Farmland Threatened


To further illustrate the importance of agriculture in British Columbia, not just on the Saanich Peninsula, I thought you might find the following article by the Tyee of interest. In my view, shared by so many others, this is once again a significant consideration for all jurisdictions as concerned as North Saanich is, about the future of food and its link to community health.

Canadian Farmland At Risk

Canadian Farmland at Risk of Being Ploughed Under
In a recent article in the October 19, 2010 edition of Ontario Farmer, written by Canadian agrologist, farm columnist and director of Canada's largest credit union Wendy Holm, she warns about realities facing the Canadian farmer and farming worldwide. Ms. Holm suggests in her article that by mid-century, the world population will grow to about 9 billion from today's 6.9 billion, at a time when the world continues to consume more than it produces (grain reserves for instance were at 111 days just 10 years ago and are now at 54 days). She goes on to say that the World Bank foresees world demand for food increasing by 50 per cent by 2030 and that grain producers will have to double their outputs in the next 40 years to keep up with beef demands by higher income consumers (China now consumes 4 times more beef than it did just 25 years ago).

What is even more alarming, according to Holm's article, is that these increases are occurring when the global ratio of arable land per person has dropped by half since the 1970s, the demand for bio-fuel has tripled and we consume 4% more water than we replenish. So, asks Holm, where will our food come from and according to her information, large investors are looking at food as the "new plastic." She says that the "game plan" on the part of these global investors is that once they control our fertile farmland, they control the future. Holm cites a survey by the World Bank that "reports 45 million hectares of large-scale holdings changed hands in 2009, compared with an average of 4 million hectares changing hands between 1998 and 2008." And, says Holm, "this is only the beginning." She suggests that if Canadians want to retain control of their own food production, then we must find a way to support and invest in our farmers. Holm argues that "farm lenders in Canada should be working together" to help Canadian farmers survive against serious challenges.

The following demographic is the purchaser or investor profile as described in Holm's article:

"In California, foreign buyers are from Spain, Switzerland, China, Egypt and Iran and they also have their sights set on the U.S. Midwest, Texas, Mississippi, Idaho and the Dakotas."

"Hundreds of millions of hectares are being bought in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and Latin America and Eastern Europe, by foreign interests from the Gulf States, China, Japan, South Korea and Western Europe."

More recently, Holm suggests, foreign investment in farmland is also focused on "two other countries that have good infrastructure, government, farmland and relatively low land prices: Canada and Australia." Holm believes that "in two to three years, when interest rates rise, many carrying heavy debt loads will exit the sector. Left standing will be the foreign investors." Finally, Ms. Holm concludes, "There are structural changes occurring in Canada's farm sector. We need to work together to find ways to reduce the impact on farmers and food security, not attack each other in a turf war that no one can win." Innovative partnerships and collaboration, not competition among Canadian lenders, are the keys to the future in farm lending, Ms. Holm says, and can lead to new relationships that can help protect Canada's food security, farmland and farming communities.

To read this article in full and to get more information and news about farming in Canada, please visit

Vital Signs - Strong or Do We Need a Shot in the Arm?

The Victoria Foundation just released its 2009 Vital Signs Report, an interesting and informative snapshot of quality of life on the South Island and in the Capital Region (in my view, valuable reports of this type further illustrate the need to retain the Stats-Canada long form census).

Vital Signs provides "vital" information to all of us who are working and making decisions on behalf of people, their families, their neighbourhoods and their communities. I appreciate the time, research and commitment the Victoria Foundation demonstrates, not only through its Vital Signs report but also through its various philanthropic projects that make a significant contribution to the well-being of populations living in our region.

I have requested that the Victoria Foundation makes a presentation to North Saanich Council at one of its fall meetings, focusing on the results of the report. Please watch the District website and this blog for the date and time of this presentation.

