ROTHENBURGER – The big difference between listening and empowering

‘We want to empower you!’ (Image: Screenshot, City of Kamloops video)

ENGAGEMENT, CONSULTATION AND TRANSPARENCY are big words in governments of all levels right now.

Issues like pipeline expansion, electoral reform and First Nations rights come to mind but let’s stick close to home. The McArthur Island issue has made Kamloops City council sensitive to the meaning of communication with citizens.

There’s another important word to add to the list — empowerment. It means giving someone the authority to do something.

At this week’s City council meeting, during a report from communications manager Wendy Heshka about recent “engagement” activities, Coun. Bill Sarai urged — in view of the McArthur Island experience — that people be told their input “is just part of the bigger picture.” He called public engagement “a double-edged sword.”

Mayor Ken Christian has said: “There’s a big difference between not listening and not agreeing.”

So expect some sort of warning on the City’s website which, translated, will mean “We’ll listen to you but that doesn’t mean we’ll do what you say.”

Sarai and Christian are correct, of course, that City council can’t always go along with the majority in informal processes.


Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, former school board chair, former editor of The Kamloops Daily News, and a current director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He was awarded the Jack Webster Foundation’s lifetime achievement award in 2011. His editorials are published Monday through Thursdays, and Saturdays on CFJC Today, CFJC Midday and CFJC Evening News. Contact him at

About Mel Rothenburger (7457 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

2 Comments on ROTHENBURGER – The big difference between listening and empowering

  1. Mel is right, public engagement is often misunderstood. Council has much to consider, including from, as I’ve heard them described, the experts – the functionaries in suits at city hall. Community consultation should not be a winner takes all process, as some now see the McArthur Park decision. What it should be, at best, is a learning experience for council and, importantly a chance to help our city avoid making big mistakes. Consider, what will unfold if council plunges into creating an eighteen hole disc golf course. We learned from the council meeting that we might expect just one tournament a year, that the number of players is largely unknown and that the eighteen acres seem somewhat marginal for a tournament course. We also learned, from earlier input, that what the golfers want, most of all, is a course near bus routes that will allow beginners to try out the sport. More alarmingly thought, we also learned that Parks Department envisions intends spending, beyond the first-year outlay of some $200,000, nearly a million dollars in all. This all screams out for prudence. So, here’s the lesson from public input – go slow. Why not put in a nine hole course for starters? That way, we could all get a feel for how popular the sport will become over the next few years. We could see how well the disc enthusiasts actually co-exist with nature. What a great opportunity to monitor the impact on plants and animals. Maybe that might even be a research project for a promising TRU natural sciences student. If the sport takes off, and nature suffers little, then the right decision might be to expand to eighteen holes. There’s lots of precedence for golf link expansions. In the end, I take the public consultation process as not telling council what to do, but instead offering an encouragement to proceed wisely.

  2. We are definitely empowered to do something…like giving our opinions?
    I do respect the fact that options are just part of the big picture and it is impossible to implement policies without omitting some of them opinions.
    At the end of the day transparency on decisions would be something of value without having to go through too many FOI requests. I think we are now better off than at any time in the past…but we must remain vigilant and engaged.

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