More questions on the bylaw saga

The council giveth, the council taketh …

The council giveth, the council taketh …

As you may have read in our story (page 2) on the regular town council meeting of Tuesday, Feb. 11, councillors voted with a majority of five to one to start the procedure to rescind the controversial business hours bylaw introduced last year to ban sales of alcoholic beverages after 10 p.m.

There is nothing wrong with a piece of legislation being withdrawn provided that it is done in line with the procedures and/or bylaws in place.

In this particular case, the decision to start the process to revoke the bylaw comes less than a year after it was introduced and only a few days following a survey by the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce that came out strongly in favor the abrogation of the restriction.

Since the debate over the pros and cons of the bylaw is so fresh in the minds of the people involved, no one needs to be reminded of them, it seems.

Despite that, one cannot help noticing a few points that might still need to be considered.

First, Councillor Yaworski withdrew from the deliberations on the issue declaring conflict of interest, which was both appropriate and in line with procedures. The position of another councillor, though, might call for some additional discussion: Councillor Falkiner, who both initiated the motion to rescind the bylaw and voted for his own motion, said during the council meeting that he represented ALGC.

“The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission is in charge of alcohol related products licensing in this province. I think they do a fantabulous (sic) job and I only know that because I represent them out of Stettler,” were his exact words.

Sitting on that forum, unless invited in any other special capacity to do so, councillors should represent no party other than the voters of the Town of Ponoka. ALGC is a provincial organization and as described on its homepage, its “business focuses on maximizing the economic benefits of gaming and liquor activities in the province to benefit all Albertans.”

As one can clearly discern, while the main concern in introducing the legislation in question was safety and security of the Ponoka community, the ALGC’s priority is maximizing profits and not particularly issues of safety. In that context, can a councillor, representing ALGC by his own admission, be considered neutral in this debate and can he claim to speak for the benefit of the Ponoka community only? In other words, is Councillor Falkiner’s initiation of the motion, and his vote in favour, legal/legitimate/appropriate/acceptable?

Second, the business community of Ponoka, being a well-organized stakeholder in the debate, successfully made its voice heard loud and clear, thanks to the outcome of the Monkey Survey conducted after its recent AGM. Now, will the municipal leadership make a move to hear the voice of the residents? Will the town council assume that the voice of the business equals the voice of the residents? Or will the town council put the onus on residents of this community to make their voice heard? If the town council/councillors do not hear from the electorate in mass numbers either in favor or against the repeal of the bylaw, will they assume that the silent majority is in favor of the abrogation of the bylaw?

Third, we know that Ponoka is at pains to attract more population, more business to induce stronger economic growth. We have already witnessed how the recent municipal election campaign was dominated by the discussion on the improvement of recreation services as a means of attracting more families to the community.

The repeal of the bylaw, on the other hand, can comfortably pave the way to a return to the situation, which found its most telling description in the words “drunken driving capital of Canada” as uttered by the head of the Ponoka RCMP Detachment. If a tragic event occurs as a result of the abrogation of the bylaw, like a massive collision or a death as a result of drunkenness (granted, it may never happen, but then again, it may), how will that affect the image of the town and the community and might it not send to waste all the efforts being undertaken to portray the image of a welcoming and peaceful town to outsiders?

Clarification – March 5/14

Following last week’s editorial column, Town of Ponoka Councillor Tim Falkiner has clarified that he does not represent Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) but the Stettler-based employees of the organization.

We regret the misunderstanding.