Report highlights, cited as follows, represent to me some of the most important and interesting data based on the Foundation's census information, data analysis and survey results:

People Profile:
• How Many We Are - total Capital Regional population - 364,108 (2008)

• Where We Live - 67.1% of Greater Victoria residents lived in urban core; 16.9% in the West Shore; 11.7% on Saanich Peninsula; and, 4.3% on Gulf Islands (2006)

• Who We Are - 17.6% of Greater Victoria residents reported non-European ethnic origins, including those from Aboriginal communities, Latin America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Pacific Islands, the Caribbean and Middle East (2006)

• Our Homes - Average house had 2.2 people compared with 2.5 for B.C. (2006)

• Our Houses - 65.4% single family occupation, 2.5% multi-family occupation and 32.1% single person or non-family occupation (2006)

• Living Alone - 32.3% of people over 65 years of age were living alone (2006)

Important Issues Cited by Survey Respondents (listed in descending priority):
• Homelessness - 52.8%
• Cost of Living - 32.2%
• Addictions - 29.2%
• Housing - 27.3%
• Community Planning - 16.2%
• Poverty - 14.1%
• Mental Illness - 13.5%
• Sewage Treatment - 12.7%
• Health Care - 12.4%
• Municipal Integration - 11.8%

What We Do Well In:
• Recycling - 97% recycle (2007)

• Natural Environment - 85.9% satisfaction rate with access to natural environment (2008)

• Museum - 542,596 paid visits (2007/2008)

• Parkland - total of 16,141 hectares of regional, provincial and federal parkland in 2007, up by 2,687 since 2001

• Internet Use - 79.1% of 16 and over residents used internet in their homes for personal use (2007)

What We Need to Improve:
• Rental availability
• Illicit drug use
• Social housing wait list
• Child care spaces
• Rental vacancy
• Affordability index

Young Voices: (46.6% of youth in Greater Victoria are between 15 and 18 years old):
In areas of arts and culture for youth and youth having a voice in elections at a younger age, Greater Victoria was rated as a B and a C respectively. It seems clear from the results that our youth want to be more involved in their community in meaningful ways.

Youth care about their environment, citing need for green transportation such as bus service that meets their needs.

Young people cite cost of living as a "strain" and want a higher minimum wage as well as more affordable housing.

Unemployment among youth increased in 2009, leading to youth wanting safer and better places to assemble that are closer to their own neighbourhoods.

Youth are health conscious, on average eat healthy meals and snacks and understand the need for physical activity and recreation that are accessible.

Youth feel "somewhat connected" to their communities, at 60.4% of those surveyed.

Youth rated the following as "important or essential" areas for community investment:
1. Education - 89.70%
2. Affordable housing - 87.30%
3. Drug/Alcohol Rehabilitation - 79.75%
4. Public Transportation - 77.25%
5. Environmental Action - 75.55%
6. Family Support Services - 70.20%
7. Employment Programs - 67.95%
8. Arts - 55%
9. After School Programs - 53.80%
10. Police and Law Enforcement - 53.40%

Participation in Civic Life (Belonging and Leadership):
• Charitable Giving - in 2007, 28.0% of those who filed tax returns reported that they made charitable donations, down slightly than previous years.

• Sense of Belonging - 68.5% of seniors over 65 reported a "somewhat or very strong sense of belonging to their local community," demonstrating a decrease.

• Voter Turn-Out - the 2008 federal election saw a turn-out of 67.5%, considerably higher than the percentages for B.C. and Canada.

• Employment - in 2009, 63.3% of Greater Victoria residents 15 and older were employed, slightly higher than the averages for B.C. and Canada.

Over 85% of residents surveyed said they "usually or always felt safe" walking after dark.

Greater Victoria consumers paid 1.1% more in March 2009 for services and goods than they did in March 2008.

3.5% of people between 19 and 64 in December 2008 depended on unemployment insurance or basic income assistance.

Over 4,600 people were traveling the Malahat to commute to work in 2006 (most of the population lived in Cowichan Valley and Nanaimo areas).

Summary Conclusions from this Report:
The Vital Signs report indicates, based on its data collection and survey information, that Greater Victoria appears to be "moving forward" on issues of property crime, amount of median donations, rental vacancy, commuting methods and income needed for shelter. We appear to remain static on children in care of the provincial government and we appear to be losing ground on issues of unemployment, perceived health, solid waste disposal, tourism revenue, composite learning index, physical activity and charitable giving.

Note: All of the information I have used for this blog post represents data and language taken directly from the Vital Signs Report. For further information and a full copy of the report, please visit the Victoria Foundation at

Food Safety Message -- Keeping It Local

Food Safety Message and Canadians - Keep It Local
72% of Canadians (up 6% since 2007) cite food safety as a concern, favouring locally grown or produced fare over imported items. So says a recent Ipsos-Reid poll that suggests that a majority of Canadians are "very" or "somewhat" concerned about the food they eat. The poll further indicates that "more than two thirds of Canadians believe Canadian food is safer than imported food." Canadians further agree that importing food all over the world is not good for the environment and while Canadian grown or produced food may be more expensive, they are willing to pay for it. "Another 87% agree that they trust food that comes from Canada more than food that comes from abroad, with 85 % of respondents saying they make an effort to buy locally grown and produced food." This poll was conducted through an online survey of over a thousand respondents, between July 23 and 30, 2010.

