Editorial: Backyard chickens an election issue?

By: Korie Marshall

I believe the backyard chickens should be allowed in Valemount, and I can’t believe that a single anonymous person can derail the democratic process. There is something more going on here.

Only two councillors were at the meeting, and they both voted to keep the bylaws at second reading, pending more information from staff.

Council knows the work that has gone into the chicken bylaws that came up at the Oct. 14th. meeting. Council sent the issue to the Advisory Planning Commission, Councillor Hollie Blanchette was on the APC, and was present at the meetings where chickens were discussed. Councillor Sandy Salt could have been present as well if she chose to, the meetings are public, and the Commission has been very open and welcoming of comments from the public. Council assigned Cam Bell, our intern, and previously Braden Hutchins, our former Corporate Officer to do research on the topic. Our bylaw officer, Dean Schneider, was invited by the APC, and discussed any concerns and issues he had at their meeting.

So why is Council suddenly chicken?

Why have they held the bylaw at 2nd reading?

I’ve been at the APC meetings, I know the work that staff and the APC has done to get it to this point, and I think they’ve done a good job of addressing the issues that were brought up. I trust the system Council has set up. Other people also stood up in agreement (I could hear the nervousness in one resident’s voice, but he spoke up anyway) and no one publicly said anything against the bylaw. There were no written submissions, besides an anonymous letter which is not permitted at a public hearing.

But it seems like that nameless person, who hasn’t shown up for the APC discussion, and hasn’t submitted anything they are willing to put their name on, can derail the whole process. That is not democratic.

I see Councillor Salt’s point about using existing farms outside the village, that maybe we don’t need this right now, but she had the chance to voice those concerns before she sent the issue to the APC. She also could have gone to the APC meetings, and she could have brought up her concerns at first and second reading. Why wait until now? If you aren’t going to pass the bylaw no matter what, why bother bring it to the APC? Councillor Salt said at the meeting that she thinks some of the wording can be tightened up to alleviate her concerns, but I am not sure,
because I think her concerns are already addressed in it.

Councillor Blanchette is the Council liaison with the APC, and I have to wonder why she suddenly thinks this nameless person’s concerns have not already been considered – and why they are more important than everyone else’s. Chickens are going to draw cougars into our community, where small children play by themselves in back alleys? Cougars are around already, and so are other predators and scavengers. What will people do with the chicken shit? It is also known as fertilizer – compost it, or put it in the garbage, whatever – it’s dealt with in the bylaw. Is it any worse that the horse manure people have been complaining so vocally about recently?

Noise – the bylaw was already limited to hens only, no roosters or ducks, etc, in order to limit noise. Bell has done his homework, he told Council that the City of Vancouver did a study on the noise of clucking chickens, and it is less than 60 decibels – less that the conversation between a couple people.

What will people do with the carcases when a chicken dies? People like Jim and Terry Stewart can help you with that if you ask them. They raise chickens, outside of the village, but close to it, and they agree that it would be good for more people to have chickens. It is a way of recognizing that the food we eat comes from somewhere besides the refrigerator at the grocery store.

Passing the bylaw does not mean we’re suddenly going to have thousands of chickens all over the village. They take a lot of work, and a fair amount of initial investment. People can have them outside the village now, and we are not overrun. And the bylaw says there are certain areas you can’t have them, like on 5th Avenue and Main Street, and you need a certain lot size, and must have a proper enclosed coop. If you are interested, read the draft bylaw.

Sure, some people don’t want chickens next door to them – but many of us would like to have the choice of making our lives more sustainable, less reliant on outside industry and corporate powers. Yes, chickens, like any other animal, need to be looked after responsibly. Yes, they die, and responsible chicken keepers will tell you that sometimes you have to kill them. Death is part of eating animals, and some of us believe that it is good to see where our food comes from. It is good for kids to see that cycle carried out respectfully. We take them to see lambs and puppies born, fresh new lives – it is responsible to be able to show them the end of that cycle too. We all die someday.

I am sure Council members have probably heard a lot about this issue over the years. It didn’t actually start at the Community Conversations meeting about a year ago, it started long before that.

In 2011, a draft of the Village’s Animal Control bylaw was brought to the previous Council, based on recommendations by a committee they struck to create the bylaw, and it included allowing chickens. One councillor spoke against it, saying the Village is not equipped to monitor and enforce rules if people don’t care properly for their birds, and allowing chickens was removed from the bylaw. But now we have a bylaw officer, and a better system to enforce fees and fines if necessary.

In November last year at the Village’s Open House, an informal poll on the wall showed 21 votes in favour of allowing chickens and 3 against. Based on that feedback, Council asked staff to come up with some revisions for the Animal Control bylaw, and had the issue referred to the recently created Advisory Planning Commission. The commission was set up in late 2013, specifically to help Council research, get feedback, get input from a wider breadth of the community, and allow more members of the community to be involved in planning decisions. This past summer the commission recommended some changes to the draft bylaws after considering public input at their meetings, and recommended the bylaws be passed by Council.

So that is twice now – two totally separate Councils (no one was on both Councils) have asked for the community to help come up with a bylaw, and then had cold feet about implementing what they recommended.

What is really going on here? I don’t think it is about chickens.

What I see is a battle between two opposing views of what our community could be, how its residents can and should behave.

On one side, there is a clean little village, with swept streets and condo developments, the little painted porcelain village in the snow globe, with each piece in its place, and happy visitors wanting to come and stay and throw money at us.

On the other side are people who want to have control over their own lives, who place value and importance on a variety of things. People who are busy living, and have more concern about the function of a thing than the way it looks. People who don’t want to live in a snow globe or a bunch of little ticky-tacky boxes that someone else designed.

I see it as a battle between people who believe the ad campaigns about cleaning products and new cars and people who refuse the commercialization and the materialism those ads are selling.

Having chickens is not easy, but it is a choice that can mean more sustainability for a family – you can feed your chickens some of your table scraps, they can eat bugs in your lawn and provide fertilizer for your garden, all without having to package and ship anything. You can teach your kids responsibility and work ethics by having them look after the chickens and bring in the eggs which you can feed your family with. You can teach them about the cycle of life, and that all things die, and that this is where your food comes from, not from a package at the supermarket.

Are we all to be denied that opportunity because a few people don’t want chickens next door?

The silliest thing right now is – this Council cannot pass this bylaw before the election. They’ve got one more meeting before the election, and they can only pass third reading, if they even choose to. Unless they call an emergency meeting – and I can’t imagine why this would qualify – the final reading would have to happen AFTER the election.

Did Valemount Council just make chickens an election issue?

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