Alternate approval process for $7 million airport loan 'anti-democratic', say councillors
The city will be proceeding with an alternate approval process to secure a $7 million loan to repair the Prince Rupert Airport, but is doing so under vehement protest of two city councillors.
When the idea of the alternate approval process, which would approve the loan unless 901 voters submitted signed forms opposing the proposal, came before council, Councillor Anna Ashley was quick to move that the city forgo the process and go straight to referendum.
"I think that this process is sneaky and I hate it. I cannot be any more blunt than that ... to me it is an unfair way of conducting public business. We voted for this because we thought it was a good idea, and going forward we should be able to defend that," she said, noting many drawbacks to the process including making people come to City Hall to voice their opposition.
"I have seen in other communities where people did not know the process was underway, so they became disengaged in the democratic process because they feel they were tricked ... I think the process is unfairly bias to those who are in favour of this because they don't have to do anything. You only have to do something if you oppose it," she said.
Ashley found support from Councillor Joy Thorkelson, who lashed out at the very premise of the alternate approval process.
"I really don't think it is a democratic process to have people put their names and addresses down if they oppose something. That is not a vote, that is a petition ... the question is whether we are going to reduce democracy by having people put their name and address down to oppose something," she said.
"This is an anti-democratic way of doing things and it is because people are afraid a referendum is going to fail. If you are afraid it is going to fail, you shouldn't be doing it."
But councillors Ashley and Thorkelson were the only two who voted in favour of the referendum, with other councillors noting the importance of getting the loan through.
"The building is in dire need of repair, as is our runway and the access road ... if we do not move on this quickly, we will find ourselves with no airport to operate. It will be shut down because some systems are not working or union members will not go to work because there are no toilet facilities," said Councillor Gina Garon.
"If the referendum fails, the airport authority would not get to access lower interest financing through the Municipal Finance Authority," added Mayor Jack Mussallem.
The alternate approval process will give residents until 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 12 to sign an elector response form, available at City Hall or at princerupert.ca, and submit it to City Hall. If 10 per cent of electors, or 901 electors, voice opposition to the loan, the city would need to obtain the approval of residents through a referendum process. Regardless of whether there is a referendum or not, the loan would not be formally approved by the Municipal Finance Authority
The $7 million loan would be used to do massive renovations at the airport building, repair the runway and improve the access road. The city and airport authority say it would not cost taxpayers any additional money and would be repaid by user fees for airport travellers.