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Four Public Engagements. Is It A Plot?

Get ready. Coming our way, and underway already, beginning with the Official Community Plan (OCP) are four critically important public consultation processes that will determine, lock down, basically carve in stone the future of the Valley for generations to come—including what happens with the forests, watersheds, land development, community character, urban sprawl, etc, and the ability for the public to influence decisions.

Juggling for position with the OCP (first survey deadline September 15), in a Tsunami of surveys and reports: the Climate Action and Energy Plan; public engagement about the Six Mountains Community Forest; and public engagement about public engagement.

Why are all four engagements happening at once, you might ask?

People who are cynical about government often accuse bureaucracies of creating the appearance of engaging with and listening to the public, while actually designing public consultation surveys and reports like convoluted mazes in which people are quickly lost and overwhelmed; and/or by throwing out so many surveys at once that people give up before they have begun and the status quo carries on as usual.

Given the four engagements, you may indeed suspect a plot on the part of the North Cowichan Municipal Government (MNC) to overwhelm us so we sink into apathy and despair. But I’m going to argue the opposite. I’m going to assume the best—that the MNC is trying to make our lives easier by piling one engagement on top of another for this simple reason: they are all connected. They are so connected they are practically married.

This is to say, what applies to one often applies to the others and therefore, instead of feeling divided between them, overwhelmed and conquered by the hours and days required to fill them all in—thanks to the MNC we don’t have to endure the insult and time repeating ourselves. We can combine them. Our tool: copy/paste.

It’s simple. It’s logical. It’s fast. It’s easy. It’s a way to say what you want even when you can’t find the relevant questions.

For instance, at the end of the OCP survey is a question asking for your input on engagement in general and your interest in participating in various municipal processes. Such as: community planning, budgets and financial, strategic initiatives, recreation, leisure. Note: there is no mention of the community forests.

When I noticed this, my heart sank. How could they omit the forests? An accidental omission? Well, I for one, will not be put off. I will be expressing my interest in participating in the Forest Review. What they don’t ask we can spell out IN BOLD AND CAPITAL.

And another side note: the way things are going, I often wonder why we’re paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for consultants when it appears, so far, everything could have been put together by the MNC. The last draft forest survey and discussion guide read like the Coles notes of the forestry department.

Pressing on, to fill out the OCP, probably like you, I know my priorities. I know what input I want to give on the surveys. So, again, I’m going to say what I want to say even when the surveys ignore what I think is important. I’m going to take about an hour to write down my priorities in brief points. Then I’m going to put them in a document I can copy/paste into the comment sections of the surveys.

The OCP, to begin, is the most important thing. When completed, it will be the sword in Council’s hand. It expresses what the public wants. For instance, if the survey results say the community vision is for keeping the forests standing through a carbon project then it should be stated in the OCP and Forest Plan as policy Council can use.

We can be at the helm of what is happening to our Valley. In this crazy world, it’s something powerful we can do.

Icel Dobell is a community advocate and co-founder of WhereDoWeStand. Icel wrote and directed the short film "Save our North Cowichan Community Forests".

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