Electoral reform is often brought up as a federal issue. But it is just as important at the provincial and municipal levels. Whether MPs, MLAs, mayors or councillors, many have been elected on tiny majorities as a result of the first-past-the-post electoral system or have simply returned unopposed (i.e. acclaimed).
It’s time for a proportional system for municipalities, where no one has to ‘hold their nose’ at the ballot box, and where there is healthy competition – rather than a politics of ‘winner takes all’ and uncontested fiefdoms.
‛Better ballots for a better city council’
Dave Meslin, who labels himself an independent non-partisan community organizer, has been championing a proportional voting system at the municipal level since at least 2010!
In fact, he wrote a blog post in 2009 in which he declared: “By any measure, our city elections are failing us. Voter turnout is astonishingly low, turnover of Councillors is extremely rare, and our Council is surprisingly white and male for a city that allegedly prides itself on its ‘diversity’.” That was Toronto then. It could describe Charlottetown today.
Meslin is the creative director of Unlock Democracy Canada (modelled after the UKʼs Unlock Democracy organization), a non-profit organization that is part of Canada’s growing movement for democratic renewal. Here is what he writes about municipal reform:
“Municipal democracy could use some innovation in Canada. […] with First-Past-the-Post, thousands of Council Members across Canada are serving without a definitive mandate. It’s normal for a Mayor to “win” a race in Canada, with less than 50% of the vote – or even less than 30%.
➤ In 2018: Philip Brown received 42.13% of the vote. Voter turnout in Charlottetown was 58% (relatively unchanged since 2000).
But there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to local democracy.From Victoria to Iqaluit to St John’s, each municipality has their own unique needs, demographics and history. That’s why our local councils need flexibility and tools to maximize participation and diversity. If cities have Local Choice, then they can begin to experiment with democratic reform. Change always starts local!”
Meslin holds a monthly workshop Better Ballots 101 the first of every month at 8 PM Atlantic time. Click here to register for the November 1, 2021, workshop.
You may have observed Japanese knotweed around town or on your property. While the stem looks remarkably like bamboo (which is actually a grass), the leaves are completely different.
The plant grows extremely fast in one season and, once established, is notoriously difficult to eradicate.
In 2019, the Environment and Sustainability Committee was made aware of the challenges faced by homeowners who attempt to control Japanese knotweed on their property, and recommendations were suggested to inform and educate residents along with a request to introduce a by-law that would require property owners to remove noxious and invasive weeds.
Until the City passes a noxious/invasive weed by-law, residents are left either to ignore the plant pest or to remove it with perhaps not the best results.
Now is a good time of the year for property owners to make a positive identification so they can be prepared to start controlling the spread and growth of this environmental nuisance next spring.
The Canadian Council on Invasive Species explains that a very limited number of ‘alien, non-native’ plants are identified as ‘high risk’ and pose a direct threat to human health and safety, the environment, and the economy. These plants are known as invasive due to their ability to aggressively take over the landscape.
The reason Japanese knotweed is so aggressive and hard to control is because the roots (rhizomes) grow in all directions at various depths and even sprout shoots underground. The tough shoots can break through gravel, tarmac, and concrete. Prolific rhizome and shoot growth can damage foundations, walls, pavements, drainage works, and flood prevention structures.
➤ Rhizomes can extend 7 metres (about 23 ft) horizontally and 3 metres (about 10 ft) deep, with shoots even sprouting underground! The plant we see above-ground is really the “tip of the iceberg”.
Controlling the spread of Japanese knotweed
The best time to tackle Japanese knotweed is in spring, when the previous year’s dried-up stalks can be more easily removed and before too many new shoots sprout from the rhizomes.
Controlling Japanese knotweed depends on the size of the infestation, but whichever method is used, it must be continued for at least 5 years to ensure that the rhizomes are weakened sufficiently to prevent new growth.
For urban property owners, one of the more common — and inexpensive — control methods is tarping.
Tarping refers to covering an invasive plant population with a dark material to block sunlight and “cook” the root system.
FIRST YEAR: To tarp an area, first cut Japanese knotweed stems, taking care not to spread any plant pieces. Even the smallest fragment of stem or rhizome can produce new plants. Carefully place the plant pieces in a thick clear plastic bag and tightly seal the bags. Write “Japanese knotweed”or “invasive plant” on the bag. Place it in your waste cart; you can also have up to 2 excess bags beside your cart [source: Island Waste Management].