These results are not a surprise to the North Saanich Food for the Future Society, instrumental in starting up the first North Saanich Farm Market over 3 years ago, with initial support from the Deep Cove Market and now ongoing help from Janet Silman of St. John's United Church. Attendance at the Market, located behind St. John's on West Saanich Road across from Deep Cove Elementary School, averages about 300 people every Saturday morning during the summer, a significant increase compared with early years. Not only is attendance steady, reports indicate another significant increase in the number of Market vendors offering for sale everything from free range eggs and local lamb to fresh fish, beef, honey, home baking and, of course, fresh produce, most of it organic.

The quality and variety of fresh produce and specialty items is impressive as local growers provide from their gardens large and small. The North Saanich Farm Market is also a local pioneer of winter produce, with the opening of its first winter farm market this past year. The North Saanich Farm Market, with its positive and creative atmosphere, truly reflects a community that embraces local food production and supports North Saanich's strong commitment to agriculture through local farming.

The Market also provides a great venue for the annual Flavour Trail and I hope that residents will attend this weekend's festivities, beginning with the North Saanich Farm Market opening at 9:00 AM. We also know that what keeps farms economically viable, no matter how big or small, is their continued ability to reach consumers. The press coverage for this weekend's events has been terrific and a big thanks goes out to media who have featured the Flavour Trail, including the Times Colonist, Monday Magazine and the CBC morning radio program, "On the Island."

I believe that without support of local media, growers and farmers cannot get their message out as effectively to the people who need to hear it. The success story of the North Saanich Farm Market and the annual Flavour Trail deserves celebration so straw hats off to all those, including local restaurants and wineries, who work so hard to make it happen week after week during the summer growing season and on a periodic basis during the winter.

"Happy Flavour Trails to you!"

Too Liberal with BC's Farmland

A Vancouver Province editorial about a new report by Nathan Pachal, titled "A Snapshot of the Agricultural Land Reserve from 2000-2009 in the south of Fraser," and the report itself reveal that the biggest culprit in the losses of ALR lands, particularly on the Lower Mainland (Delta, Barnston Island, Township and City of Langley and Surrey), is the B.C. Government through its Ministry of Transportation. Research found that "the provincial government is responsible for 72.8% of all the land in this region that has either been excluded from the ALR or paved over for transportation use."

What is equally disturbing to me about this report is that apparently the "hard numbers" and other detailed information could only be accessed through a lengthy freedom of information process. Until the process kicked in, it's alleged that Mr. Pachal's efforts to get more information from the BC government "were met by bureaucratic doors slamming in his face." I understand that Mr. Pachal, co-founder of the Langley-based South Fraser on Trax group, a non-profit that studies regional transportation and highlights related issues, writes that "While it may appear that private development is responsible for the erosion of the ALR in the south of Fraser, it is actually the public sector (that's you and me!) that has removed the most land for future farm use in the last decade."

The sub-region is part of the Metro Vancouver regional district on which Mr. Pachal's report focuses and reportedly "accounts for about 70 per cent of all Metro acreage within the ALR. Metro itself produces 27 per cent of B.C.'s total gross farm receipts from primary crops such as field vegetables, berries, greenhouse vegetables and ornamental plants." According to the Province editorial and the Pachal report, the roughly 73% loss of ALR "compares with just under 23 per cent by the private sector and nearly five per cent by local governments." The report further states that a "total [of] 264 hectares of land [or approximately 650 acres] in the sub-region have been lost to farming over the period and about two-thirds or 175 hectares [approximately 430 acres] was devoted to government transportation projects."

The editorial quotes Mr. Pachal as being surprised by these stats and, frankly, so am I. I also understand that Mr. Pachal "found that, under its legislation, the Agricultural Land Commission doesn't categorize lands these transportation projects occupy as being excluded from the ALR." "Instead," he learned, "they're recorded as 'eliminated from farm use,' which gives the impression of more land being farmed than is the case."

