Councillor’s ‘groupthink’ charge throws gas on fire in lawn mowing debate

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London is cutting down an effort not only to limit when Londoners can tend to their greenery, but also informing them on how best to do it.

After a testy exchange among councillors at Tuesday afternoon’s city council meeting, politicians unanimously voted to can a proposal to introduce a 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew on gas-powered garden tools such as lawn mowers, trimmers and leaf blowers.

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Councillors also voted down a proposed education campaign on best environmental practices for lawn and garden care, in addition to a multi-city funding pitch to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to establish best practices and potential incentives to phase out gas-powered equipment.

The former, proposed by Coun. Skylar Franke, drew the ire of many in the city, even prompting the mayor and deputy mayor to criticize the effort publicly. Days later, Franke promised in a statement to retract her motion, which she reiterated.

“I received a lot of communication, I would imagine everyone did,” she said. “After listening to the feedback from residents from across London, it was very clear to me that … suggested proposal for limiting gas equipment was too restrictive.”

The existing curfew for using gas mowers and other gas-powered equipment is from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Coun. Hadleigh McAlister commended Franke for her “courage” to acknowledge her mistake and correct it after “stepping on a political landmine.”

However, the debate started with Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen saying voting-age Londoners should be treated as “intelligent adults” capable of making their own decisions.

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“Frankly, we have to resist the dark temptation to turn this council into a politburo of groupthink and indoctrination,” he said, drawing swift reaction from his colleagues.

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Mayor Josh Morgan immediately objected to the use of “groupthink,” saying  councillors are capable of their own decisions and asked Van Meerbergen to retract, which he refused.

Van Meerberen went on to say the proposals were trying to “indoctrinate,” before Coun. Corrine Rahman interrupted.

“I guess my indoctrination isn’t working, since I’m speaking against what you’re saying, but I think the councillor owes us an apology for that,” she said.

Morgan again told Van Meerbergen to retract, asking him to make his point respectfully and without making assumptions about fellow councillors.

Van Meerbergen again refused, arguing he wasn’t using “unparliamentary language” or singling out any councillors, pointing out his use of the word “temptation.”

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Morgan backed down, saying “temptation” changes the context of his comments, despite the charged language, but McAlister challenged Morgan’s ruling.

“I think its out of line … that language is inappropriate,” he said. “This isn’t the Cold War. This isn’t the council of un-London activities, and I think its disparaging to council as a whole to use that language.”

While reversal of Morgan’s ruling as chair that the matter was “dealt with” could have led to a vote of Van Meerbergen being removed from the meeting, politicians voted 8-6 in favour of Morgan’s ruling.

Councillors McAlister, Anna Hopkins, David Ferreira, Elizabeth Peloza and Skylar Franke voted against Morgan, with all others in support, and Coun. Susan Stevenson absent.

Deputy mayor Shawn Lewis said residents also made it clear how they wished to handle their lawn care, and that education on best practices isn’t necessary.

“I don’t think we should be spending resources … producing promotional materials to make citizens aware of their lawn care choices,” he said.

jmoulton@postmedia.com

@jackmoulton65

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