by Robin Sukhu

In July 2020 our municipality asked the public for their input on their “Strategic Plan”.  The town’s email said: “We now want to hear from you!”.

Once all the input was in, the CAO stated in writing “There is no specific evaluation of the feedback” provided by the public.  The town claims to want our feedback and many people took their time to respond.  The town responds by not evaluating the feedback. How can the town reconcile this hypocrisy?

After being forced to file a Freedom Of Information request (an abuse in my opinion),  we can now all see that public input here.

Most of the public feedback, 60%, was in support of bike lanes.  Despite this Councillor Dalgity introduced a motion to try to reroute bicycle lanes to other streets.  His motion further stipulates that this should be done without loss of on-street parking.  Think about that for a minute – reroute the bike lanes and magically have no loss of on-street parking.  Can he be serious?

Councillor Dalgity’s motion prompted me to write to him.  The exchange of emails is here.  If you go to that link you can see that I dissected each of the points that Councillor Dalgity raised.  I believe that I made a strong case showing that he has made little effort to conduct an unbiased review.  Councillor Dalgity never responded to any of the points I raised.

It is worth noting the language that the councillor used referring to some bike lane supporters as “elitist”.  Using the word “elitist” is just code for “you are not from here” and is a classic attempt to divide the community. Instead of striving for inclusivity, this councillor is sowing the seeds of divisiveness.

If the “Strategic Plan” were indeed strategic, it would be forward looking and recognise what is coming.  It takes little research to see that throughout North America electric scooters are becoming very popular.  Battery assisted bikes are a big help to seniors. It is intuitively obvious that we should plan for this by making bike lanes safer and more extensive – that would be strategic.  Instead the PRATAC councillors have doubled down on removing bike lanes!   Hey councillors, if you are reading this then look at this short video.

My own concerns are dwarfed by the feedback provided by the public.  The public feedback can be summarised in the two pictures below

People don’t want this.  They do not want our town to be a dragstrip with no life.

What they want is something like this:

People want a safe bike lane right in the middle of town because that is where people go.  People want a town with life.

Looking at those two visions of our town, where would you want to live?  Dragstrip or safe friendly town?

Mississippi Mills is not alone in asking for public input and then ignoring it.  A few years ago Lanark County conducted a public consultation process on the OVRT  (the rail trail).  Here too it turned out that the public input was collected and ignored.  See my article here to learn more about that incident.

When I asked Lanark County for the public input on the OVRT, the CAO of Lanark County provided me the information within a few days. No questions asked.  Mississippi Mills on the other hand, first claimed that there was confidential information in the submissions and then forced me to file a Freedom Of Information request.  Now we can all see that there was nothing confidential in the public submissions as was claimed.  In essence, the town’s administration attempted to mislead and acted in an obstructionist manner.

Getting back to today’s public input, one of the public submissions in response to the “Strategic Plan” (submission #44) used the words “Authentic Community Engagement”. I hope that councillors will see that the decision to ignore the public’s input, compounded with councillor Dalgity’s motion, is the opposite of “Authentic Community Engagement”.

“Authentic Community Engagement” is not something that we should have to fight for; it should be the town’s default position.  The town should not be hiding behind the Freedom Of Information Act when it is clearly in the public good to make the information public.  The town should not ignore the public input they claim they want.

I intend to contact each councillor and try to get support for a motion to be put to council stating that on every future public consultation, each respondent must check a box indicating if they wish to make their anonymized submission public.  This should make the whole process more transparent.  I will let you know how that effort unfolds.

Notes:

The following excerpts are from public submission #25

A community designed for motor vehicles is a community that ignores modern planning principles; a municipality that purports to support climate change, youth endeavours and public engagement should not treat cyclists and would‐be‐ cyclists as lesser tier citizens. With Covid 19 (and other health related issues coming down the pipe) and working from home becoming more and more a reality ‐ especially in a small town that sits off the highway to Ottawa ‐ any

Transportation Plan should consider more bicycle lanes and walking trails etc., as other similar jurisdictions are currently planning.

Please note: 44 Communities in Ontario are Bicycle Friendly Communities ‐ https://www.sharetheroad.ca/bicyclefriendlycommunitiesp138264 ‐  including smaller towns: Mississippi Mills, The Town of Blue Mountains, Pelham, Belleville, Caledon, Cobourg, Cambridge, Collingwood, Ingersoll, Milton, Welland and so many more. These are destination places / progressive planners / smart on economic development. Brockville Ontario’s very detailed Active Transportation Plan and draft map package

‐ https://brockville.com/activetransportation

Mississippi Mills’ complete streets policy (our town is a leader in the Ottawa Valley on this movement) ‐  https://www.mississippimills.ca/en/live/resources/CompleteStreetsPolicy2017.pdf

Ottawa’s complete streets policy:

http://sustainableeasternontario.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2018/02/4_Ottawa_Complete_Streets_Policy.pdf

Complete Streets across Canada ‐ https://www.completestreetsforcanada.ca/locations/