Right idea, wrong execution

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Added: Wed, 11/20/2019 - 1:57pm
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Allyson Beauregard
Rédacteur / Managing Editor

The Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (ORRPB) and Hydro Québec recently hosted a series of “information sessions” across the Outaouais to explain how reservoirs and river flows are managed; it’s something many Pontiac residents are concerned about and question following the record-breaking spring flooding in 2017 and especially 2019 (see page 2).
Most aren’t taking the issue lightly. The MRC Pontiac and some of its municipalities are calling for independent inquiries into the flooding,
speculating mismanagement, as are many other communities on both sides of the river. A social media group, Flood 2019 Petition, has nearly 7,000 members and is rallying for the same answers. Some residents are even considering pursuing class action law suits.
Given the seriousness of the matter, many people arrived at the information sessions expecting the “experts” from the various river management organizations to give presentations, followed by a public questions. This seemed to be a logical way to ensure the best and most efficient transmission of information about an important topic to a large crowd. 
Instead, attendees were directed to watch a short video in one corner, handed a question and answer booklet, and told to tour various kiosques represented by the river authorities, each equipped with additional pamphlets, charts and graphs (many of them quite complicated).
With everyone talking at once, it was difficult to hear and there were line-ups to speak to most experts, especially the ORRPB. Once someone got their turn, they were limited in what they could ask in order to be respectful to those waiting behind them. If the wait didn’t turn people away, many likely left with only a handful of their questions answered and with a fragmented understanding of the causes of flooding, and the role each organization played.
Taking the initiative to organize the series of information sessions was laudable, but with the format of a job fair or trade show, flood victims were right to be frustrated (many were!) and to feel like the seriousness of their troubles was
downplayed. The event certainly didn’t do much to improve residents’ trust in the organizations.
A presentation accompanied by questions would have ensured charts and graphs were properly explained and understood; everyone was given the same information; all questions were answered; a relatively quiet and controlled environment; and the same questions weren’t asked and answered repeatedly. Of course, it also would have put experts in the uncomfortable position of responding to difficult and emotion-ridden questions and comments with all eyes on them.  
The event was supposed to help people understand a tragedy that literally ripped people from their homes and turned their lives upside down. Instead, the format gave the illusion that it was more of an avoidance strategy masked with good intentions than a genuine desire to address the public’s questions and concerns. It essentially silenced the voice of flood victims and muted rather than encouraged dialogue. What a disappointment!