Next, smooth out the targeted area, remove rocks and any other debris that may damage the covering. Cover the infested area with thick or multiple layers of a dark coloured tarp or heavy material, extending up to 2 metres beyond plant growth, and weigh down with stones, bricks, planks, soil, etc. How-to video
SUBSEQUENT YEARS: Monitor the perimeter for new shoots, especially in spring, when growth is strongest. Pull out the shoots as you find them, bag carefully, and follow the disposal method described above. Cover new area and continue monitoring the perimeter for new shoots.
Check the tarp/plastic cover every spring/early summer for damage. Use duct tape to repair tears, or add or replace tarp/plastic as required.
Do not check under the tarp to remove new shoots (they will be white from lack of sun), as this will only provoke the plant to produce even more shoots!
It takes time and patience to bring the knotweed under control (up to eight years).
If space allows, plant shade-producing native species around the tarp/wrap.
KEY MESSAGE FROM EXPERTS: Have a plan and keep at it.
Call to action
Japanese Knotweed is a serious problem, which needs to be taken seriously, especially by city councils. Because Charlottetown has no noxious or invasive weed by-law, home-owners with Japanese knotweed on their property are not legally required to control it or to prevent it from spreading onto neighbouring land.
Contact or write to your councillor to ask for an amendment to the Municipal Property Standards By-law. A Canadian municipality can pass a property standards by-law under the Building Code Act to address the presence of weeds deemed noxious or a threat to the environment or human health and safety.
Contact or write to your councillor and your MLA to urge the PEI Legislature to (a) raise greater awareness of the Prince Edward Island Weed Control Act, (b) include all alien invasive plant species as noxious weeds in the Act and, (c) introduce regulations to control the spread of Japanese knotweed, as the province did with purple loosestrife in 2004.
On April 5, I wrote a post explaining the Planning Board’s role in the planning and development process; and that the Board’s meeting agenda on April 6 would include the St Peters Road rezoning application.
Citizens may appreciate the fact that the meetings are live-streamed and archived. The major drawback is that viewers are unable to see the presentations (except when Cisco Webex is used), leaving them in the dark as to what those in the room are seeing. What is the City waiting for to upgrade its video technology?
Planning Board meeting: April 6
Despite that drawback, the Planning Board video-recording (go to minute 35:20) is well worth listening to, if only because it demonstrates once again that residents’ comments are trivialized. In a presentation and discussion that lasts 23 minutes, a scant minute (37:15–37:58) is devoted to listing the objections of “mainly area residents”. No mention is made of their suggestions, however.
So when the entire discussion is focussed on traffic, when the concluding sentence by the planner is “we feel that in the interest of the public, this is the best option” (40:55), when the objective is clearly to accommodate a retail business’s expansion (letʼs call it what it is), when public money is being used to construct a vehicle-only-friendly roundabout to enable that expansion, it is clear that both the Province and the City are less than willing to consider viable alternatives in favour of the people living in the community.
Call to action
If you want the City of Charlottetown and the Provincial Government to start thinking about the people who live here instead of the vehicles driving through, please write to your councillor, the mayor, your MLA, and Premier King (see Links for contact information).
Regular Meeting of Council: April 12
The Planning Board’s recommendation to proceed with the rezoning application will be discussed at the Regular Meeting of Council on Monday, April 12 (starts at 5 p.m.). At time of writing, the Monthly Council Meeting package has not been made public.
Meeting moments of interest → 39:00 : Planner describing “mitigative measures” and “safety issue” → 43:35 : Exchange between Councillor McCabe and Planning Board Chair Duffy → 50:20 : Exchange between Coun. McCabe and Planner about Mel’s further expansion in future → 51:18 : Manager of Planning Mr Forbes on provincial control of St Peters Road → 52:10 : Coun. McCabe question “How many times has this application been before Council?” → 53:22 : Planning Board Chair Duffy and the “Fairness Factor” → 55:20 : Manager of Planning Mr Forbes and the “complicated traffic-related issue”
P.S. Heavens to Betsy, if I had a dollar for every time someone in Planning or Council said: “I’m not a traffic engineer” !
Divided into five specific sections, the 26-page report uses plain language and well designed infographics.
In the section entitled “Where do local leaders come from?”, we learn that most local politicians surveyed suggest that their path to politics began, or was aided by, experience in community associations.
What motivates a person to enter local politics?
