OP/ED: Bylaws that don't bite don't work

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
September 23rd, 2010

It is always interesting to watch the process of a group of people when they make decisions. Take Grand Forks city council for example. On Monday night they debated the anti-feeding bylaw with regards to deer. Don’t worry, it passed. But the interesting part is the establishment of yet another bylaw with no teeth.   Two councillors registered votes against the bylaw – Councillors Gene Robert and Joy Davies. Both used the rationale that they felt that the bylaw, which doesn’t impose any fines, set neighbours against each other by requiring them to report on infractions. The bylaw only has teeth if someone reports that another person broke the law – yet another complaint driven bylaw.   Only a short few months ago, most of these councillors were more than happy to vote for a woodstove appliance bylaw that is nearly identical – neighbours who consider the wood smoke from an appliance a nuisance can report you. Our watering restrictions are similar – you too can report a neighbour for all sorts of infractions. And let’s not forget the unsightly premises bylaw.   Now consider the impact of these types of bylaws on the community. The council is prepared to say they are taking a stand on, lets say not feeding deer, but they want all of us to police each other. So it boils down to whether or not I like my neighbour. I’m more than willing to put up with certain actions by my neighbour if I like them, while I’m much more likely to look for an excuse to cause problems if I don’t care for them or they just ran over my cat.   Not to mention how on earth, without a bylaw officer, anyone can even prove the complaint was true. I received a watering infraction letter two summers ago, but they couldn’t tell me the day I did the infraction, and, if pushed, I find it highly unlikely that they could even prove it happened. Can you sense water use from City Hall? Did someone take pictures that were not manipulated by Photoshop?   So who’s going to investigate these complaints? We now have animal control, wood burning, deer feeding, unsightly premises and watering regulations that are all complaint-driven.   Council seems to be regularly sitting on a fence – they don’t want to upset the general population and lose votes so they are creating bylaws to be able to say they did something, but they don’t make them too harsh so it’s more palatable.   With fear of repeating myself, anyone who thinks that feeding deer is any different than feeding bears just doesn’t understand that if you love them because of their wild natural beauty, then let them be wild and natural and admire them from afar. That doesn’t include supplementing their diet with potatoes or dog food.   But most of all, its time that council stop pussy-footing around issues and put some strength behind their actions. Making me responsible for my neighbour’s behaviour is not where the responsibility should lie. If local government sees a need to regulate, then at least step up to the plate and make the regulation have some impact. It’s a good thing financial planning for the next year is going to include a discussion around a bylaw officer.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to see how we’re going to have any effect if council can’t get off the fence. Ask the dog park society…. 

Categories: Op/Ed