The results of Mr. Pachal's study of the south of Fraser sub-region should concern all North Saanich and Peninsula residents. While some of us had always assumed it was developers and primarily the private sector who pillaged farmland, they are apparently not the major offenders, if Mr. Pachal's findings are correct. This is significant information in light of a recent Ipsos-Reid poll that shows of those Canadians surveyed, over 70 per cent are concerned about their food security.

Why then would the B.C. government put ALR in one of the most fertile areas in the world, the Fraser Basin, at risk by appropriating arable land for transportation projects? Of course we need transportation routes and infrastructure but, as the Province newspaper's editorial concludes, "Certainly pavement is important, but affordable fresh food is fundamental." Perhaps it's true when some farmers, agrologists and environmentalists proclaim that we are in the fight of our lives to save farmland and protect our ability to grow our own food. Shouldn't governments help us to win this battle?

For more details about this issue, please visit

A Matter of Public Service

The Times Colonist (TC) editorial titled "Public service, not free money" (August 10, 2010) reflects, in part, a sentiment that I have always shared -- that the essence of the work of an elected municipal Council member should be service to the public, emphasizing a higher form of volunteerism and not focused on self-service, as appears to be the case for some recent BC municipal Councils reportedly voting themselves healthy raises (in one case, an increase of 76% to the Mayor's salary alone).

These generous awards to the stipends of locally elected officials are particularly offensive to a tax-paying public that has weathered serious recession impacts, a new consumer tax, challenging government cutbacks to public services and programs and little or no increases to the public sector (wages or positions) or to organizations and agencies who also rely on the taxpayer for funding. In fact, B.C.'s public sector wage increases have been consistently in the 0% to 2.0 % range for many years. Further, B.C.'s minimum wage, seemingly now administered by Scrooge himself, is apparently the lowest across the country, an issue that I believe should be addressed without further delay but, that's another story for another time.

Stipend increases for municipally elected officials were also the subject of heated debate in North Saanich about three years ago. It was my first Council term and I remember when the former Mayor of North Saanich struck a Task Force to review income levels of the Mayor and Councilors, despite what I understood was a recommendation just a few months earlier from an appointed residents' group suggesting an increase consistent with the cost of living (COLA). In the end, the Mayor's new Task Force suggested, for example, that a 32% increase to the Mayor's stipend should be made (if granted, I calculated that the former Mayor would have likely been the highest paid Mayor on the Peninsula). While a lesser increase for Councilors was also recommended, the former Mayor and his supporters appeared to lobby hard for the increase to the Mayor's stipend, citing in part the need to keep up with other municipalities, stressing that the job was more demanding.

I strongly disagreed (as did some of my other Council colleagues at the time) with what we perceived as an attitude of entitlement, arguing that such large increases, especially for the Mayor's position, were out of line and unfair to North Saanich taxpayers. I also did not agree, as some others argued, that compared to other municipalities, North Saanich was falling behind. Nor did I agree with the final argument that by substantially raising stipends, we would attract "younger" people to elected office. I believed then (and still do) that the issue of attracting younger people to public office has less to do with money and more to do with their available time --- the majority of younger people I know are busy raising families, working full-time and volunteering in their communities, making it difficult for them to take on the additional duties and responsibilities of an elected official whose schedule most often involves daytime and evening hours (in the end, more modest increases were approved).

As the TC editorial points out, the nature of Council work is part-time and, in my experience, the amount of time devoted to the job can vary depending on one's level of commitment, size and make-up of community and complexity of issues. My understanding from those who served during the 1990's, however, is that the work has definitely changed since then and has become more complex, particularly since 2001, due in part to greater provincial government downloading to local governments. Nevertheless, in my opinion, time commitments for the average Council member cannot yet be compared to a full-time private or public sector job. And while some will argue that the annual stipend is not enough, the TC Editorial states, "...increasingly, municipal councils in B.C. seem to view elected office as just another form of places self-interest ahead of the public interest." The editorial adds " raises personal ambition above the needs of the community. And it invites the rise of lifetime politicians who will do anything to stay in power and perpetuate their income."

In my nearly 5 years as an elected official, I am pleased to say that I have met very few municipal Council members who would fit that rather jaded description. In my view, most of my Council colleagues across the CRD behave and believe in working as "servants of the public," keeping always the public's best interests at heart. They dedicate long hours to the role of Councilor and longer hours to the role of Mayor. North Saanich is lucky, for example, to have elected a Mayor and Council majority whom I believe reflect the very best of what service to the public means.

