PARRY SOUND – The mission for a referendum on fluoride in the area has begun.
On Tuesday members of Parry Sounders for Progressive Water Management started going door to door, soliciting signatures for a petition to remove fluoride from the municipal water supply.
Between 10 and 20 members will head out in groups of two over the next several weeks asking for signatures from Parry Sound and McDougall residents. Ratepayers are welcome to take their time conducting their own research before deciding whether they want to sign or not, said group member Joe Moloney Tuesday morning.
“We’re not out there to coerce or anything like that, we’re just out there to give people their democratic say in such an important decision,” Moloney said. “We can leave our number with (residents) and they can let us know if they want to sign.”
The town has been fluoridating the water with hydrofluosilicic acid since the 1960s at a cost between $4,500 to $5,000 annually. In June 2015, when council decided to keep its water status quo, staff reported they would need to upgrade the way the chemical is dispensed into the system for the safety of staff.
In September 2015, a report was brought to council outlining the necessary $250,000 upgrades to the plant, which were approved.
“Although council has already made the decision to upgrade the fluoride system in the Tony Agnello Water Treatment plant as being in the best interest of the public they serve, the question of holding a referendum (or plebiscite) to let the residents of Parry Sound decide on this issue rose a number of times during deputations,” wrote Peter Brown, town director of public works in his November 2015 report to council. “As a result, staff were asked to look into what would be involved in holding a referendum to discontinue adding fluoride to the town’s drinking water.”
At a cost of $19,000 plus staff time, a referendum could be held if 10 per cent of both Parry Sound and McDougall Township’s electorate signed a petition to remove fluoride from the drinking water system.
Because the town provides drinking water to some McDougall Township residents, least 10 per cent is needed from them as well, said town clerk Jackie Boggs.
“(The petition) does not get forwarded to our council or McDougall, it gets forwarded to the Chief Electoral Officer…most plebiscites, in fact any plebiscite I could find on this issue or any other issue was handled through a municipal election and a question was put on the ballot. That’s the most cost-effective way to do it. You’re having a municipal election, it costs nothing to put a question on the ballot,” said Boggs during the Nov. 3 council meeting. “If a petition did come forward and they did have the required 10 per cent of the electorate for both municipalities, it would go to the Chief Electoral Officer. We’re really not involved in it at that point, until we hear from the Chief Electoral Officer. My understanding is that it would include us checking every name on the list to ensure that they are actually eligible to vote in this election for the Town of Parry Sound and presumably McDougall would be doing the same.”
An alternative to the $19,000 referendum, or waiting until the next municipal election in 2018, would be for a council member on the prevailing side of the original vote (to upgrade the town’s water treatment plant) to provide a Notice of Motion at a council meeting. Then the motion to reconsider would come before council at the following meeting.
Moloney said he’s uncertain whether something like this has been done before, but the group is committed to getting at least the necessary 10 per cent to hold a referendum.
“This is a small town and it shouldn’t operate like this…if so many people have come out against this, why haven’t (council) brought it back to revisit it?” Moloney said. “Hydrofluosilicic acid is an industrial chemical waste product and if anyone asks about fluoride, we’re gong to tell them it’s actually hydrofluosilicic acid. We’re not going to have any material at the door, but we’re going to let them know. Please don’t be afraid to look all of this up online to see what this is that they’re putting in your water.”