Eight Months On and the Clock is Ticking – My View

Can you believe that it has been eight months since the last municipal election? Time has literally flown by and while it feels like a new Council, I realize that in November, we will have been elected a full year. I also realize that as time is passing quickly, there is still a lot left to do. I believe that to determine where you are going requires you to look back to see where you have been and so with this in mind, I recently took the opportunity to reflect on this Council's achievements since December 2008. I know that each of us will interpret for ourselves what this Council has and has not accomplished since being elected but, since I am directly involved as a sitting Councillor, I hope that my own insights are helpful in assessing this Council's progress to date.

I am reminded that Council work is truly "a work in progress." Improving local services while addressing local needs, most related to land use, are what municipalities spend the majority of their time doing. They do this primarily through a complicated set of regulatory bylaws and statutes that involve taxation and compliance, where success is most often defined by whatever side of the counter or issue you happen to be on. I have always believed that local government is a process that tries to avoid collisions between people, politics and issues. But when they do collide, Council is faced with trying to make good decisions about not so good situations. As you know, emotions can run high, anger can overshadow reason and tempests in teapots can blow the lid. Working through the angst and trying to find the best solution is one of the more challenging aspects of this work.

There are indeed challenges ahead for this Mayor and Council but I sense in the last eight months, North Saanich seems a lot less confrontational; people seem more willing to listen and to understand different points of view (at least on a few issues). I credit some of this change to a change in leadership at the Mayor's level, resulting in a renewed sense of purpose among the majority of Council members. I believe that for the first time in many years, North Saanich is also undergoing a significant transition that is taking it FROM small rural-residential community often seen as merely an extension of Sidney TO vibrant independent community that boasts some of the most valuable agricultural lands, natural rural spaces and environmental habitats left on southern Vancouver Island.

North Saanich is shifting to becoming a regional leader on agriculture and food security, environmental protection and conservation, preserving lifestyle quality and enhancing an enviable network of unique trails, beaches, parks and green spaces. North Saanich is also becoming recognized as a District where building capacity for the future includes an emphasis on local government that should be affordable. Those eager to develop and urbanize North Saanich's land base (more density = more services = higher taxes) are having to learn to work with a stated community desire for new ideas that are less about exploitation and more about making sound decisions for long term sustainability, environmental protection and conservation. One only has to look to other Vancouver Island communities such as Tofino to realize how necessary conservation is to land use planning -- rapid growth and density development on the Pacific Rim are threatening the community's available water supply.

As a footnote, I predict that without careful planning that focuses on conservation, other Vancouver Island communities face a similar fate -- water tomorrow will become as valuable as oil today.

There is another shift occurring in the context of more complex local and regional government. S
ince implementation of the Province's Community Charter legislation, local governments are expected to deliver more and more programs and services previously provided by the Province. I think our greatest challenge ahead is to maintain our ability to balance budgets with the pressure to meet community needs during a time of unprecedented provincial downloading and shrinking funds. That's why I believe that sustainability cannot be limited to the environment -- it must be applied as a universal planning tool to all aspects of local government and land use. Fortunately for North Saanich, it seems that the current Mayor and Council majority agree.

I am encouraged to see North Saanich taking its rightful place in the capital region as a community concerned about the future, its role on the Saanich Peninsula and how it can protect its natural environment, one that continues to draw people to this area. I am an enthusiastic supporter of Mayor Finall's priority that North Saanich should have a strong regional voice through the Capital Regional District (CRD) where she and other North Saanich Council members participate on various CRD committees -- North Saanich is demonstrating leadership on issues such as food security, homelessness, environmental protection, low income/subsidized housing, parks and agricultural planning.

With these realities as the backdrop, the North Saanich Council majority represents what I call a "working Mayor and Council." The work may not grab headlines in the local paper but I believe it has deeper meaning for our community and for those of us who share a long term commitment to strong local government. That's why I believe so much of the past eight months has been intentionally focused internally on incremental change i.e. gradually bringing about better accountability and consistency to municipal practices, policies and procedures.

