IAP2 Member Profile – Chris Gurski, Public Participation Coordinator – Golder Associates, Ltd.

chris gurski-2How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?

I got into P2 three-and-a-half years ago, when I first started my job at Golder. They hired me straight out of my undergrad at the University of Toronto.
What turned you on to P2 in the first place?

When I was at University of Toronto, I was in the Geography Department, I was doing an undergrad degree in Human Geography and taking a course in Environmental and Resource Management. Our professor introduced us to Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Public Participation and introduced us to the P2 process. That was the moment I fell in love with the idea of P2. One of the assignments was to audit a public information centre, and that was when I fell in love with P2 as a potential career. From then on, anytime there was an opportunity to write an assignment (on any topic) through the lens of P2, I would take it.

The “AHA!” moment for me was when I went to audit one of those meetings. It was for the City of Toronto’s Wet Weather Flow Master Plan. In sections of Toronto, the stormwater drains and sewers are combined: everything goes into the same pipe, but then there’s a division so stormwater goes one way and the sewage goes another. But when there’s a severe storm event, they mix into each other and everything winds up going into Lake Ontario. The meetings were to form the basis for a 25-year master plan.

The moderator was Tracey Ehl (now IAP2 Great Lakes Past-President), and that was when I realized that people run P2 processes 24/7 – this is their career. I love people, I love the process: I loved auditing these meetings and seeing what could be done better.

My 2nd AHA moment was when my wife found the job description for me at Golder: Public Participation Coordinator and Aboriginal Engagement specialist; and that’s the job I’m in now.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

The first time I went to a public meeting with Caitlin Burley (Chris’ co-worker at Golder and co-chair of the 2012 IAP2 North American Conference). She’s the one who got me into IAP2. I was eight months into my new job and this was my first time engaging with the public. It was for a controversial wind project in SW Ontario. I learned so much from Caitlin, particularly, how to deal with people who have their lawyers there; people who are yelling and quite unhappy. I learned that sometimes people just need to vent, and they’re not mad at you. Your job is to help them get less angry: you’re there to listen to them and find out what their concerns are. It was a real wild and exciting scene for me.

The project is going ahead, by the way: the community is still somewhat divided but the company we’re working for did a lot of outreach and community-building, which has alleviated a lot of their concerns. Many of [the citizens’] problems are with the Renewable Energy Approvals process that was put in place by the Provincial Government – not so much with the project itself.

What “big wins” have you had?

I’m currently working on a community energy plan for the municipality of Chatham-Kent. The town’s staff are onside, but also importantly, the industrial and commercial stakeholders are also onside and we’re developing the plan with them over the next four to six months. Everyone seems very happy with the process. We keep going back to them every four months or so telling them, “Here’s what we’ve heard, here’s what we’ve done, what do you think now?” Everyone feels like we’ve struck a right balance between not going too often: every time we go back, we show them substantial differences and having the municipal government in support of the P2 process is a big help.

If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …

I would say 2 things: 1 – get to know your local IAP2 chapter, go to the events, get to know the executive AND the other local members … they’re wonderful people and just as passionate about P2 as you are.

The second thing I would say is, go to as many public meetings as you can, both as an engaged citizen wanting to partake in the process locally, but also to to see how people are doing things. The more varieties of an open house you see, the better.

I know I said two things but I can think of a few more. Get involved in the IAP2 Mentorship Program, it was a fantastic experience for me. Go to the conferences, meeting people from other countries who are into P2: what ties us together is our passion and commitment to good P2 and you’re able to share your experience with others. Most importantly have fun with whatever project you are working on, always remember that you got into P2 because you love it and it can be a lot of fun.

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