Shut up - or else!

Recent changes to the Municipal Act has given broader powers to the Regional District of Central Westbank Westside Regional District of Central Okanagan directos get gag tools.Okanagan (RDCO) Westside and Westbank Directors. These changes include a small clause that can be used to gag public opinion. If you elect to oppose Westside or Westbank local government and in so doing utter any comment, or make a statement in an attempt to defeat or undermine Regional District programs, oppose tax increases, you could be taken to court at your expense! Be very careful what you say or you may find yourself in court defending your right to have an opinion.

Andrew Hanon, past Editor of the Capital News wrote the following article which quite effectively explains, in a manner, the effect and cause of the new act and in particular, the way in which the act can and will in some cases, affect many of the residents of the Westside.
(reprinted with the permission of Andrew Hanon, Editor, Capital News)

Efficient government shouldn't mean trampling democracy.    Andrew Hanon

 For the past three years, the NDP government has been overhauling the rules under which municipalities and regional districts are allowed to operate. Problem is, nobody's reading the fine print.
   Some of these changes were the result of actions right here in the Central Okanagan, and local politicians and bureaucrats are puffing out their chests in pride, quietly congratulating themselves for ground-breaking ideas that will make city halls across the province more efficient and effective.
   Skyreach Place is a prototype project for the new style of civic government. In the past, if politicians wanted to build a new arena, they had to ask the electorate to approve a tax hike in order to pay for it. Kelowna came up with an innovative plan to lease land to a private developer, and as part of the deal, guarantee to rent the rink to the tune of $1 million annually.
   Problem was, the Municipal Act didn't allow it. The provincial government had to change the law before such a deal could be struck.
   And thus began a three-year program of reforming the act which is supposed to conclude this year. When it's all over, the Municipal Act will be renamed the Local Government Act and will give local governments sweeping new authority.
   Some of our local politicians are salivating at the prospects. At last, they crow, we'll be able to get our pet projects through the system. We can effect change more quickly. It will be a win-win for the voters and taxpayers of the region.
   Blah, blah, blah.
   What no one will say is that this new efficiency comes at a heavy price: reduced accountability to the public.
   Taxpayers no longer need to worry their simple little heads about major construction projects. Under the clunky, cumbersome Municipal Act, any time a civic government wanted to build something, but needed to borrow money (and therefore raise taxes to service the debt), the voters had to approve it in a referendum.
Westbank Westside Reghionla District directors get gag tools.
Now all that's needed is what's called a counter petition, a process so arcane it borders on medieval. With a counter petition, it's up to the people opposed to a project to rally the troops. If they get five per cent of the electorate to sign a petition, a referendum is forced. Otherwise it goes through unchallenged.
   This change will make it a lot easier to ram through a project, because instead of putting the onus on the politicians to sell the idea, it will be up to the voters to prove it should be stopped. Call it negative-option democracy.
   But the best is yet to come.
   In this year's round of changes there's a tiny clause about counter-petitions which will could effectively be a gag order on opponents.
Anyone working to defeat a project could be taken to court for "knowingly making false or misleading statements about the matter to which the counter petition relates."
   In other words, "if you don't like my arena, or my fire hall, you better watch what you say, or city hall can sue you."
   Government wags argue that the key word is "knowingly." They say it must be proven that opponents are lying, but just having that threat hanging over them will be enough to send a chill through any opposition.
   Most reasonable people demand more efficiency out of government, but should never come at the cost of democracy.

        Andrew Hanon

Click for a article on how the Regional District of Central Okanagan Westbank Westside directors using their powers prevented a possible enquiry into allegations of illegal government processes.
For those opposed to anything, use extreme caution ... mums the word... or else! Westside.Ca ]