Earlier this week, Global ran a story on the Province’s takeover of planning for nine developments in HRM. Rather than Council, developments in the nine areas will instead be approved by the Minister of Municipal Affairs, John Lohr (an Annapolis Valley MLA with no accountability to anyone here in Dartmouth) and an unelected taskforce that meets in secret. Two big District 5 proposals, Southdale and Penhorn, are part of the designated areas and will be decided upon by the Province in secret. This is an almost unprecedented move by the Province. You really have to go back to amalgamation in 1996 to find anything that remotely resembles this level of interference in municipal responsibilities.
One of my biggest objections to the Province’s takeover is that the public has been shunted aside. There will be no public hearings for the designated projects. The public won’t have the ability to present their views to decisionmakers, and since the Taskforce’s meetings are secret, they won’t have the ability to see the deliberations and arguments and understand how and why decisions were made.
In the Global story (see below), the Minister of Municipal Affairs says that there are no problems with transparency and accountability. “This is all out in the open” the Minister said and we’ve published the meeting minutes.
So the Taskforce’s minutes are public so everything is good right? Let’s take a look at that. The Taskforce has met four times since it was formed back in December. You can find the minutes for each meeting online here. Below is the minutes for January 27. See if you can tell me what they talked about?
The minutes contain absolutely no information about the substance of the discussion and barely anything as to what was discussed. “Review of early opportunities?” “New Issues?” That’s hardly illuminating. All we really know is they met and that the Construction Association made a presentation. It’s the same with all the other meeting minutes. They contain basically no info at all. The fact that I can screencap a whole meeting’s minutes in one image says everything you need to know about how useful they are. What was said about Penhorn and Southdale is a complete unknown.
Also noteworthy is what we know isn’t in the minutes. In announcing the nine special planning areas, the Province indicated that the Taskforce had “met” with 31 developers and reviewed 41 different developments. Who were those 31 developers and what projects were considered? Your guess is as good as mine. None of the meeting minutes, it seems, record who meets with the Taskforce unless they’re part of the formal agenda like the Construction Association and Chamber of Commerce have been. Planning decisions are literally being made in secret by an unelected taskforce with only developers allowed in the room.
For the Minister to claim that the meeting minutes in anyway contribute to informing the public is absurd. It’s pure political spin. They don’t replace a public planning process. They provide virtually no transparency at all. This is a fig leaf of openness.