There were some amusing moments at the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee meeting on Thursday. Such as chair, Doug Thompson’s suggestion that Ottawa’s Wildlife Strategy could become a ‘model’ for other communities.
The other communities would have had to set a very low bar if this were the case.
After more than 3 years of deflection and delay and a 200-page report filled with a lot of empty platitudes, it will be ‘business as usual’ for beavers killed at the majority of conflict sites in Ottawa; a construction protocol that was approved in 2000 and has yet to be implemented; a few minor education initiatives such as improvements to the City’s website, a trial run at a quarterly speakers series and a kit for elementary school children. But no real assistance for people experiencing a wildlife conflict which is where the real need lies.
As for process, we heard time and again during the meeting, that this exercise in public consultation had exceeded the standard for all other public participation initiatives undertaken by the City. If it did, it was only in the length of time it was drawn out. In fact, several of the community stakeholder groups resigned because the working group had not met in over a year and four months when the initial draft strategy was released. Nor had any of the community stakeholders seen or been involved in its proposals.
We have since learned that a parallel consultation process was occurring during this time between city staff and agency representatives, some of whom had obstructed the process on the working group from the very beginning.
A revised version of the draft strategy was released this April, ten months after the first one, but other than the removal of words like ‘nuisance’ wildlife, the content remains the same. It was released as an on-line public consultation but no one in urban and suburban communities received any notice of it in their community newspapers or in their councillors’ regular columns. This was in stark contrast to its promotion in at least one rural newspaper.
So, it should be no surprise that this month-long consultation drew only 24 responses and then most of these people had no general opinion on the strategy.
That wildlife decisions, the vast majority of which involve urban wildlife, have now been handed over to the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee makes no sense nor is it mandated within ARAC’s terms of reference. Although the Mayor continues to state that it does – presumably by royal decree.
The Wildlife Strategy came about in 2010 because the public and wildlife and environmental organizations were highly critical of the reactive and negative way in which the City responded to wildlife. The public was also frustrated that decisions were being handled by an inter-agency group that included the City’s by-law department, the NCC and the Ministry of Natural Resources – without any transparency or accountability.
Well, folks, it’s back in the same hands. The City of Ottawa’s record in shutting the door on citizen engagement remains intact.
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre
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