Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Open consultation or sell job?

So, a firm by the name of Biggar Ideas has landed
a $250,000 contract from the city to "engage the public, provide information and conduct consultations" about Winnipeg’s proposed new water utility. This follows City Council's plan to "explore" the idea of creating a new city water utlity, one rationale for which is that the city can then sell its water to neighbouring municipalities.

Sounds okay, right? The city has apparently not made any decision and is only "exploring," so we can be confident that it's legitimately seeking to hear all opinions on the matter, right?


The hired firm's marketing identifies its hallmark as
"its ability to shift and shape public and stakeholder opinion." Sounds a little like someone in the mayor's office has already made a decision and is hiring someone to manipulate public opinion in the favoured direction, no?

If we're truly in the exploratory stage, then why hire a firm to sell the idea? And if the mayor truly believes this move would be best for the city, why doesn't he just say so and champion the idea publicly himself? Let's have a debate! Glen Murray, for all his faults, was never afraid of promoting his ideas openly.

The burden of proof will now be on the city and their chosen consultant to respectfully facilitate the gathering of public opinion. If anything less happens, those with tough questions will be right to see it as nothing less than a sell job.

It will also be incumbent on those pushing the idea to explain to Winnipeg citizens how the move won't amount to just fueling more urban sprawl at the city's own expense, as
Christopher Leo and others suggest could be the case.

Jenny Gerbasi is absolutely right to be
suspicious of this one.

Photo: Building the Winnipeg Aqueduct, which draws water to Winnipeg from Shoal Lake, Ontario (published in the Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1979).

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