"No means no" ... or does it? Council grapples with slippery TALC plebiscite results

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
July 18th, 2012

Some 491 Rossland residents—approximately one-fifth of the voting public—cast ballots in a plebiscite in June that asked if they were in favour of municipal financial contributions to the Trail Aquatic and Leisure Centre (TALC), and whether they actually planned to use TALC.

Council had varying opinions on how to interpret the results.

To summarize, some 198 people said, “Yes, I support council to make financial contributions through my property taxation for the use of the Trail Aquatic Centre,” while 225 people said “no,” and 75 people did not answer. That is, 46.8 per cent ‘yes’ to 53.2 per cent ‘no.’

To the second question, 215 people said, “Yes, I intend to use the Trail Aquatic Centre,” but 256 people sad “no,” and 27 people did not answer. That is, 45.6 per cent ‘yes’ to 54.4 per cent ‘no.’

The combination results also reveal some interesting patterns:

  • 171 people answered “yes” to both questions.
  • 189 people answered “no” to both questions.
  • 27 people were willing to contribute taxes to TALC, but wouldn’t use the pool themselves or didn’t answer.
  • 104 people had another response that was either against or neutral about taxation: 22 plan to use TALC but said “no” to taxation and another  22 plan to use TALC but didn’t answer on taxation. Some 14 people said “no” to taxation but did not say whether they would use TALC, and 46 people turned up just to say “no,” we won’t use TALC.

Coun. Kathy Wallace opened the discussion with her explanation for why the numbers were close: “When I look at it, I’m assuming the individuals in the community who would like to go to TALC for the same price as anyone else in the world probably came out in force to make sure their voices were heard. I would assume the other people were rather neutral or not so committed to the idea, or didn’t think it was necessary to vote for it.”


She concluded, “I think it’s either one-third of the households in the community [who want us to support TALC], or it’s one-sixteenth.”


Coun. Jill Spearn acknowledged the numbers left wiggle room “depending on our mood or what we want to see.” But she said, “The plebiscite shows us that there are a significant number of people in our community who feel strongly about using TALC.”


“I suggested that we entertain a plebiscite, and we received criticism about that from some key players who want us to support TALC financially. If they all came out in full force because they feel extremely strongly about having a fair pay schedule at TALC, then I respect that.”


Nevertheless, Wallace said, “Given that Rossland provides a great amount of recreation opportunity—as well as a swimming pool in the summer months complete with swimming lessons—at this point in time I don’t think it’s necessary for council to take any further action.”


“[TALC] is not just a swimming pool,” Spearn said, “It’s got all kinds of activities that we’re nowhere close to.” Nevertheless Spearn agreed with Wallace that Rossland has many other recreation opportunities. 


She added, “It’s not outrageous to pay $10 to go swimming,” comparing it to $10 to go to yoga. “It’s certainly not outrageous in any other city or small city,” she said.


She continued, “The problem is that we can’t have a conversation with our counterpart down the hill unless we pay what we’re told to pay. There’s no room for negotiation, and I disagree with that strongly.”


Spearn suggested that Rossland try again to start a “further conversation with Trail” to reach “a number that’s reasonable to us and respectful to that facility.”


Coun. Kathy Moore said the numbers were clear: “The plebiscite says citizens don’t want us to go pay Trail the full amount.,” she said, arguing against any action at this time. 


Nevertheless, Moore pointed out that “a number of people boycotted the vote—which, to me, never makes sense—but their concerns weren’t just about the pool.” Moore explained that the format of the ballot confused some people, and others felt limited by it, when they wanted to discuss Rossland’s access to all the recreational facilities in Trail.


She said it was not Rossland’s “shiniest moment” in public consultation.


Coun. Cary Fisher disagreed that there was anything confusing in the ballot. “I found it fairly easy to read,” he said.


He continued, “There’s a lot of history about that pool in Rossland. There was a vote. Now we’re back voting in a plebiscite again.”


Mayor Greg Granstrom later clarified, “Rossland voted ‘no’ when this thing was originally going to be built as a regional facility. Trail went and built it anyway. Now we’ve asked the citizens if they wish to subsidize it, and they’ve said no.”


Fisher said, “A vote is a vote. The people of Rossland spoke years ago about this pool, and they just did again. So yes, some people are going to be affected who really want to use the pool. I’m absolutely sorry about that. But two votes “no” means no. No means no.”


Fisher then hit what he feels is the crux of the issue: “As a region we either start thinking regionally—and that includes our partners down in Trail, and I call them out on it—because enough is enough. For us to be singled out…” he paused. “I’m a big supporter of all things in Trail, I really am. I’ve got lots of friends in Trail. I have no idea why this is going on. But at the end of the day it’s a matter of protecting turf.”


He concluded, “My kids would love to swim in the pool down there, but I choose not to go because of what they’ve done. I think it was childish.”


Granstrom brought it back to the plebiscite: “Our whole democracy is run on the ballot. A no vote is a no vote.”


Spearn objected to the strict interpretation, however. She said, “People were worried this was going to be the be-all-end-all. I feel strongly that it’s not. We can use it as we want, we’re not bound by it. We can make any decisions we want above and beyond it. I don’t base my decision-making on one plebiscite that I actually asked to have.”

Other News Stories