Opinion

Clap-o-meter needed to be heard

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In 1956, winners of a TV game show were decided by how loudly the audience clapped for contestants.

The bigger the noise, the further a needle moved across a wooden box called the “Audience Reaction Indicator.”

Once, a singing dog took first prize.

Buddy was the people’s choice.

We live in a democracy, don’t we?

The Clap-o-Meter used on Opportunity Knocks, a forerunner to Britain’s Got Talent, appeared on other game shows.

It relieved TV hosts of making decisions fans might dispute.

Today, government decisions don’t reflect our will as well as a clap-o-meter.

None of the 2012 Cohen Commission’s 75 recommendations to save wild salmon have been implemented, even though most in B.C. think they should.

An NEB Joint Review Panel approves Enbridge, a project people in B.C. reject.

How we feel doesn’t seem important.

We got the GST without asking for it.

Fast-forward to a public hearing in Pitt Meadows last week that advanced – not the people’s will – but the majority of council’s determination to turn prime agricultural land into another shopping mall.

Third reading of bylaw 2635 – approved 4-3 – was labeled “a regional growth strategy.”

A bad one, according to 18 of 24 speakers who argued against more store fronts and asphalt.

Had there been a clap-o-meter here, the needle would have jumped in support of logic and passion.

Folks argued to preserve farmland and habitat for wildlife like the heron pictured on the True North Fraser Logo launched in March 2013.

TNF was supposed to be a sustained campaign to promote “local produce, adventure, natural beauty, and rural culture.”

Dr. Kent Mullinex of Kwantlen University said it could “capture a significant portion of the $5.5 billion Lower Mainland Market.”

Have you heard anything about it lately?

The pro-development group on council is promoting another mall instead – an idea that won’t add to an identity for Pitt Meadows, but is supported by SmartCentres, and a few other land owners.

“You can’t grow food on asphalt,” said Kiersten Duncan. “A focus on our food security is our future.”

Most of our food now comes from the Central Valley in California, where farms are plowed under because the Colorado River is drying up. Do pro-commercial members read the papers?

They say more stores means more jobs for young people.

“Most of those will be part time, non-unionized retail jobs,” said Duncan, a young person. “If we say we’re going to bring jobs to young people, let’s at least bring good ones.”

Pitt Meadows has no need for another shopping mall, agreed speaker, Sandie Banni. “In a survey, shop owners told us they’re struggling to survive. Many of the commercial spaces in the Towers on Harris Road are still sitting empty.”

Add more empty spaces at the foot of Bonson Road as signs uptown tell us “to shop at Osprey Village.”

Diane Williams of the Pitt Polder Preservation Society said she knew of no development like that proposed along Lougheed Highway that benefited farmers or led to preservation of farmland.

“Nor has Richmond Coun. Harold Steves, one of the fathers of the Agricultural Land Reserve.”

It’s a shame a clap-o-meter wasn’t employed when Duane Vandenberg, of the Alouette Field Naturalists, pleaded to keep land in the reserve for the endangered sandhill crane.

I think folks would have cheered, but they couldn’t.

Mayor Deb Walters decreed that applause would not be tolerated. Nor would questions, an order she later reversed, without explanation.

After each presentation, Walters said, dispassionately, “Thank you. Could we have our next speakers?”

The feelings of citizens have to be known as well as their thoughts. Both should effect the decisions of government.

Does that mean clap-o-meters?

No. They’d diminish the seriousness of public hearings.

But it’s wrong to disallow unanswered questions, or completely dismiss the feelings of people altogether.

That’s what happened in Pitt Meadows last week preceding council’s 4-3 ruling on bylaw 2645, a “regional growth strategy,” one that many people in town don’t like.

In fact, the only emotion heard that night was a loud ‘boo’ when Coun. Doug Bing phoned in from Prince George to tip the balance in favor.

“Shame on you,” said former MLA Michael Sather.

He added, the only reason Bing stayed on in council was “to ensure the votes on the North Lougheed connector and the budget go the way he wants them to.”

The public’s will has lost out again. Maybe, democracy has, too.

Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

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