BOWDEN — About 100 people attended an open house regarding the town’s proposed Community Standards Bylaw, held Oct. 4 in the Event Centre (formerly known as the Friendship Club).
And they weren’t happy about what they read.
In a span of about two hours, town councillors, including Town of Bowden Mayor Robb Stuart, got an earful about perceived shortcomings or overreach in the proposed bylaw.
Former town councillors Kerry Kelm and Carol Pion were among those who spoke.
Speakers said wording in the bylaw is too vague.
Several said it’s not necessary anyway, because many of the aspects of the community it deals with are addressed either in other bylaws or by the federal or provincial governments.
There was concern that some issues, like excessive noise, are hard to calibrate. What might be too much noise for one person, may be just fine for another.
They said issues like bullying or harassment can be dealt with by people among themselves rather than through enforcement.
There was fear also that the bylaw, as currently written, could be an opportunity for neighbours who don’t like each other to “snitch” on each other.
There was also concern that in many cases policing is left up to one person – Rudy Friesen, the town’s chief administrative officer.
“That complaint is left completely up to the CAO for his decision, which leaves the citizens completely in the dark,” one woman said.
“There’s no committee; there’s no panel of peers to resolve those things. It’s all up to the CAO.”
Attendees said other aspects of the bylaw, like a height limit for some plants and a prohibition against washing one’s vehicle on the street, are just silly and unnecessary. (It was pointed out that the Town’s fire truck is often washed on the street).
Attendees were also astounded to learn that this was the third draft of the bylaw.
Some wondered why they didn’t know about it sooner and were amazed that it could be filled with so many holes and inconsistencies at this point.
"I am a little bit embarrassed that this draft is finding so many holes in it. We looked at it two or three times, but this is why we brought it to you,” Stuart said.
One woman noted that a group of about 10 people were consulted about the bylaw about six months ago. She questioned why the Town bothered doing so if it was going to hold this later meeting.
“Well maybe there was a lot more exposure to this bylaw than the one six months ago,” Stuart said.
“And much as I hate to say it, the more people that think council has a really bad idea, the bigger the turnout we get.”
Stuart said council had indeed incorporated some of the input received earlier.
“And we’re going to make a ton more changes,” he said.
Concerns about cats and dogs were also mentioned. Stuart said the Town tried to implement a cat bylaw earlier but it turned out to be almost impossible to enforce.
One woman objected to the fact the bylaw made at least a couple of references to measures to ensure public health.
“After what we’ve dealt with the last three years I am very against that,” she said. “And what does the Town have to do with public health,” she asked.
She could see a need for the Town to be involved from a health perspective if a train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed or something of that sort occurred.
“But the way it’s written in this bylaw, it’s gives us over-control of the United Nations and it gives us over-control of the federal government who has pushed you-know-what for the last three years,” she said, sparking one man to say, “yeah, yeah.”
“And it goes down from there,” she said adding it’s an opportunity for the prime minister or United Nations to interfere with “our sovereign health as human beings” and that “once that has gone through, they can do anything,”
“It makes it seem like ‘OK, here you are, you’re part of our community and we’re going to control you and we’re going to tell you every aspect of your life and what you’re going to do and it’s all going to end up working towards the UN sustainable goals with the environment and climate and the health and everything else,” she said, spurring more applause.
Marietta Tuckwell who moved to Bowden about 14 months ago from Rimbey was among those who spoke several times.
The Albertan asked her for her thoughts on how the event went.
“I think that people were heard,” she said. “It was difficult, because there was a lot of emotion, but I think that the council and the mayor grasped what we were trying to communicate, so I think it went very well.”
Stuart told the Albertan that initially, the plan had been to have the bylaw redrafted by the last meeting of October, but that’s not going to happen now.
“It’ll probably be another two weeks after that if we’re lucky. There’s going to have to be a ton of amendments,” he said. “It’ll probably take us two or three weeks.”
Stuart was asked if as a result of those amendments, the bylaw, already 35 pages long, might be much larger, perhaps twice as many pages.
He said that’s not likely because thanks to input from the meeting, “there should be a lot of stuff that we can either take out or make it – you know – kind of merge.”
Stuart said the crowd was about twice as large as council had anticipated but “that’s because there was more negativity to the bylaw than we thought.”
“But I thought it went really well. We kept it fairly level, as you saw. A little bit of a hubbub every once in a while,” he said.
“I think it was good. We got a lot of valuable information. Now we’ve got to try to implement it.”