The work of North Saanich Council also involves changing a culture, and re-defining the development paradigm beyond land use and bricks and mortar. The work is now more about addressing issues such as improved communication between staff and Council and between Council and the public. "Development" now involves community-building, improving and developing new community partnerships, recognizing shared responsibilities and sharing information with residents/taxpayers, with neighbouring municipalities, with North Saanich First Nations communities and with small and large business/industry partners. Whether it's working with the Victoria Airport Authority on developing transportation or with the Deep Cove Market on developing local retail, the goal is the same: to DEVELOP and maintain working relationships that are respectful, open and in the best interests of the community at large.

The following are some examples of changes and decisions since December 2008 that I believe have a direct impact on North Saanich residents:

Council procedures changed to ensure greater public access and input to Council meetings and governance (a campaign promise).

Improved Council to Council relationships with Sidney and Central Saanich (tri-municipal).

Regular committee reports prepared and submitted by individual Councillors at the Mayor's request and as part of Council agendas.

Former role of Committee of the Whole restored so that open debate occurs first before decisions are made a week later at the regular Council meeting (gives Council members, municipal staff and the public more time to reflect on the matter or to obtain, receive and consider new information).

Comprehensive policy review/revision completed this fall (all District policies and procedures reviewed for relevancy, efficiency and effectiveness).

2009 tax increase reflected attempts to hold the line on new spending, with budgets capped at roughly 5%, a full 3% less than previous tax increases.

Service agreement with BC Ferries reached that will enable the Corporation to hook up to North Saanich sewer system ($600,000 up front to North Saanich and annual payments to follow).

Phased zoning bylaw revision completed this fall to address anomalies/inconsistencies.

Consultant hired to conduct Agricultural Area Plan process for fall completion.

Revised District newsletter mailed out to individual households on a more frequent basis.

Website improvements made to streamline information and provide more efficient online services to residents and taxpayers.

Citizens' Liaison Committee established to address public concerns about proposed McTavish Rd. Interchange.

New relationship established with Pauquachin First Nation as part of Relationship Agreement development.

Expanded role and membership initiated by the Mayor through a variety of CRD committees and initiatives.

Wain Road Firehall expansion approved to meet growing emergency service delivery and training needs.

Secondary suite initiative moved ahead, with recent approval for a pilot program.

Local park acquisition identified as a priority for new Parks Plan.

Daily office hours established for the Mayor that enables her to be more accessible and available to staff and residents.

New customer satisfaction survey introduced to support planned improvements.

North Saanich formally requested other affected municipalities to support efforts to lobby senior levels of government and others to clean up Tod Inlet.

New signage approved for North Saanich beach accesses.

Regular neighbourhood meetings restored.

Permanent North Saanich Farm Market approved.

In-depth report on Panorama Recreation Centre and pool expansion approved.

Audit of sewer project (Deep Cove/Pat Bay/McDonald Park Road) approved.

Review of history of legal costs to the municipality with a view to reducing them.

As an individual Councillor reflecting on the past eight months, I believe that this Mayor and Council majority, through these achievements, have made a sincere attempt to restore trust and confidence in North Saanich's municipal administration. But the clock is ticking and there is still a lot to do, as follows:

Budget management in a time of recession and limited government funding.

Traffic management and transportation (e.g., speeding, parking, McTavish Road Interchange project, improved bus service to areas such as Dean Park).

Role of the OCP related to development pressure.

Increased parkland acquisition, including improvements to beach accesses.

Future of Dunsmuir Lodge.

Implementation of Marine Task Force and Agricultural Area Plan recommendations.

Succession planning to address significant municipal staff retirements occurring during the next 12 months.

Restoration of Scoter Trail.

These represent only a few of the many issues that are of public concern and I know that there are expectations of this Council by residents/taxpayers to resolve them. I can assure you that during this term, as an individual Councillor, I will continue to make an effort to keep these issues at the top of Council's agenda.

I will also continue to make decisions on your behalf that are ethical, fair and transparent. In fact, in my experience, Mayor Finall encourages these same values and expects no less from other Council members and municipal staff. There's an old saying: "If you expect the best, you very often get it."

I welcome your comments and questions on this article or on anything else that you read on this blog. Remember, communication is a two-way process. Please contact me anytime by phone or by e-mail.

Have a safe and happy rest of the summer!