As the TC Editorial concludes, many of us continue to believe that "the traditional service-based approach [to the work of local government] is more healthy." While the TC editorial is highly critical and makes some valid points, I believe that "whopping increases" are still not the norm. I do believe that we need "broader guidelines that would apply to all municipalities" so that the tax paying public can be confident that the quality of local government they receive is not tied simply to the amount of remuneration that elected officials believe they deserve. As altruistic as it may sound, holding public office at the local level is a matter of public service. We are, at the end of the day, "servants of the public" and as local governments, closest to our constituents.

Creeping Development Not Unique to Our Area

I was interested to read this week in the British newspaper The Guardian, an article titled "The Creeping Spread of Built-Up in Britain." It indicates that "thousands of British wildlife habitats, including refuges for some of the country's rarest species and sites..." recognized the world over for their significance to the eco- system/nature, are threatened by development." For those of us fortunate enough to have traveled to Britain and to have spent time in the countryside, I had always admired the British for their land use planning, based partly on history and partly on modern land use principles, that I believed successfully preserved rural Britain. Until now it seems.

I first visited England in 1972 and drove 2,400 miles in 3 weeks, much to the astonishment of the car rental agency. As I drove from the South Coast of England all the up way to Ullapool in Western Scotland (and back again), I loved how the rural landscape was dotted by small, compact villages, with great tracts of green and sometimes remote spaces in between. I also loved the seaside communities, where beaches and waterfront were completely open to the public and one could walk as far as the eye could see. It was true, Britain was the quaint, bucolic and magic country that I had imagined, a place steeped in ancient history that somehow had managed to preserve its landmarks, heritage sites and unique landscapes through centuries of growth and development.

Now it appears that "land-grabs, from small gardens to major housing estates, ports and roads, is the Guardian launches a project called Piece by Piece, exposing the creeping [development] threat to Britain's natural world."

Sound familiar? It should because, as you many of you are aware, it appears to be the same reality that I believe threatens places such as Central and North Saanich, other rural and natural areas in the CRD and Southern Vancouver Island generally. Johnathon Porritt, one of the UK's most prominent environmental experts, observes that in Britain "The [government] is intent on setting aside some of the restrictions and constraints in the current planning process in a way that will promote local decision-making at the expense of environmental safeguards."

Again, sound all too familiar? It's apparent to me that over the past 10 years, for example, with ongoing devolution of authority by the BC government to local governments, land use planning and decision-making seem to be more fractured and less focused on protection and conservation. There appear to be so many competing interests, influences and downright lobbying in some cases, that government bodies and land use policies designed to protect habitat seem more vulnerable to this constant pressure. And then there is the money. We know that there are huge profits to be made through land development.

In Britain, the figures related to threats posed by development are collected by the Wildlife Trusts Federation, which provided "the most comprehensive review...[and] last year asked for 4,900 projects to be changed or stopped. The Trusts reported that "these were the most damaging schemes [selected] after reviewing 83,000 planning applications." Threats to birds, wildlife and woodlands in Britain represent approximately 2,500 different development projects being fought by a number of conservation organizations throughout the country. It is also reported by Britain's Garden Organic that "one in seven homes in Britain were being built on 'residential' land - mostly gardens...these small patches of land, which sustain wildlife in cities and provide vital corridors for species to reach the countryside, calculates that between 2006 and 2016, a quarter of a million gardens will be concreted and bricked over."

The article concludes that "Natural England, the government countryside agency, this year reported that more than two species a year in England are becoming extinct, and hundreds more are at risk of disappearing. The agency lists development as the second biggest cause of loss, after vast monoculture farms and the widespread use of chemicals." In a country where history is centuries' old and the preservation of tradition is paramount, it is ironic that the one thing Britain seems unable to preserve now is its natural habitats, rural lands and wildlife.

It is my hope, after reading this article, that British Columbians, especially communities at the local level, will learn from land use planning mistakes and work together with agencies, organizations and other governments/jurisdictions to stem the losses to our natural world as those now reported to be occurring in Britain.

To read this article in its entirety, please visit the Manchester Guardian website on this blog.

