Well, why not? After all, it is ‘only’ about one liquid natural gas plant and not about potentially splitting a nation, such as the Scots are being asked to decide next month. Both issues, although worlds apart in scope and importance, ‘polarize’, but polarization is generated by the underlying issues, a referendum in contrast brings focus. As the process in Scotland shows, it is now moving from initially wild exaggerations made on both sides to the nuts and bolts of what ‘going-it-alone’ would actually mean.
Squamish would benefit from a referendum on Woodfibre LNG for the same reasons: To remain credible, parties on both sides of the debate would have to jettison exaggerations and misinformation too. It would distil the arguments into the core elements of choosing either 1) quick gratification through a sizeable chunk of taxes, some jobs and spin-offs at the expense of the inevitable trade-offs coming with them or 2) rejection of quick financial gratification by putting the trade-offs and an alternate future first. – Honest now, is this considered to be a more difficult choice for Squamishers than what the Scots are facing?
A referendum would not negate our form of representative democracy as some have suggested, nor open the flood gates for the public suddenly wanting to interfere in every minor issue. Even if so, it could easily be checked by demanding validation thresholds from the initiators, a well established practice elsewhere and also employed during our provincial referendums. By the way, the sky has not fallen in British Columbia after our referendums on STV (Single Transferable Vote) and on GST/HST.
So why is there such timidity in our council on this, when it could actually enhance the dialogue and relationship between councillors and voters, the former being given the opportunity to act as coaches and facilitators for the latter according to their convictions? Since it would be non-binding, ‘out of our jurisdiction’ as is often heard, with minimal cost if done as a question on the election ballot, what harm could it possibly do? The benefits of holding a referendum would however be incalculable:
- In recognizing that today’s voter is far more educated, has access to infinitely more information and is thus much better equipped to make decisions than the one of the mid 19th century, when representative democracy was finally extended to include all male citizens and only much later women too:
- In recognizing that political process is not immune from the destructive creativity brought about by the internet: That this is bound to change democratic engagement and participation similarly and as thoroughly as electoral reforms in the past:
- In recognizing that trust in the political process, especially by the young, is at a low ebb indeed and what better way of regaining it than by engaging voters and hearing their voices directly about an important issue.
So don’t be petty, Mayor and Councillors, be courageous and progressive. Let the referendum proceed!