The city is in a unique position when it comes to putting the fluoride question to a vote, according to the director of legislative services.
During Monday night’s meeting, city council approved the wording of November’s referendum question regarding the continued addition of fluoride to the city’s drinking water.
The question, as approved, will read: The city of Prince George currently fluoridates its water supply. Are you in favour of the city of Prince George fluoridating its water supply?
But the results of the vote are not binding on the next council, leading members of the current group fielding questions from the public as to what comes next.
“The authority for the fluoridation of the water at the city in this circumstance is unique,” said Walter Babicz, noting the Community Charter doesn’t allow for a binding referendum. “That authority arises from some independent provincial legislation relating to the fluoridation of the water supply.”
B.C.’s Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act (No. 2), passed in 1998, grandfathers in the city’s 1954 council resolution to fluoridate the water, bypassing other legislation under W.A.C. Bennett requiring voter assent.
This makes it different from other communities, such as Cranbrook, which Coun. Brian Skakun cited as having a binding referendum on the issue.
“It is also too bad that all of this was already cooked up, so to speak, years ago,” said Coun Albert Koehler, who has been a vocal opponent of fluoride and voted against Monday night’s referendum question, calling it leading. “We can’t have a binding referendum because years ago as Mr. Babicz already mentioned, the fluoride was injected without the consent of the taxpayer.”
Despite the non-binding nature of the vote, it would be challenging for anyone who gets to the council table after the Nov. 15 local government election and chooses to disregard the referendum results, said Mayor Shari Green.
Coun. Lyn Hall said he was concerned the fact the referendum wasn’t binding that the debate in the community would lose steam.
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed that doesn’t happen,” he said, “but it may have a small impact.”
If council made the choice to try and make it a binding referendum, there could be consequences, Babicz indicated, noting that it could open the door to a challenge like any other decision made that’s seen as outside of legislative authority.