Updated: Plebiscite to determine community’s opinion on Northern Gateway proposal

Kitimat Council have set a course for a plebiscite to gauge community opinion on Northern Gateway.

We’ll still have to wait to know exactly what questions will be asked, but Kitimat Council has opted to go with a plebiscite to determine the community’s opinion on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines project.

That went against the staff’s recommendation of hiring an independent polling company to conduct a telephone survey.

There was a divide in some councillors, some who felt they didn’t know enough about what to ask to vote on how to gather community opinion.

But Rob Goffinet, who supported the plebiscite, poked the first hole into the problem with a telephone survey.

“I have no reservation that a professional telephoning company can try their darnedest to get people at every time of the day or night to answer the phone,” he said. “I like taking polls, I like answering my telephone, but I do not answer any sort of unidentified call…because I am bound and determined that I’m not going to get another pollster, another fundraiser, so I just shut down.”

Phil Germuth, also supporting the plebiscite, indicated he had full confidence that staff could make non-biased questions, a concern staff had in their report to council.

Edwin Empinado meanwhile was concerned that the majority of the community may not be reflected in a plebiscite.

He pointed to municipal elections, where out of 4,000 registered voters the turnout might only be about 1,500.

He also wanted groups on both sides of the Enbridge debate to be included in crafting questions.

Feldhoff as well supported the staff-recommended telephone survey, saying it could give them more power in crafting questions.

“Not having one question but a series of well-crafted questions I think will get us better reflection of the whole community, and probably is one of the more cost-effective options,” he said.

That option was estimated to cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

A plebiscite is estimated at approximately $15,000.

But Germuth was convinced that a telephone survey would be that effective, drawing parallels to the last provincial election.

“If you look at Ipsos-Reid and them well I think a lot of them are the same companies that went out prior to the last provincial election and said one party was going to wipe it out. And we know what happened there.”

As for Empinado’s concern about gathering feedback from community groups, Germuth said people have had their chance for input.

“I think we’ve had two-and-a-half years to include our community and dialogue,” he said.

Feldhoff still tried to move for the telephone polling company, but he had no seconder for the motion.

“I’m not against a plebiscite but I’m concerned that not enough direction is being given to the motion,” he said.“We’re leaving it somewhat open for staff to come back with a question…Wording is very important, and by going with option number one we would have had the opportunity to get a richer feedback.”

The plebiscite motion passed with just Empinado voting against.

The motion was amended to ensure advanced polling times were available.