You say you want a consultation?

Advocates for city bilingual status set to initiate public consultation can learn from GTAU

Last Monday at 5p.m., members of the “Groupe de travail en agriculture urbaine (GTAU)” met at the Urban Ecology Centre, as they have done regularly for more than three years now. Members come from 27 different organizations that are working hard to strengthen urban agriculture in Montreal. They operate a website at http://www.agriculturemontreal.info/about-us/gtau.

They are the people behind the most intense public consultation Montreal has ever seen.

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“This wasn’t like a regular consultation,” said Luc Doray, Secretary-General of the l’Office de consultation publique de Montréal. “Normally we do consultations about real estate. This subject was much larger than our usual mandates. It was more intense, but not longer. It took place over three or four months but with many more activities.”

The entire experience was made possible through a bureaucratic process called the “Right of Initiative to public consultations,” a legal process that usually rests with lawmakers but was extended to citizens in Montreal when city councillors passed bylaw 05-056-1 on September 21, 2009.

Steps to initiate a public consultation

The process normally begins with 15,000 signatures on a petition, but groups can’t just start collecting signatures via Change.org, Facebook or even on paper. They first have to submit their question to the city or borough on a specific city request form with signatures and addresses from 25 citizens older than 15 years of age who all live within the territory. If the city or the borough accepts the question, it will publish that the petition is underway on the city website. Groups have 90 days from that moment to collect signatures and addresses from at least 15,000 people aged 15 years and older. All the signatures and addresses have to appear on specific city-created forms. Everyone who signs must live within the areas considered by the issue. No electronic signatures or other paper can be used.

For more information about the process, refer to the city website at http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=6578,56915583&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL.

So far, only two groups have followed the process successfully: Velo Quebec, which wanted electric scooters banned on bike paths; and the GTAU for a review of bylaws to support urban agriculture in Montreal.

Scooters banned from bike paths

The transport and public works commission held a hearing in which it limited bike paths to bicycles, wheelchairs and bicycles with electric support on September 12, 2011. Montreal’s executive committee accepted the recommendation on July 26, 2012.

That process didn’t get as many citizens involved as the urban agriculture one did, though.

Urban agriculture becomes priority

GTAU, a group made up of 27 independent organizations, collected 29,068 signatures on their official petition; twice as many as they actually needed. Several citizens were asked to sign multiple times. They handed it into the city on November 15, 2011.

The city announced the consultations a month later but they didn’t begin until the following spring because the city of Montreal needed time to prepare a 17-page report into the status of agriculture in Montreal.

In the meantime, the public consultation office “worked with the groups who prepared the petition to make sure that the steps that we were planning would satisfy them and allow them to mobilize their members,” said Doray. “This was a great experience for us because we worked with very motivated groups. We used them to promote the consultations through their networks. We disseminated the information through their networks. Most of them tabled a brief and came and participated in the consultation.”

Doray says that the only contentious points raised concerned livestock, particularly chickens and rabbits, so the whole consultation felt like a party. The office held a one-day exhibition in the east end and 1,000 people attended, including many parents and children.

The office also published a calendar that included hundreds of public events, something that doesn’t occur with normal consultations.

The process ended when Doray’s office submitted a 147-page report of recommendations to Montreal city council on October 3, 2012. To see the report, refer to their website at: http://ocpm.qc.ca/agriculture. (The link to a pdf copy of the final report appears on the right of the page about half way down under the words “rapport final.”)

By March this year, Montreal announced a permanent committee to review city bylaws into agriculture, all due to the “citizen right of initiative for public consultations.”

“This can be a powerful tool for citizens,” says Doray. “Citizens should be encouraged to use that right because it works.”

Note: This article appeared in the Suburban City Edition on May 8, 2013.

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Tracey Arial

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Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.

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