In addition to picking which politicians they can swallow, Prince George residents will also get an opportunity to have a say about their drinking water in this November’s election.
During Monday night’s meeting, city council will be asked to approve the wording of November’s referendum question gauging community support for fluoridating city water.
The question, as proposed, reads: The city of Prince George currently fluoridates its water supply. Are you in favour of the city of Prince George fluoridating its water supply?
In February 2013, council decided to put the issue to a referendum as part of a series of decisions stemming from the core services review. Ending the long-standing practice of the city’s chemical fluoride injection system could save $50,000, according to the KPMG report.
At the time, staff outlined a process by which council could approve the first three readings of a bylaw ending the fluoridation process prior to the vote with the fourth and final reading being withheld pending the results of the residents’ vote.
Prince George is one of a handful of B.C. communities that continue to fluoridate their water. One of the remaining holdouts is Fort St. John, which put the issue to a referendum in 2011 where they voted to keep the fluoride.
A staff report from legislative services director Walter Babicz notes that according to the Community Charter, council isn’t beholden to any referendum opinion.
“In other words, the results are intended to inform council of the community opinion on the issue, but the outcome of the referendum is not necessarily binding on council,” Babicz wrote.
Coun. Brian Skakun said he plans to put forward a motion on Monday night that would make the referendum result carry more weight.
“We’re asking for community input on something important and if it’s not binding why even have it on the ballot?” Skakun said. “Because I think if we’re just seeking community opinion, maybe there’s other ways to do it.”
Skakun said Thursday that he spoke to city staff as well as the local government advisor in Victoria about the prospect.
“I think people need to know as a result of saying ‘Yes,’ this is what’s going to happen, or as a result of saying ‘No,’ this is what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a gray area.”
But having the question on the Nov. 15 ballot is likely to stir more interest in the the political process, Skakun indicated, which is preferable to 2011’s “absolutely terrible” voter turnout of less than 30 per cent.