Councilors for the town of Powell River have received a petition of 2,000 names calling for a referendum on any proposed name change for the town.
Dean Gerhart, appearing before the Committee of the Whole on May 31, said he represented what is called the Referendum Committee.
“I want to reaffirm that our committee aims to give the ratepayers of Powell River the opportunity to vote on any name change,” Gerhart said. “I understand from the outset that you are not obligated to accept this petition. I understand that you are not obligated to hold a referendum, but to date I have 2,000 names on our petition.
Gerhart presented the petition to city leader Chris Jackson.
Gerhart said there have been limitations in collecting signatures for the petition due to a small group collecting them, and when volunteers go house to house a lot of people want to let off steam, so you have to plenty of time to go door to door. -gate.
Gerhart said that since he last appeared before the full committee, there have been two incidents.
“One was at a local store where some First Nation people came in and bullied the store owner because there was a petition in the store,” Gerhart said. “We were lucky to have a member of our committee in the store at that time. It calmed down.
“In the second case, we had two grandmothers from our group in the mall collecting signatures and we had two young women to strike up a conversation. They didn’t like what our group was doing, went to the manager from the mall and complained. The manager of the mall came down and chased the grandmas away.
Gerhart said 80-90% of people asked to sign the petition do so.
“My personal observations lately are that people are expressing harsh feelings, divisions and rhetoric towards our Indigenous friends, but most evacuations now are directed at you, as a city council,” Gerhart said. “I would like to encourage elected officials on both sides to have the courage to have the conversation: is it really worth continuing?”
Councilwoman Maggie Hathaway asked the company leader if the town could hold a referendum or if the town had legislated to have an opinion poll. She also asked if the opinion poll could be expanded to include the Tla’amin Nation if that’s the route the city wants to take.
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Jackson said the legislation no longer refers to the word referendum; it is now called assent vote. He said the vote for a new fire station, for example, appears to be going for a vote of assent. He said that with the outcome of this vote, the board should follow through.
“The assent vote only happens in certain circumstances and a name change is not one of them,” Jackson said. “It’s not in the law. Really, it’s up to the province to advise the council what they would be looking for when they want to make a decision. The council doesn’t make the decision; it would be the province , via Powell River Incorporation Act.
“The council should decide if they want to ask the province the question.”
Jackson said there is a community opinion poll, which doesn’t have to follow the same kind of election procedures as a consent vote. He said he doesn’t know if it can be extended beyond the jurisdiction that the city represents.
“It’s a non-binding vote and it’s not the board’s decision at the end,” Jackson said.
Councilor Jim Palm said a public opinion poll is needed now so residents can vote and make their voices heard.
Mayor Dave Formosa said he believes the buck stops at the council table and any decision made by council and sent to the province will carry a lot of weight.
Committee chairman Councilor George Doubt said he respected that 2,000 people had said they wanted a chance to speak and it was not yet time to make the final decision.
“Let’s all be patient and maybe listen to each other,” Doubt added, “and see if we can find a way to come together as a community.”