Friday, June 19, 2009

He's Got Big Boots To Fill... and they may not be rubber..

When I first heard about a Commission on Land Use I was a little suspect at what it could accomplish and after making some inquiries about the Chairman Judge Ralph Thompson I was a little more suspect as I was told he was a bit of a "rural rubber booter" whatever the hell that is... so like a lot of Islanders I didn't pay much attention as I thought it was going to be like a lot of the recent Standing Committees which really haven't shown any "guts" but more a mouthpiece for whichever Government they serve... so with the deadline of meetings looming I decided if I wanted to be a "critic" then I'd better put my big mouth forward and throw in my two cents... so I quickly registered with the Commission office to make an appearance and shortly thereafter I was asked if I was going to make a written submission (which was my intentions) and could I get that to the Commissioner prior to the presentation?... so I thinking here we go again another bureaucratic process... I was even more shocked when I was out golfing to get an email from Judge Thompson confirming my scheduled time and again asking if I had a written brief could I please forward it before the meeting... (I was sure I found the bureaucrat)... as things go I got a little busy (contrary to popular belief) and around 4:00 pm on the evening I was to speak one of my staff called the Commission on my behalf just to find out about the timing.... a couple of moments later I was talking to the Judge himself who seemed rather pleasant and cooperative and he even suggested I could be a little late as there were speakers before me... so I bore down and perused the Commission's web site and found a lot of the previous presenters presentations which I had looked over and agreed with most of the comments.... in fact I found a few like Cavendish Farms very interesting... so around 8:30 pm Wednesday night I showed up late enough that I had missed the City of Charlottetown's presentation by Mayor Lee and Mayor Jenkins was just finishing off the one for Stratford so I don't know if it was my good fortune or not but I'll be able to read their presentations on line soon before I make my judgement... although there was a small crowd and “no reporters” there were some good presentations and also one from UPEI done by a few "Dr's" that was Greek to me and I couldn't help thinking as they presented that my old golf buddy Harry MacLauchlan would be up in Heaven "shaking his head" wondering what they were talking about... the Tourism Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Frank Zakem, and a young guy on Sustainable Energy (who made some good points) all made great presentations and there could have been a few more but I was busy trying to figure out what to say... so when it was my turn I suggested it was a "monumental task" as PEI is "Over Governed" and "Over Regulated" and maybe we should get away from the "rural" and "urban" split and think of ourselves as “One Island” that we all love so dearly... I even suggested maybe 2 Cities, a few Towns and 3 Municipal districts (Prince, Queens and Kings) and abandon the 75 Fiefdoms we have now... create consistent standards and a little less red tape... that said I guess the biggest thing I learned that evening was that Judge Thompson was a very laid back guy who was not being a typical bureaucrat and asking for something because these were the requirements... he actually wanted the "written briefs" because he reads them, thinks about them and then has the good sense to ask you how you might achieve your recommendations... he looked you in the eye when you spoke probably something a good Judge learns and he was extremely courteous and I was quite impressed... I even offered to help in whatever way I can for what’s that worth... I'm not going to "stereotype" him anymore and I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is taking this job very serious and it's the following quote from the Judge in the story below that really hits the nail on the head...“The government has not had sufficient political courage to act. Perhaps the government’s recent grasping of school closures is an encouraging sign that it will have the courage to act in land use matters that its predecessors have lacked.” .... Land Use and Governance are not very "sexy" issues but in my mind they are the most important challenges we have ahead of us here on Prince Edward Island... Godspeed Mr. Thompson and hopefully more people will show up this coming Wednesday night at the Farm Centre or go on line at See also
Tackling land use big undertaking
The Guardian
The judge presiding over the province’s Commission on Land and Local Governance says big changes are needed on P.E.I., but they will not come without political courage and will. Judge Ralph Thompson has spent the past eight months dealing with the laws over land use and municipalities on P.E.I. He has been poring over numerous reports and recommendations made to governments for the past several decades on the issue, which Premier Robert Ghiz has asked him to explore. Thompson has been tasked to review all this material and meet with the public to eventually compile a new report with recommendations on the best solutions for change to land and local governance on P.E.I. It is a momentous task. The issues he must take into account range from environmental concerns over buffer zones and protected lands to provincial-municipal relations and agreements — and everything in between. In the end, there are strong suggestions he could recommend government transform the Island’s numerous incorporated municipalities into one large municipality, or perhaps a few larger regional ones. But he isn’t commenting on that yet. Thompson is still in the midst of public consultations, which have been poorly covered by media and sparsely attended, despite the huge implications of potential outcome.“I guess the bottom line is the public hasn’t been as involved because the media hasn’t been covering us,” Thompson said in a sit-down interview with The Guardian Thursday. “It’s not as interesting to some and perhaps not as interesting to others until they start to realize it’s going to have an impact on them.” But despite the lack of general interest, the commission has indeed received numerous submissions and phone calls. As well, many individuals and groups have presented at the seven public meetings held over the past month. Thompson said there have been many intelligent and well thought-out responses to the terms of reference set out by government to focus his research. In the end, the government wants recommendations for change in areas of land use planning and municipal governance in order to better protect land, water resources and local governments. The province also wants guidance on how to respond to things like climate change, viewscape protection and urban-rural conflicts.This is a huge task with many different aspects to consider. But Thomspon is dealing with each issue one at a time, very methodically.He attempts to remain eternally fair through the process. He chose his centrally-located office in Hunter River so as not to upset the eastern and the western ends of the province. His commission website has pictures of viewscapes from each county in the province. In all, Thompson is determined to find the best solution for all incorporated and non-incorporated areas of P.E.I. “We’re trying to gather information, we’re trying to find out what people’s opinions are that have opinions,” Thompson said. And after hearing from numerous groups and citizens, Thompson said the strongest concern identified has been with the Municipalities Act. “It’s basically considered to be a paternalistic statute that the province passed a lot of years ago,” Thompson said. Some towns and cities are looking for more autonomy in local governance, while others are merely struggling to survive with small population and smaller tax bases. But the main thing needed is an overall, comprehensive land use on P.E.I., Thompson said. This would eliminate various “ribbon communities” that have developed. “In my view a key factor that is lacking in the vision for the future, because our government lacks or has lacked for many years, a well thought-out vision from which flow goals, we’ve gotten ourselves into our present difficulties to cover a broad spectrum,” he said. “The government has not had sufficient political courage to act. Perhaps the government’s recent grasping of school closures is an encouraging sign that it will have the courage to act in land use matters that its predecessors have lacked.” The last public meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 24, at the Farm Centre in Charlottetown.

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