Secrecy undermines public consultation into the municipal forest reserve
The Secrecy Train came to town the other day, with a virtual stop in the Municipality of North Cowichan.
The 16-member citizens’ Working Group guiding the public consultation process into management of the 5,000-hectare municipal forest reserve held its second meeting, this time using the online conference platform, Zoom.
I consider the process secret because unlike meetings of council, Forestry Advisory Committee and Official Community Plan volunteer committee meetings, the Working Group operates strictly behind closed doors — even as the municipality and Lees and Associates consultants profess to be conducting an open and transparent engagement.
Working Group meetings are also not live-streamed, and there are no posted verbatim recordings of proceedings. Moreover, group members are under strict orders from the municipality and Lees not to share information with the public.
I know there are good people on the Working Group.
But in a vacuum of information, how can the public be assured of a fair balance, especially since the membership continues to evolve?
The culture of secrecy in North Cowichan doesn’t end with the Working Group.
In the midst of a public review of the forest reserve you’d think that the 2019 forestry report would contain highly relevant information — and would be released to the public at the earliest convenience.
Not so, it turns out. The municipality told me that the report is considered a draft until the Forestry Advisory Committee looks at it, then council.
That’s unreasonable, given that the report is basically a bunch of statistics on amounts of timber cut, revenues, costs etc. Nothing confidential there.
I have now filed six freedom-of-information requests to get the most basic information from the municipality.
That has to change. But change must come from the top. I urge the mayor and council to establish a much-needed culture of openness at municipal hall.
Until then, don’t expect an “all aboard” announcement as the Secrecy Train leaves the station. The current passenger list — as evidenced by the closed Working Group — is a short and exclusive one.