By Tracey Arial
More than 120 people showed up for the official launch of Verdun’s giant public consultation last Thursday, April 17 from five until seven.
“Together, we’ll lay the foundations for a new strategic development plan that will establish priorities and key directions to guide us over the next decade, said Mayor Jean-François Parenteau to a packed room.
Normally, the borough council room can hold up to 174 people, but it was full of ten round tables to welcome the 80 people who registered to be there. Everyone else stood at the edges and at the back of the room.
Why does a newly-elected council need to consult citizens?
“We have too much to do,” said Parenteau. “Our budget is limited and we need to rebuild all the infrastructure from the 1960s. We have to prioritize. I want all the citizens to participate in setting the direction for our borough in the future, and that includes everyone. There will be bilingual focus groups too. That’s very important to me.”
Parenteau told the crowd that the process would include three tasks. The first task would be collecting all the information that now exists about Verdun and sharing it with citizens. The second task will be consultations: several small focus groups will take place first and then a big two-day consultation session with everyone who wants to come will happen on Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31. The third task will consist of planning. The borough aims to present a huge strategic plan for Verdun in November.
Parenteau also introduced Isabelle Maréchal, who will serve as spokesperson for the community throughout the process. Maréchal has lived in Verdun since 1993.
The evening felt like the party it was meant to be. Lots of applause greeted Parenteau’s description of the process and his answers to a dozen citizen questions. He himself encouraged the room to applaud in honour of former borough councillor Ann Guy, who asked one of the questions.
“I have a question about the consultation days themselves,” she said. “I understand that they’ll occur on Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31, but are each of the days similar or should I be taking both days off work?”
“You should take both days off,” said Parenteau.
Louise Constantine asked how a short two-day session with citizens could do anything concrete when there have been so many consultations in the past, including the Forum de Verdun, the Urban Plan consultations and Quartier 21.
“We’re not going to start from zero,” said Parenteau. “We’re going to summarize all those reports and include the recommendations from them within this process. In fact, perhaps we can even have them digitized and put on the website so that everyone can consult them before those days?”
Parenteau said the last comment as a question because he was looking at his staff to make sure that someone would take care of getting the reports on-line. He got several nods.
Just after the launch ended, the borough distributed several promotional tools about the process, including:
Opening the world up to social media can be both positive and negative, however. One resident used the Facebook page to question why she should bother participating in this consultation when the last one didn’t do anything. She wrote that she and other participants clearly expressed a desire to keep houses on Gordon Street to three-storeys or less. A bylaw now allows four.
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