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Petitioners urge referendum on possible name change for Powell River

City hears about petition at committee of the whole meeting
WANTS VOTE: Referendum committee spokesperson Dan Gerhart appeared before City of Powell River council’s committee of the whole to present a 2,000-name petition calling for a referendum on a proposed name change for the city.

City of Powell River councillors were presented with a 2,000-name petition calling for a referendum on any proposed name change for the city.

Dean Gerhart, appearing before the May 31 committee of the whole meeting, said he is representing what is being referred to as the referendum committee.

“I wish to reaffirm that our committee is about having an opportunity for Powell River taxpayers to have the chance to vote on any name change,” said Gerhart. “I do understand, right from the start, that you do not have to accept this petition. I understand that you do not have to hold a referendum, but to date, I have 2,000 names on our petition.”

Gerhart presented the petition to city corporate officer Chris Jackson.

Gerhart said there have been limitations in collecting signatures for the petition because of a small group collecting them, and when the volunteers go house-to-house, many of the people want to vent, so it takes a long time to go door-to-door.

Gerhart said 80 to 90 per cent of the people who are asked to sign the petition do so.

Councillor Maggie Hathaway asked the corporate officer whether the city could have a referendum, or if the city legislated to have an opinion poll. She also asked if the opinion poll could be expanded to include Tla’amin Nation if that’s the route the city wants to go.

Corporate officer comments

Jackson said the legislation no longer refers to the word referendum; it’s now referred to as assent voting. He said the vote for a new fire hall, for example, appears to be going to an assent vote. He said with the result of that vote, council must follow.

“Assent voting only occurs in certain circumstances and a name change is not one of those,” said Jackson. “It is not prescribed by legislation. Really, it’s up to the province to advise council what they would look for when they want to make the decision. Council doesn’t make the decision; it would be the province, through the Powell River Incorporation Act.

“Council would have to decide if it wants to ask the question to the province.”

Jackson said there is a community opinion poll, which doesn’t have to follow the same kind of election procedures as an assent vote. He said he doesn’t know if it can be expanded beyond the jurisdiction the city represents.

“It’s a non-binding vote and it’s not council’s decision in the end,” said Jackson.

Councillor Jim Palm said an opinion poll is needed right now so residents can take a vote and have their voices heard.

Mayor Dave Formosa said he believes the buck stops at the council table and whatever decision is made by council and sent to the province will have a lot of weight.

Committee chair councillor George Doubt said he respects that 2,000 people have said they want to have a chance to have a voice and it’s not time to make the final decision yet.

“Let’s all be patient and perhaps listen to other people,” added Doubt, “and see if we can find a way to come together as a community.”