by Robin Sukhu

Over the past few months Council has been working on a Strategic Plan.  My expectation was that this plan would be focused on the community good. It would not be a political document tied to ideology, it would be non-partisan.

What we have been presented with is a political document tied to this council’s short-term objectives.  The discussion on bike lanes was part of a pre-election promise made by some on council.  This partisan issue has made its way into the “Strategic Plan”.  One councillor specifically stated that he made a promise to remove the bike lanes and he made it a point to shoehorn this into the discussion.  The link to political objectives cannot be clearer.

The public was invited to provide input to the process.  Below I have tabulated the 63 responses that were received.  If you read to the end, you will learn how the public input was treated.

Primary message

Here are the results of my detailed review of the public input (you can see the public input here.  I have numbered each submission for reference purposes.)

Most of the input, 38 of 63 submissions, was in support of bike lanes.  That is 60% of all public input was in support of bike lanes.  In a future article I will address bike lanes. I won’t deal with it here because I feel it deserves special attention. For now, please recognise that the bike lanes issue is a major one.

Quality of the plan

Submissions #32, #44, #51 and #55 all questioned the quality of what is written in the document. Here are their thoughts in order:

“This sounds like an enormous bureaucracy almost certainly doomed to failure and would seem to ignore the reality that these departments seem to be understaffed and under-resourced”

“The theme underscoring the entire plan appears to be driven by fiscal frugality rather than vision”

“I guess it’s the idea of understanding what the problem is before you attempt to solve it”

“I think the mission statement needs a lot more massaging. It was very confusing ‐ it felt like a bunch of buzz words thrown together in a sentence”

Submission #32 is worth reading, it is written by someone who seems to have project management experience.

My interpretation of these submissions is that the plan is a poor one.

Concerns about political motivation

Some public submissions raised questions about the motivation behind the “strategic plan”.  Submission #25 in particular is from an Almonte businessperson who astutely recognises that

“Council is about setting vision ‐ long term planning ‐ seven-generation thinking, not about completing quick projects (politically motivated) or hastily‐conceived, expensive ones.”

This is not the only submission that questions the political motivation behind the “strategic plan”.  Submissions #56 and #59 said that the document

 “appears to politicize a highly volatile situation with the cycling lanes that some Councilors promised to eliminate during the last election campaign”

And

“We are uncertain as to where this hostility from our elected officials comes from against active transportation as it appears to be ideologically driven”

Of particular concern to me is a point that was raised in submission #47 concerning political motivation

“Study link/ring road – another bridge location” – a proper TMP would identify this as a matter of course and political direction is not required to find this “avenue”. The inclusion of this statement seems to based entirely on the political dogma of an aligned segment of the current Council. Also as a matter of note, this was thoroughly debunked in the previous TMP of 2016.”

Learning from the past

Submission # 39 which is very brief, asks

“What were the lessons learned from the last Strategic Plan? What worked and what did not work. Where is the written analysis of the last Strategic Plan? Surely we do not simply ignore the past.”

As far as I can tell, there has been no analysis of the last Strategic Plan.  It is sheer stupidity to not attempt to learn from the past and to document what we have learned.

Other Issues

For the sake of brevity, I will in point form mention other concerns that were raised.

  • The focus on Almonte at the expense of the rural community (submissions #37 and #54)
  • Not addressing the lack of modern high-speed internet for rural areas (submissions #36 and #56)
  • Stop the misguided effort on re-branding (submissions #25 #44 #55)
  • Nothing significant on Environment protection (submissions #53 #54)

Wrapping Up

Submissions #44 and #47 raised questions about “Authentic Community Engagement”.  It is worthwhile to review how the public consultation went.  The town refused to release the public submissions; I was forced to file a Freedom of Information request to get access.

Was the public good served by withholding this information?

The initial email from the municipality to the public said, “We want to hear from you!”.  People read the voluminous “Strategic Plan” and took their time to make comments. How was their work rewarded?

Here is a link to the CAO’s report.  On page 4 he states “There is no specific evaluation of the feedback –we asked for people’s opinion which can neither be right or wrong –it is their opinion”

This is not my idea of Authentic Community Engagement.