Saint John Board of Trade needs to get on board

Note: My comments in this blog regarding PlanSJ are mine alone as a citizen and Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) member, and are not intended to represent the views of the CAC as a whole.

I’m concerned about the article in today’s TJ about the Board of Trade and PlanSJ. I strongly disagree with any extension of the deadline for feedback.

First of all, the PlanSJ schedule is already defined to meet specific milestones. A delay here will roll forward throughout the rest of the schedule, as well as setting a precedent that will introduce additional delays later in the schedule. A delay would have significant cost implications.

Secondly, while the Board of Trade might not have seen the document before, the invitation was made for them to participate right from the start. Their lack of engagement until now speaks to their lack of interest, and not any attempt to exclude them.

The feedback period allowed at this stage in the plan development process is appropriate for the decisions that stakeholders are being asked to make. Even for the Board of Trade. If they aren’t able to solicit feedback from their members in the 15 day feedback window (Oct 15 to 29th), that suggests to me that they simply aren’t prioritizing this opportunity to participate. Again.

Third, there will be additional opportunities for feedback as the process goes forward. The engagement with the public and stakeholders is a process of increasing refinement and detail. If Board of Trade members aren’t able to fully voice their feedback now, there will be additional opportunities to have a voice later on.

Fourth point: Why should the Board of Trade get special treatment? If PlanSJ makes an exception for them, many other groups in the community would be justified in demanding the same, or even greater, extensions. That’s a losing game. We’ll end up with much longer periods of consultation that will generate little additional input of value, while throwing the plan development schedule out the window.

Finally, while the Board of Trade is an important stakeholder – hence the efforts to date to engage with them – they are not the only people the new plan must serve. PlanSJ must serve the interests of our citizens first. Businesses bring benefit to the region as a whole, but I think we’re all on the same page that the priority, as a municipality, is quality of life for Saint Johners first, with regional business interests as a less central consideration.

If we want the PlanSJ process to have any credibility and validity with Saint Johners (especially those who have made the effort to provide feedback in a timely manner), then the Planning department needs to say no to demands for special treatment from any sector.

I’m also surprised and disappointed that the Board of Trade has chosen the public forum of the TJ to make this play. It smells more like an attempt to attack the credibility of the process than a good-faith argument to provide input.

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