Kervin’s Corner: Port Hardy Residents Need Further Discussion on Proposed Multiplex

The multiplex project would mean a new building to replace the existing civic centre.

We’re waiting in anticipation about the multiplex. And so far the Regional District of Mount Waddington has rejected any grant proposals made in the past. It is yet to be seen whether the RDMW will accept or deny any funding for the project, so it’s safe to say the regional government is re-evaluating it in the short months to come.

The project is a wonderful idea — it would be a place for community engagement. What’s not so wonderful, however, is that there wasn’t much time to actually discuss it. It felt rushed.

The multiplex project would mean a new building to replace the existing civic centre. The project costs an estimated $10,000,000 according to the District’s YouTube video on the survey. In a press release, it was then estimated that it may be more likely around $12,000,000. Mayor and Council are looking to the community for donations, too. In fact, Marine Harvest generously offered $250,000 to support the project already — which is a great thing.

Now, remember the District held a referendum vote last October — almost a year ago. One of the many things that is important for referendum legitimacy is a super majority (66 per cent of the vote in favour). In fact, it is a pretty commonplace requirement in national, provincial, and municipal law.

Admittedly, survey results reveal 74 per cent of respondents are in support of a new building. That’s 380 survey respondents who are actually in favour, “Agree” or “Strongly Agree,” for a new facility. Again, for a super majority at least 66 per cent is needed — so that threshold was met. Some might argue that only 50 per cent is enough to say there is strong support from the community, but I’d say that’s just meeting the minimum requirement and doesn’t warrant a mandate.

What’s less obvious, though, is that there was no broad participation from the community. This point, broad participation, is another important factor for successful public engagement in serious issues. However, it is difficult, I admit, to engage a small town population. In fact, it seems to be a recurrent issue for all towns throughout Canada to have even at least more than 50 per cent of the population vote in municipal elections, so it’s doubly hard to have a referendum with community participation.

About 616 individuals voted in the “Port Hardy Recreation Survey” but of those 616 only 75 per cent were from Port Hardy. That means 462 people from our community had a say.

That’s only 11 per cent of Port Hardy’s population. There are 4132 residents of Port Hardy according to the recent 2016 long form Census. If you ask me, that’s not really broad participation. In fact, I’d argue that that’s not even enough for a strong mandate, but perhaps that’s splitting hairs at this point.

It’s unclear whether non-Port Hardy residents were included in the final results, let alone included in the “yes” votes. Were non-Port Hardy residents allowed a say in a vote that would mainly affect only Port Hardy residents, that is?

It’s not too big of a deal to allow non-Port Hardy residents a vote, sure. But if that is the case, I’d say it’s fair that other local communities, namely Port Alice and Port McNeill, pitch in some funds and tax dollars if this project goes through.

What we do need to know, however, is whether non-Port Hardy votes were counted in the 77 per cent total in favour. This may have tilted the vote in favour of reaching that 66 per cent super majority that is usually needed in referendums.

Don’t get me wrong, a multiplex is a great idea that will create a better sense of community. But we need to prolong the conversation just a bit longer so that other residents have a chance to voice their concerns too.

After all, we’re paying tax dollars to make it happen — rather, there will be a small tax increase to help fund the project, by the way.

Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.

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