By Villeneuve, Melissa on May 24, 2017.
The issue of citywide curbside recycling will not be put forward to a plebiscite at the October 2017 municipal election.
A citizen group, called the Lethbridge Committee for Government Affairs, presented a petition during Monday’s city council meeting requesting residents have their say on whether they agree with city-operated curbside recycling.
A group of volunteers has gone door-to-door around the city and collected more than 4,150 signatures since the end of March. Volunteers also spoke with residents at the recycling depots and the mall.
The committee requested that city council not move forward with the blue bin recycling program nor approve $14 million to build a materials recycling facility until the following question is submitted to electors at the October 2017 municipal election:
“Are you in favour of the blue bin recycling program approved by city council?”
The mandatory citywide blue bin recycling program, approved last November, is scheduled to roll out to the first 1,000 residences next spring, with full bi-weekly implementation by 2019. Residents will pay an additional $7 per month fee on their bill for the service.
About two dozen petition supporters were present for the decision. Council defeated the motion for a plebiscite by a vote of 4-3. Some in the audience audibly voiced their displeasure.
Mayor Chris Spearman said council has already made the decision to move forward with citywide curbside recycling.
“We can’t keep having referendums on issues after council has made a decision in a strategic direction,” he said. “We’d never get anything done if we did it that way.”
The petition also didn’t meet the required 10 per pent of the population to try to force the vote.
“Council is within their rights to decline the plebiscite when the bar hasn’t been met,” he said.
Committee representative Harold Pereverseff said the petition wasn’t against curbside recycling, but for the democratic process of letting citizens share their voice in the matter.
“The mayor and council, in the majority, did not see the voice of the residents was necessary and are not allowing us to have that vote or plebiscite during the election,” he said. “Very unfortunate. Democracy has taken a stumble today.”
Pereverseff agreed council is doing their job as they were elected to do. He said not every decision is required to go to plebiscite, however, there are times and places referendums are held. For example, the Town of Coaldale will hold one on VLTs later this year.
“VLTs are an issue that doesn’t affect everybody. Some people play them, other people don’t,” said Pereverseff. “Curbside recycling in Lethbridge, if the city goes through with the program, affects all residents … therefore what more reason to go to get the voice of the people?”
Pereverseff said he doesn’t believe the city should interfere with private business. There are three private curbside recycling companies looking for business, he noted.
During the committee’s presentation, some questions arose about the information provided by petitioners. Spearman addressed that there were inaccurate comments made on social media, and some of the information handed out by the group didn’t tell the whole story.
“They took a piece of information that I had published and edited it and handed it out without my permission,” he said. “In my view that’s unethical. That’s twisting the information to support your point of view.”
The document in question was an eight-point letter, dated February 2015, in which Spearman wrote about why he voted “NO” to blue bin curbside recycling. But the letter that was distributed by some petition volunteers only had five points listed, omitting the information about his green bin proposal.
Spearman said he wanted to correct the misinformation that he voted against blue bins twice, as it was only once, and that he didn’t “do a flip-flop” on Nov. 28, 2016, as he had voted for the program in January 2016 as well.
“Initially my preference was to go green bins (organics) first, because it would have the best environmental impact, and then blue bins. So I supported green bins and proposed a resolution. That resolution lost. Then I opposed the blue bins because I felt the green bin was the way to go,” said Spearman.
“But the second time blue bin came up, I supported the proposal because it’s better to do something than to do nothing.”
That resolution also lost at council, but the third time it came forward it was successful in a vote of 8-1.
“That meant that council had gathered enough information to say that this was the correct direction,” he said.
During the presentation, Spearman asked Pereverseff, “Ethically, is it correct to misrepresent people’s positions?”
To which Pereverseff appeared to close the presentation, but later told media he didn’t misrepresent the mayor.
Pereverseff said the three points that dealt with a green bin program were “therefore not consequential to what we were discussing.”
“And I did clearly put on the document the ‘…’ which means there’s more. And when we did give the paper out for sake of brevity, we did note that comment as well.”
He said they tried to provide residents with as much information as they had available. They also held an information session in January at the library.
Although council voted down the plebiscite, Pereverseff said there are other avenues to explore. As was mentioned earlier in the meeting, he noted, a newly elected city council could choose to take another look at the program.
Spearman said he understands there is an election in October, and people can vote for the candidates of their choice. He said he’s been open on moving forward with all recycling programs.
“And I will be continuing to promote that. I think it’s a responsible thing to do for a community like Lethbridge.”
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