Letter: A different kind of smell?

Well! Champion Petfoods has its well-deserved and hard earned $5,400 in fines waived. Lots of people are upset.
We are informed by CAO Debbie Oyarzun that “Champion has agreed to stay the course, and the Town has agreed to stay the previously issued tickets.”

Sounds comfy.

There is an in camera meeting with our CAO and Council. There is no public discussion. No debate. No explanation. Not a peep from our elected representatives.

There is lawyer speak. Something happens. Poof. There’s smoke. It’s like… magic!

The smelling masses cannot be trusted to be privy to such sophisticated deliberations because “not a lot of people know the mechanics of Council and Administration…”

No kidding.

Guess the “openness” and “consultation” platforms that some of our councillors trumpeted at last election have developed a serious case of the wobbles.

There is no Council vote on record. The CAO explains that Council makes no decision but that the CAO definitely takes her “marching orders from Council.”

The less “mechanically” inclined amongst us are left dazed and a little befuddled. Community Standards Bylaw 27-2010 seemed pretty clear:
Section 2.2.1 states “any owner…will refrain from any use of their premises or property that results in the production of offensive odours… which represent a nuisance to…the general public…”

Section 4.5.3 states, “any owner…who fails to comply will be liable for fines listed in Schedule A.”

Why did Champion’s fines go walkabout?

We are told that the fines disappeared because we are all about “compliance”, the future, paving roads forward and stuff and the tickets went stale or something. While dazzling, this explanation is sort [of] unsatisfying… like tap dancing without the shoes.
We are told that Council and the CAO are committed to “working with businesses.” Apparently residents are not entitled to the same exalted consideration when it comes to fresh air and fussy little things like by-law enforcement.

We are told that Champion will monitor and adjust cooking schedules “going forward” so as not to impact community “special events.” This revelation is a little disconcerting.

We wonder if Morinvillians enjoying backyard barbecues, playgrounds, walking the trails, soccer, baseball, gardening and outdoor patios on a gentle summer’s eve qualify as “special events.” Do weddings or other functions at the financially strapped Morinville Cultural Centre qualify as “special events”?

Champion’s CEO has worked diligently to reduce odours by improving plant technology and operations. Progress is evident. Festival sponsorships, support of community groups and substantial investments in public relations all make sense.

Yet nasty odours still bubble up periodically. And, we are still awaiting Champion’s latest odour units per metre cubed data (OUm3). Data that is supposed to measure odour patterns and intensity from different sensory points in the community.

Fining Champion $5,400 while being in violation of Bylaw 27-2010 made sense.

If there were compelling reasons to stay Champion’s fines they should have been aired publicly at a Council meeting. The administrative or political calculations that led to the attempt at a quiet, in camera, “flush” disrespected residents, wantonly undermined their ongoing concerns, and hollowed out the existing bylaw and bylaw enforcement.

This latest example of Town “mechanics” is sadly not surprising… just disappointing.

We are told that the Town of Morinville reserves the right to act on the behalf of residents at some later date. Somehow, we are neither encouraged nor inspired.

We are just left with a different aroma… and the feeling that something is broken.

Paul O’Dea
Morinville

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8 Comments

  1. Paul, yet another well-thought-out and well-written missive and I agree completely with your comments.

    What this issue REALLY does is call for an examination of the whole “in-camera” process. Municipal Affairs says (with respect to Council meetings) that “No item shall be considered In Camera unless one of the exceptions to disclosure in Division 2 of Part 1 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act applies”.

    It is this aspect of the problem which a couple of us are attempting to come to grips with as we speak…

    Some serious questions are about to be asked and while I’m marginally confident we’ll get AN answer, I’m NOT as confident it will be one we’ll be able to “take to the bank”

  2. Great article Paul. I’ve worked with you over a period of years in regards to Champion’s odour mitigation and your honor and integrity have always lighted the way.

    What is discouraging is that we are living in a time when honor and integrity are seemingly swept under the carpet. Thank goodness we have someone who will champion (no pun intended) Morinville and the surrounding communities rights to fresh air and transparent civic government.

    Over the past year management at Champion have welcomed my thoughts and input which is very refreshing. Working with Champion rather than against them has actually been very beneficial.

    Wind direction and drift cause areas like South Glens, Notre Dame and the No Frills area to be affected most. Champion management acknowledge this is part of the problem and I have been encouraged by their discussions on upcoming improvements.

    How I wish the Town of Morinville would approach sensitive issues with the same openness. Accountability to residents should never swept under the carpet and if it is then because we live in a democracy we can use the power of our votes to make changes.

    Hopefully residents and Town Council will remember this.

  3. As previously reported by this news source, Legal issues, land issues and personnel issues are the only issues that are to be discussed in camera.

    There are VERY good reasons for that.

