PRATAC disappoints, fosters fear

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Shaun McLaughlin

Our local resident advocate, PRATAC, is a disappointment. Such groups can be positive forces in a community. Sadly, PRATAC continually focuses on fear and negativity.

The latest examples were three, public (mis)information meetings it organized the first two weeks of December in opposition to adding a natural heritage system (NHS) overlay to our community official plan (COP). PRATAC let a remnant of the Landowner movement* influence the meeting content and speaker list. The PRATAC/Landowner coalition worked hard to convince people that town Council is conspiring with the field naturalists and the conservation authority to take control of their land “forever.” (See flyer below.)

At the three meetings, only Landowners and conspiracy theorists could present. No one likely to dowse their speculative bushfires was invited to speak or allowed.

Five days prior to the third meeting in Almonte, I asked PRATAC president Brian Gallagher to give me time at the mic to answer questions. He refused, saying the agenda was full. That is a lame excuse designed to exclude diverse opinions.

The PRATAC/Landowner coalition so effectively fanned the flames of rural distrust of government, that the town’s scheduled December 14 meeting became a complaint-fest about the NHS and municipal government. The audience (about 400) shouted our consultant off the mic and prevented him from presenting the full COP, which was the meeting’s intent.

I took the mic and, with some help from eight councillors, fielded angry questions for two hours. I pointed out that the Province insists we have an NHS in the COP. I admitted our current NHS draft proposal goes too far and that I and others are working to scale it back to the minimum. That promise mollified no one, even though the minimum is exactly what many called for. People were too wound up.

PRATAC includes town leaders who should know better than to feed falsities to the public for political ends. Former councillor Ed Wilson (PRATAC treasurer) and former mayor John Levi (sporting a PRATAC t-shirt) smiled smugly during the debacle.

For PRATAC, it is not about the NHS—there is a bigger game being played out. Behind the scenes, PRATAC members say their goal is to replace all of town Council in the 2018 election. This is what you can expect from a successful PRATAC candidate:

  • Someone who will value your opinion if they agree with it.
  • Someone open to every idea other than a new or contrary one.
  • A vote for PRATAC is a vote for the Landowners.

Here is a line from the PRATAC constitution on their website: “Any person who does not support the missions and goals of the PRATAC is free to not apply for membership and any existing member who changes their view and does not support the missions and goals is free to withdraw from membership of the PRATAC.”

Our way or the highway.

As a residents group, PRATAC claims to speak for all taxpayers, but their exclusionary actions say otherwise. They regularly make up or exaggerate issues to get attention. The NHS is just the latest. They hope to create mischief and anxiety, and fool enough people with false claims to get a slate elected. However, I am heartened by the many, many conversations I’ve had with locals about PRATAC’s disingenuous claims. Few are fooled.

* The Landowners movement began in Lanark County in 2003. Its plea for common sense in rural government policy attracted thousands. Similar groups started up in other counties and provincially. Eventually, the libertarian wing took hold and the movement lost credibility. Its founders, including MPP Randy Hillier, left the organization. A rump still exists to espouse unsubstantiated theories.