“An overriding theme of responses was that politics was simply a way to give back to a community in which representatives were already heavily engaged. The majority of answers (58%) mention the importance of public service, community involvement, or making changes generally, on specific issues, or in leadership.”
The next municipal election is in 2022. Let us raise our voices, let’s connect with each other and be instrumental in inspiring and encouraging progressive and civil society leaders from all walks of life to consider running for mayor or councillor.
Many respondents were recruited, or received encouragement to run. Overwhelmingly, local politicians themselves cite their interest in public service and the well-being of their communities as the key motivators for seeking office at the municipal level.
2020 Locally Grown: A survey of municipal politicians in Canada
On Monday, March 22, a very important Design Review Board meeting is being held regarding APM’s proposed 84-unit apartment building to be built in the Polyclinic parking lot. Citizens need to have much more information and input than happened in the 15 Haviland case. Already, there is reason for concern.
Design Review is the City committee which approved 15 Haviland Street, 99-unit, project in 17 minutes, including the developer’s [APM] presentation. There was then no recourse allowed by the Mayor for any public input by the community or even City Council. Our only 15 Haviland recourse is for an IRAC appeal which will be launched if/when the City issues a Development Permit. The Polyclinic 84 unit seems to be embarking on a similar rushed approval process.
Several days ago, the City announced that the Design Review Board would meet about 199 Grafton on March 22. Not until Friday, March 19, did the Design Reviewer provide his technical report, and that Reviewer is the same New Brunswick architect who was paid $1500 to review APM’s $30-million 15 Haviland proposal. He was supportive of 15 Haviland, while highly regarded architects called it an urban design disaster and a box on top of a bunker on Charlottetown’s beautiful waterfront.
Late Friday afternoon, March 19, the City provided the meeting package for the noon, Monday, March 22 meeting. In the meeting package, APM asks that the Design Review Board process the necessary variances and the Development Agreement concurrently. It is clear that the developer wants this approval fast-tracked, although it is not expected to be approved at Monday’s meeting because there are so many issues with the project. These issues need to be fully resolved before any Development Agreement is entertained. Following are some of the many issues.
In the meeting package, APM refers to the project as “affordable” housing in nine instances, but nowhere in the package does it state how many of the units will actually be affordable housing. Will it be all 84 units or only a few token units to help get the project approved as per 15 Haviland? On February 16, in a CBC article about the proposed Polyclinic project, when asked about the number of affordable housing units, Tim Banks stated “it’s difficult to determine exactly how many of the units will fall into the affordable housing category.” That’s not good enough. This Polyclinic parking lot is an ideal location for bona fide affordable housing, but the exact number needs to be known before any consideration should be given to significant variances in this 500 Lot Area.
As to the variances required, there are many as the Design Reviewer acknowledges when he says “..it is clear that there are several variances required prior to obtaining a Development Agreement including frontages, setbacks, step backs, heights, Clark Street.” In fact, APM’s plans call for building right up to the edge of Clark Street, which borders the proposed project for 428 feet.
All told, this appears to be another case, as per 15 Haviland, of overbuilding a site and not respecting the scale or other physical aspects of the neighbourhood. In the meeting package, APM says that because it has “identified no significant commonality or distinction surrounding the area, the design for the proposed building adapted to what we feel is appropriate for this site.”
There are various other issues related to this proposed project which need to be addressed, and this scrutiny should begin at Monday’s Design Review meeting. Two of the key Design Review members are the Mayor and the ward Councillor for that area. For 15 Haviland, they both were wearing APM hardhats. We hope they will better represent our community’s interests on Monday and as this project proceeds through a thorough due diligence and public input process.
Here’s what the March 2021 meeting calendar looks like:
Click on any of the meetings shown in blue for more information, such as time of meeting, location, agenda, and meeting package (if available).
Most meetings are held on a regular basis every month, are streamed live and then archived on the City’s YouTube channel.
A Special Meeting of Council, however, can be called at the Mayor’s or the Chief Administration Officer’s (CAO) request as little as 24 hours in advance, according to the Municipal Government Act (2017).
Recently posted under News and Notices on the City of Charlottetown’s Web site: “Charlottetown City Council will commission MDB Insight to conduct the first ever Charlottetown Citizen Satisfaction Survey, in an effort to gauge City residents’ satisfaction with the handling of priority issues within the City.”
The Strong Towns Strength Test
Strong Towns is a North American non-profit organization that helps individuals and municipalities learn about and adopt a radically new way of thinking about the way we build our world.