    Whether you agree with the decision to waive the fines or not, the decision to do so MUST be discussed in camera.

    The municipal government act, the bible that all municipalities must adhere to, says so.

  4. Wow! Thx for the letter. If I understand correctly, the town and enforcements asked residents (as well as neighbouring Cardiff residents) to work with the town? So, by giving up our time to report odors, the laws in place would be enforced by bylaw with the decided upon fines. I personally was informed my reports would be followed up with fines, this out of the mouth of the officer! I’ve spent my time. My child lost stomach contents in the no frills parking lot, my kids were steered away from enjoying outdoors! Many have ill effects from the exposure of the poor air quailty and we are all left helpless once again? Anything we did is just, tossed in the air like a champion petfood odor?! Town’s council once again chooses to loose the confidence of Morinvillians?! Congratulations!!!! How about those who worked so hard to help the town come up with solutions, sat in at the meetings, etc. what a slap in the face.

  5. Let’s tell it like it is. I’m not seeing a big improvement in the odor.

    When the disgusting Champion Pet food smell shows up in Cardiff you cannot enjoy the outdoors period! ( Note: we in Cardiff are in the prevailing down winds )

    Having gone through the run around that is a required process to put in a complaint to the Town of Morinville and only to have them ( the council ) over ride the bylaws by canceling the fines reads to me truly where the town council mind set really is!

    Logic would dictate that one would like to do their shopping in the town of Morinville but as of early this year I and other residents of Cardiff are not and will not do business in Morinville when the Champion Pet Food smell is present.

  6. I hate to disagree with you Mr. Gosselin, but I have found NOTHING, ANYWHERE, which states that “Legal issues, land issues and personnel issues are the only issues that are to be discussed in camera”. Further, in regards to your statement: “Whether you agree with the decision to waive the fines or not, the decision to do so MUST be discussed in camera.”: Please advise us precisely which article of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) mandates that such decisions MUST be discussed ‘In Camera.’.

    In respect of Council Meetings, Municipal Affairs is quite clear that, and I quote: “NO ITEM SHALL BE CONSIDERED IN CAMERA UNLESS ONE OF THE EXCEPTIONS TO DISCLOSURE IN DIVISION 2 OF PART 1 OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND PROTECTION OF PRIVACY ACT APPLIES.”

    Further, an examination of that portion of the FOIP reveals much about what “the head of a public body” (who in the case of the Town of Morinville is the MAYOR, and NOT the CAO!) MAY refuse to disclose and/or MUST refuse to disclose.

    This is not becoming any clearer, but I intend to continue to dig on this if for no other reason than to try and change the ATTITUDE our Council and Administration seem to hold towards this Municipality’s citizens.

    PLEASE – if ANYONE out there is of a like mind, contact me at jgobrien@telus.net – Let’s get together and share information, discuss various approaches to this problem and hopefully arrive at a consensus for dealing with the issue!

  7. Reference Joe’s Comment:
    “The municipal government act, the bible that all municipalities must adhere to, says so.”

    I took up an issue with Municipal Affairs when I found the Town was in violation of the so called “Bible” and found out the following. The Province of Alberta does not have an enforcement section within Municipal Affairs, they rely solely on the Town to police itself with regards to the Municipal Government Act. Any group or persons who feel they have been wronged or if procedure has not been followed have a right to launch civil action quoting the Act at their own expense. And legal counsel advises that even if you are correct in your actions and concerns, the Courts have to consider if it will impact and what that impact would be on the entire Province, and can therefore dismiss you claims on the basis that it will not be beneficial to all communities as a whole.

    So really, the Town can side step the Act all they want unless someone wants to take them to task: which is expensive and not a guarantee. OR you can simply take names and vote them out in the next election.

  8. I agree with Paul. While I agree that the legal discussion needed to take place in-camera, why wasn’t a motion raised and voted on by the Council afterwards? That way, we would know what side our elected representatives are supporting on this issue. I feel for the CAO who had to act as it looks like a Council cop-out. Correct me if I’m totally wrong here.

    Compliance or not, all I know is that we’re still smelling cooking dog food over two years after complaints were made. I don’t care about the supposed progress Champion has made or money they’ve spent. I don’t care about compliance issues. I really don’t care about the real and healthy ingredients Champion uses in their product. All I want is to be able to spend time on my outdoor deck on any given day (particularly a weekend) and not want to throw up due to the over-powering smell coming from Champion.

    I think that we will see town residents and corporate neighbours approach our bylaws in a whole new light this summer. Go ahead, give me a ticket! I’ll appeal! Give me another ticket? Better yet! The greater the amount of the fines, the less likely I’ll have to go to court! Council didn’t raise the bar, they knocked it on the ground.

    Champion would have earned a lot more good will in the town by paying the fines and moving on, than fighting them and making our Town administration look ineffective. My view from my side of the smokestack.

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