Monday, September 27, 2010

Envision Edmonton Going to Court Over Muni?

Media report says the Envision Edmonton group is off to court to try and get a ruling to force City Council to hold a plebiscite.

Waiting to see what the grounds for judicial review will be but those reported in the Edmonton Journal don't seem all that strong.  Saying for instance suggestions that the Municipal Government Act requiring a petition to be filed within 60 days of the council vote under dispute is trumped by the Mayor's "open invitation to come up with visions for the airport" made the petition legit????  Coming up with a proposed vision is legit but to say a call for planning options for city lands take precedence over the laws of the province - that is a stretch.

The law also says the City Clerk does not have to provide scrutineers in the review of the validity of petition signatures.  The City Clerk is an administrator not a political operative.  There is a need for open disclosure and reasons for disallowing certain signatures by the City Clerk.  That is being promised "once the rush to deal with the start of the civic election was completed." This court action should wait to see the reasons for rejections. It may make the entire litigation exercise functus.

I wonder what FOIP restrictions apply to those disallowed signatures?  I hope that is not a barrier to Envision Edmonton or others from reviewing, rejecting or validating the disallowed signatures.  Looking forward to seeing the analysis and evidence behind the City Clerk's decisions to reject certain signatures.

Going to court is an interesting tactic but it is not the solution long term.  I applaud Envision Edmonton, its volunteers and financial backers - whoever they may be for this exercise in citizen engagement.  That said, the likelihood of getting the requisite number of signatures on a petition in 60 days is pretty impossible in a large city like Edmonton that is embedded in a dynamic surrounding region where confusion as to eligibility is going to be a problem.

I wonder is we can't use the technology we have available via the Internet to allow for a notice to go out to eligible citizens and allow them to sign an electronic petition on line.  To get face-to-face with that many people i that short a time makes the plebiscite protest a moot solution.

Edmonton is becoming active in open data and may be a leader amongst municipalities in Canada in that regard. Internet petitioning is not a walk in the park but it is doable and we should, as a smart city, start thinking about how to make that happen.  Just about everyone has email these days and those that don't can sign up the old-fashioned way if they wish.

The Province will have to change the Municipal Government Act but that is possible once the mechanics of Internet petitioning to identify eligible citizens are worked out.  Service Canada has a secure system for Internet access by individuals to their own records all worked out.  It has been done before and can be done for this purpose - and others so why not do it.  It will also advance a strengthened democracy and enable more effective informed citizen engagement - both of which are in serious need of support these days.

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