Carleton Place council refused to let the local resident speak about water fluoridation during the physical environment committee meeting last Tuesday, April 2, even though he was registered to do so.
When a motion was moved by mayor Wendy LeBlanc to not allow Ingram to speak, it carried on a 4-3 vote, with LeBlanc and councillors Doug Black, Rob Probert and Gary Strike in favour and deputy mayor Ed Sonnenburg and councillors Louis Antonakos and Jerry Flynn in opposition.
“If we hear from Matt tonight, I feel we are looking at an unbalanced view,” said the mayor.
“Matt is here as a concerned citizen,” Flynn pointed out.
Antonakos concurred. “He is not here as an expert,” he said. “He is here as a resident.”
“It gives an unbalanced viewpoint,” reiterated LeBlanc.
Instead she wanted to move ahead with the decision made by council in September 2011: to bring in a proponent to have fluoride removed and an advocate of fluoride, such as the medical officer of health.
“We have someone who has asked to make a comment,” said Sonnenburg, “and they are registered to speak.”
He added council normally gives this courtesy to all members of the gallery.
“Allowing someone from the gallery to speak is always at the discretion of council,” stressed LeBlanc.
She explained the gravity of the issue influenced her decision to prohibit Ingram from speaking. Moreover, it did not uphold the spirit of 18 months ago.
In regards to the education session for council, Probert said there needed to be some type of timeline.
“Staff need to coordinate this,” said Sonnenburg.
LeBlanc indicated the session should happen before the June physical environment committee meeting.
“If something is not organized by then, then there is something terribly wrong,” said Sonnenburg.
Flynn chairs the physical environment committee.
“Matt Ingram’s democratic rights were denied as a registered speaker and a citizen of Carleton Place who wanted to address council on an issue that concerned him,” said Flynn in a follow-up email to the Canadian Gazette EMC April 3.
He stressed the resident was not there as an expert.
“I don’t remember ever having denied anyone an opportunity to address council, especially a registered speaker, no matter what the issue was,” said Flynn.
He added there are two sides to most issues, but council never demands both sides be present before allowing an individual to speak.
“As was pointed out, we were not going to vote on anything that Matt said, so all we were being asked to do was listen,” said Flynn.
In an email to councillors April 3, which was also sent to the Canadian Gazette EMC, Ingram stated he was thankful council decided to move ahead with an education session, to hear from proponents on both sides of the matter.
“That was my ultimate goal for last night,” he said. “So thank you for making that a priority.”
While he respected council’s position to not let him talk and wait to have speakers from both sides, he was “extremely disappointed” he wasn’t given the opportunity to make a “short comment.”
“It sounds like this has never happened before to a member of the public,” said Ingram. “And there is something very wrong when politicians are not willing to listen to even a short comment from a concerned member of the public.”
“I had expected that you would be disappointed in not being able to speak, and I most certainly appreciate that you understand why it is necessary to have a balanced playing field in the discussion of fluoride,” responded LeBlanc in an email in Ingram, which was also sent to the newspaper. “I, too, am pleased we are finally moving forward with the education session.”
She said fluoride can be an extremely contentious and, very often, divisive issue in a community.
“It is imperative we, as council, ensure we deal with the matter in a manner that is above reproach from any faction in the community,” explained LeBlanc. “To do anything less is unconscionable.”
“The press was there, your comment would have been reported on, we would then be off on an unequal footing,” she continued. “Please wait until the education session.”
Although details surrounding the education session for council are to be determined, the public can attend, but it will not be an opportunity for debate on the issue.
“This is to give council members enough information to move forward – or not – with a plebiscite (referendum type vote),” said LeBlanc.