay residents, through a referendum of their own, gave the RDN borrowing permission for a treatment plant 20 years ago. That authority has been renewed through bylaws over the past 20 years and some people in Nanoose Bay question that process and the fact the population is very different now than it was in 1995-96. The RDN is on the hook for 26 per cent of the total cost of the project that’s on the table. Nanoose Bay residents don’t get a vote on Nov. 21, but they have a lot riding on the outcome.
Then there’s the Island Health factor. If it’s a No vote, what will the health authority do about Parksville and Nanoose Bay’s inability to follow surface water treatment edicts?
No matter what the outcome, it would be good to see a solid turnout for the referendum on Nov. 21. Yes, you have done a lot of voting in the last couple years (provincial, municipal and federal). One more wouldn’t hurt, would it?
— Editorial by John Harding