Why are we having a referendum?

A writer questions the need for a referendum on borrowing for the new water treatment plant, if the outcome is a fait accompli.

Dear Editor,

This morning, after the public information meeting about the proposed water upgrade in Ashcroft, I met a gentleman in the post office, who asked me what I thought about the meeting. I told him that it frankly depressed me.

Like so many public meetings to discuss a major issue, the aim of which is to assure us that the opinions of the people matter, we find that they don’t. That, in fact, we are faced with a fait accompli. In other words, the decision has already been made.

When this became evident toward the end of the meeting, one apparently bewildered person in the audience asked “Why are we having a referendum?”

Mayor Jeyes attempted to answer the question. From what I understood of his reply, the referendum was going to be held so that people would feel confident their opinions mattered.

Frankly, it all seemed such a sham. People really are more intelligent than politicians—whether provincial, federal, or municipal—seem to realize. Going through the motions, with former mayor Andy Anderson assuring us that having the cleanest water we can have will promote the village’s capacity to attract people, seemed particularly revealing of the kind of self-interest that is masked as concern.

I can’t recall one mention from Andy, during his 10-year term as mayor, of the need for a water upgrade. His interests seemed concentrated on getting the container port two kilometres up the road (which in itself has turned out to be admirable), as well as the Mother’s Day Fly-in, which people enjoy. A few people asked, too, where was our MLA, Jackie Tegart? It seemed an odd oversight.

Yes, we are going to take on the multi-million dollar debt. It is against the law not to. If we refuse, the Village of Ashcroft will be fined multi-thousands of dollars. Yes, we have an option, sort of. We can vote not to take on the debt, and thus be liable. Or we can simply just agree to go ahead.

There are other pressing needs here that require millions of dollars. More senior housing is one of them; home care for seniors is another. A functioning ER. More doctors and nurses. A nurse practitioner would help.

And we need to look around at the village, a good look, beyond our immediate households. We have empty buildings, like the two empty apartment buildings on Tingley Street, the former recreation centre up on the hill, the empty storefronts that once held businesses. We have several privately owned buildings that should be designated heritage buildings. They could be purchased by the village, and brought back to their former appearance and function, like Barkerville was, or Chemainus. Like Nelson has been restored to its former glory, and attracts thousands of visitors every year. My God, there’s reason why so many movies have been filmed in Ashcroft. The village has character, a long and colourful history. Tourism is a non-polluting industry.

Speaking of which, people have noticed the apparent indifference of the village about the solar energy venture a person from Surrey was interested in establishing in Ashcroft.

In summary, there’s a heck of a lot that this village could do with the $4.1 million they are eager to go into debt for. And yes, people, I’ll “keep on writing those letters”.

Esther Darlington