Mar. 10, 2017

Referendum will tell council what Nanaimo wants


By Merv Unger

03/10 - Saturday is going to be a fantastic day for Nanaimo. We’re going to the ballot box to tell city council what we want, and they are going to listen. That’s a novel idea, so let that sink in for a while.

Regardless of the outcome of the $80-million borrowing referendum, the verdict form the voters will provide city council with a clear picture of the wishes of the majority of Nanaimoites who vote.

Supporters of both sides of the events centre issue have worked hard to get their message across. That is borne out in the traffic we’ve had from readers of The arena issue was the introduction of some citizen journalists who developed a major following during the campaign.

Special note to Gary Weikum and Don White who wrote extensive articles about the arena proposal, giving valuable information to our readers. Their articles attracted thousands and thousands of readers.

Also of note were the likes of Jerry Berry, Andy Laidlaw and Gary Korpan who also entered the debate. Thanks to all of them for their contribution. They certainly helped to inform the public from a professional point of view, all having been in public service in the past. I thank all of them for their input.

The No side appears to have been the best organized, utilizing social media to great advantage by getting out well-researched facts about the referendum.

The supporters of the project were handicapped by not having the weapons at their disposal to make a good case. There was a public impression of a smoke and mirrors game. City open houses had selective information that did not answer the basic questions like the size and look of an arena, a confirmed hockey tenant (until Tuesday), the location chosen, confusing financial information, and so on. The lack of parking for the arena made it almost a non-starter.

What ever happened to the multiplex which would have featured much more in multi-use facilities? What forced the city to downsize from the original concept?

The fact that the supporters dropped out of a public debate for very questionable reasons didn’t help their side’s image in the public eye. The following survey of its members by the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce reflected the fact that selling the arena plan is an uphill battle, especially with the business community. That’s where a lot of support is needed, especially when it comes to buying into corporate boxes and sponsorships in a new arena.

Another thing is it is so hard to prove positive economic impact – when “Joe’s Café” is busy as a result of local activity it’s hard to translate that into provable evidence. Yes, it’s there and it has a positive impact, but it doesn’t show up in the public balance sheets.

I have stated from the beginning, I’m not endorsing either side, readers will have to make up their own minds. Though a lot of people expect a lopsided result, it’s never over until the last ballot is counted on Saturday night. And with that, a mighty big challenge remains for both sides – getting out the vote. The biggest danger is voters assuming that the question is already won or lost. That can turn around an outcome. Make sure, get to the polls and cast your ballots, regardless of which side you are on.