Public consultation on draft strategic plan coming in February
After much discussion and debate at the Jan. 30 meeting, Kawartha Lakes council unanimously approved a motion put forward by Ward 3 representative Mike Perry that will allow for more public input on the city’s proposed strategic plan.
Perry suggested the timeline for final approval of the 2023-2027 strategic plan be extended until the end of March to allow for more broadly-based public consultations at a meeting or meetings expected sometime in mid-to-late February.
Perry proposed the current draft strategic plan be the basis for discussions at the February meeting(s) so that after the consultative process is completed a more representative document will be debated at council on March 20.
Councillor Pat Warren kicked off the discussion about the draft strategic plan extension. Warren was concerned that one of the committees she sits on, the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) of Kawartha Lakes, was missed during the original window for consultation and that this group deserved to be heard before the final document is approved.
“There appeared to be some miscommunications (between the city and EAC),” Warren said. “I really feel they should have some input into the plan. I think (an extension to March) would be good so they can have enough time to comment on the plan.”
Councillor Dan Joyce, Deputy Mayor Charlie McDonald and Councillor Tracy Richardson pushed back against Warren’s suggestion, saying the environment is well represented in the draft strategic plan, and that the plan could always be amended sometime later after if things are found to have been missed.
“EAC was consulted on the Healthy Environment Plan which is part of the draft strategic plan,” Joyce said.
“I respect Councillor Warren’s remarks,” McDonald added, “but I really believe that everything (on the environment) is already there. The document is a work in progress, and I am just saying if we keep delaying everything, we won’t be able to move forward. This is a draft. I don’t know what difference one month is going to make. Delaying things is not the answer.”
“I am struggling with the same (issues McDonald is),” Richardson said. “This will be a document that is constantly evolving and a document that will change over the next three years. This is a guideline so staff can move forward for the community. I feel it is a great document and I am in favour of moving forward with this document (now).”
Councillor Eric Smeaton offered a cautionary note saying that while he did not want the approval process to “keep going on and on,” giving EAC the opportunity to consult might produce “a gleaming little nugget” that would make the document better.
“I do not see the harm in committee or public input over the next month,” Smeaton said, “but I do not support a two-month delay.”
McDonald added that he was concerned that “one additional deputation could become 10, lengthening the approval process by months.”
Mayor Doug Elmslie suggested that council would be better off “endorsing the document today and amending it later if they wished.”
“Going out and getting (more) public input on the draft document could muddy the water,” Elmslie said. “We have had several meetings of council, had feedback from staff and some committees, and have had good feedback from the public on Jump In. There has already been a lot of feedback on this document. We need to endorse this document and move forward.”
Councillor Emmett Yeo said his preference is that if council is in favour of more consultation “that it should be done before we adopt the document.”
When asked by the mayor to sum up her motion, Warren said, “Why can’t we wait a month or two? EAC meet this Thursday (Feb. 1). I truly believe they should have their say. Maybe they will have some real gems to add. Having been involved with documents like this before, it is not easy to change these huge umbrella plans (after they are passed).”
Council voted narrowly to approve Warren’s motion, but more importantly the delay for EAC opened the door for Perry to suggest that council revisit his suggestions made at a committee of the whole meeting earlier this month that much more public consultation of the draft strategic plan is necessary.
“I propose that council endorse this strategic plan because there are lots of good things here, but that we engage the public for review and input beyond the Jump In page, and provide public informed recommendations to council in March,” Perry said.
Perry said he agrees with Yeo that council should go back to the public one more time, and “take the time to do it right.”
“We have extended timelines before,” Perry said. “We need to have a meaningful period of consultation for the document to have credibility.”
“I wholeheartedly agree with councillor Perry,” Councillor Ashmore said. “We represent almost 90,000 people. They need to be heard. The end of March is not unreasonable. We need to get this document right.”
When asked by councillors McDonald and Richardson if public consultation could be readied, organized and collated for March 20, CAO Ron Taylor put up no objection saying there could be meetings in February with decisions ready to be made in March.
Perry told Richardson, when she queried how broadly based the feedback on the draft strategic plan might be, that he was hoping that ideas outside what was proposed in the plan might be brought forward “and that this would be natural and a good thing.”
Perry put his motion to council summing up that staff could meet the timeline, and that with more public input the document could move forward with “pride, confidence and credibility.”
Once the city announces the dates for public consultation the Advocate will share times and locations for those meetings.