Lisa Gervais: Minden needs to announce meeting date
Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin says a public meeting will be held in the aftermath of the recent flooding. Speaking at the last council meeting, Devolin said it will likely happen in July. He said people are grieving and need to tell their stories.
This isn’t new. Hosting a meeting to review our disaster response and learn lessons for the next time isn't a new thing. Former Reeve Barbara Reid hosted a public meeting in the aftermath of the 2013 flood. She addressed the crowd and took questions, along with a representative of the Trent-Severn Waterway (TSW). By all accounts, it didn’t go so well.
Nor was this upcoming meeting necessarily Devolin's idea. It seems some residents and businesspeople have been wanting a public meeting for some time now.
As far back as June 2, resident and former councillor Brigitte Gall vented frustration on her Facebook page. She wrote that since it didn’t appear the municipality was interested in hosting a public meeting, she was considering starting a Facebook group.
Another Minden resident was prepared to organize a public meeting in early July, and had even secured local MPP Jamie Schmale’s attendance. But we’re told Schmale later declined that invite, choosing to attend instead the official municipal meeting once it was announced.
Gall said people were frustrated and needed a forum to talk about the flood, including what worked, what could be improved, and to ask questions.
“Because at the end of this, our experiences and suggestions should be considered and counted before the next flooding event,” she said in that Facebook post.
It seems it didn’t take long for Devolin to catch wind of Gall’s crie de coeur, assuring the public there would be a meeting in the very near future. While we lauded Devolin's visibility and communications during the flood itself, it does appear some prodding was required to get to the next stage, the part where the public is invited to help evaluate the town's response and make requests as to how best to handle things the next time. Those who experienced the flood directly may have some insight into those questions.
We’ve also heard that another Minden resident was fully prepared to organize a public meeting in early July and had even secured local MPP Jamie Schmale’s attendance. But we’re told he then declined that invite, saying there was an upcoming municipal meeting that he would attend instead.
When the official meeting does happen, it has to be different from 2013. Unlike that 2013 meeting where only the reeve and one TSW representative faced an angry crowd alone, this meeting requires the full Minden Hills council in attendance -- and key council staff who were involved in the crisis. The TSW and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry should be there too. So should a member of the Upper Trent Water Management Plan, such as Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt, plus a representative of the Coalition for Equitable Water Flow (CEWF). Our provincial and federal representatives, Schmale and MPP Laurie Scott, need to be there as well.
In fact, any organization with a vested interest is urged to contact the township to ensure its presence at a date which is so far yet to be determined. It's harder to pass the buck when everyone up and down the chain of command is in the same room.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, the fact is weather patterns are changing. There has to be a multi-disciplinary, cross-organizational approach to evaluating the emergency response and planning for the next reaction to these flood events.
So when it comes to the meeting, it is better it is held sooner rather than later. Sure, folks need to vent. But they really also need to understand the bigger picture: How did this happen again and what is being done to combat it in the future? Have engineering projects – a floodgate or up-river diversion for example – been considered and costed? We can only guess.
And we shouldn't have to. Those things, why the town took the actions it did, and whether they were successful or not, are questions that have to be answered at public meetings, as are questions about managing flooding better.
We shouldn’t be getting the information from someone like Gall’s Facebook page. Council shouldn't have to wait for metaphorical pitchforks to emerge on social media to get a constructive, public response from our leaders.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.