A community organizer is coming to town to help Prince George residents make sense of the core services review process.
Toronto community organizer and former Ontario government staffer Sean Meagher will visit next Tuesday night to talk to local residents about how to make the best of a review.
"I'm really looking forward to coming to your city," said Meagher, on the phone from Toronto. "What's important out of Prince George is not what happens in somebody else's town but how this is playing out in your community and what the potential implications are for the people who live there."
Meagher is president of Public Interest, a social justice-focused strategic firm aimed at helping to engage people in public policy decisions. Prior to taking up his current position in 2002, he worked for politicians at both the municipal and provincial level.
On Oct. 16, Meagher will be speaking at the College of New Caledonia at 7 p.m. in room 1306. City of Prince George employee unions CUPE 1048 and 399 are bringing him to town for the discussion.
"They were looking for somebody with some experience in where this kind of thing goes and what it was like," Meagher said.
The Torontonian acknowledged that drawing parallels between the two cities isn't really possible, but that there are still lessons to be learned.
"What I'm hoping will happen is we will begin to have a more thoughtful discussion," he said, adding last summer's core services review in Toronto can be more than a cautionary tale. "The specifics of how a core services review plays out is something that people can have a look at and have a look at the Prince George experience and say 'okay, where is that paralleled here and where do we need to stop and take a more careful look at what we're getting in this core services review? What are the potential consequences that we're not looking at because of the way this is structured?'"
After having reviewed the list of opportunities for change for Prince George, Meagher said he saw a lot of "relevant parallels" and though there were different circumstances and different specific factors, it seemed to be the same kind of process, "with very much the same sort of outcome."
One of the major ways Meagher said the Toronto process differed from the locally KPMG-facilitated review is the level of public consultation.
"The Toronto process had thousands of people participating in community consultations, which you don't have in Prince George," he said. "To try and determine what the appropriate service levels are for a community without having much of a conversation in the community that depends on the services? Toronto at least avoided that pitfall."
Following the summer 2011 review in Toronto, the city was not necessarily left better off after having gone through the process.
"What it did do is frustrate, upset and disrupt a lot of what was going on in the community," Meagher said.
That has already seemed to happen in Prince George, where Prince George Fire Rescue staffers and supporters of keeping the Civic Centre and Four Seasons Pool have felt the need to stand up and state their case.
With the final report still to come from KPMG, the residents of Prince George still have an opportunity to make sure their input is heard before council makes their final decision.
"They can speak to the folks who they hire to take good care of their city and talk about what they do and don't want to see in the opportunities that are being put forward and make sure that the conversation really is about what makes a better Prince George, " Meagher said.