A Bit Blurry Still
We’ve heard much about Gatineau’s efforts to improve transparency, and how much of a priority public consultations are for the city. There has certainly been a wide variety of public events on subjects ranging from the proposed tramway to urban planning initiatives.
Still, there’s a degree of apathy among residents towards these events. The Bulletin’s letters section has certainly been witness to criticisms about how helpful consultations have been. Yet what is causing this skepticism, and how can the city improve the message that resonates with residents?
Recent events have if anything caused people to feel vindicated in their indifference. Many felt that the consultations on the tramway were mostly a presentation of the city’s preferred route for the future lines. No noticeable modifications were implemented to original plans of the tramway going along Chemin Aylmer, the route that was often presented as the city’s preference from the beginning. And this despite consultations where many residents expressed concern about the viability of such a route and its impact on traffic congestion.
For the public consultation on the architectural competition for Place des Pionniers, residents were given information on four finalists and asked to vote on their favourite through an online poll. However, the poll opened late in the evening and ended 12 hours later, leaving many people unaware of the vote until it had already closed. The city then proceeded to go with an option other than the preferred choice of the voters. This left many wondering what the point had been to holding the vote in the first place.
Before the pandemic it was possible for residents to attend monthly council meetings and ask questions of councillors and the mayor directly, without having our questions vetted beforehand. It was also possible to watch videos of council meetings including this unfiltered question period. Those meetings have moved online, but questions are now submitted beforehand and read by members of the council instead of the citizens themselves. Moreover, the council now has the option to edit the questions before reading them. Although this format is more streamlined and can speed up the question period, it removes one of the main tools that residents had to make their voices heard directly to council and their fellow citizens.
In order for residents to have full faith in the municipal government’s transparency, the city must provide its reasoning for decisions as well as how the concerns of citizens were factored into final selections. This is particularly important when the most popular choices of residents aren’t retained. Otherwise large segments of the population will stop taking part in these processes.
Residents want to work with city representatives to make local projects the best they can be. When people feel that the city is truly listening to their views and taking them seriously they’ll stay involved. Agora and the Fraser/Lucern wetlands showed us the trouble late conflicts can cause for the city. Residents participating in project plans from the earliest stages is a win for everyone.