Hot Weather "Inflames" Coastal Areas

A wildfire risk-advisory, dated July 30, 2010, has been jointly issued by the Coastal Fire Centre, provincial Ministry of Forests and Range and the BC Forest Service. The advisory warns that an extended period of hot and dry weather, without any rain, has dried forests, particularly fuel on the ground. Duff Codes, codes used to measure drought and moisture, are higher than this time last year, which has increased the risk of easy fire ignition and challenging suppression should a wildfire occur. Reports further suggest that fires are growing more quickly and taking more resources to contain compared to just a week ago. Current fire/weather outlooks for next week indicate the potential for dry lightening throughout Southern B.C. but it is expected that these lightening events will not include any appreciable moisture.

Please take note of the following information:
Report all fires as soon as possible to the Coastal Fire Centre 24-hour emergency number at 250-951-4200, providing details about location, size, behaviour and current resources, either deployed or needed. To report a wildfire call 1-800-663-5555 or by cell at *5555.

Please use extreme caution in all North Saanich parks, on trails, at beaches and around your homes where there are extensive tree canopies and/or in areas designated as a wildfire hazard. For further questions about local issues, please contact Chief Gary Wilton at the North Saanich Municipal Hall, 250-656-0781. Thank you.

A Steep Hill To Climb?

Update on the Public Meeting Held July 14, 2010 - Vantreight Hill Development

Reports I have received from North Saanich (NS) and Central Saanich (CS) residents who attended the July 14th public hearing on the Vantreight Hill development proposal suggest that those for and against were fairly evenly split, with perhaps a majority of the audience expressing their opposition to the proposal. I understand that the room was packed and the hearing continued until well after midnight. Speakers were apparently given about 5 minutes each to make comments and the Chair, Central Saanich (CS) Councilor Ron Kubek, managed the meeting well. Reports are that the crowd was orderly and CS Council members listened carefully to what was being said.

Much of the public concern expressed by opponents at the hearing seems to focus on such issues as:
-- gradual loss of agricultural land to large scale development totally out of character with rural Central Saanich
-- development is well outside CS's urban containment boundary
-- increased tax burden for taxpayers related to provision of increased services to housing development (water, sewer, roads and other amenities)
-- CS Councilors reminded about their election promises to uphold Official Community Plan
-- residents want to save local farms but developing rural land to do so does not seem an option they support
-- recent review of Official Community Plan by CS residents reaffirmed community's support of an urban containment boundary
-- majority expressed unequivocally that rural lands are not to be "held" pending future development
-- erosion by CS Council members of local community decision-making, especially related to rural and agricultural lands
-- core to the issue are the regional implications related to the Regional Sustainability Strategy (formerly known as the Regional Growth Strategy or RGS)

I have also learned that there is another possible issue related to sewage treatment and wastewater that may, in the end, involve the CRD. My understanding is that there is a CRD bylaw known as #2312 which sets out the process for subdivision where on site sewage treatment is identified. It means in this case that if the bylaw is applicable, the Vantreights and CS Council may have to seek CRD approval for this development after all. At the time of writing this article, I did not have confirmation about the bylaw's fine print, about whether this bylaw is still current or whether it would apply to the Vantreight Hill Development.

North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall and Councilor Peter Chandler also attended the public hearing and observed that those in favour of the development of course included the Vantreights, their supporters and staff that work at their operation. I understand that based on the feedback from the meeting, this will be a complex and difficult decision for the CS Council. North Saanich is taking a special interest in the outcome because of the possible negative impact on NS residents living adjacent to the site, in the SEQ.

Large development decisions are never easy for those elected to make the decision but the overriding question decision-makers must always ask themselves, "What is the overall benefit to the community and its residents?" Other reports from the meeting suggest that there still remain many unanswered questions about the impacts of this proposal, including traffic, water, sewage and regional concerns about unplanned growth in rural areas. Stay tuned...

In response to my article on the July 14th Public Hearing on the Vantreight Hill Proposal, readers who attended the Hearing have e-mailed me to request that I add two further important points raised that evening:
  • A petition of 800 signatures opposing the development was presented at the meeting by a citizens' group
  • Those opposed to the development spoke repeatedly about the fact that the personal financial dilemma the Vantreights find themselves in has nothing to do with Central Saanich.

Water, Cool Clear Water

During spring and summer months, there are always concerns about water consumption and drought conditions throughout the province. I have just received information from the provincial government that provides two websites that will give regular updated information on water and drought conditions affecting water consumption. Hope you find these websites useful and of interest.

For information on the water supply outlook, go to:

For information on drought management go to:

Task Force Recs Will Be Implemented by Government

Four More Years -- Local Elections' Task Force Report's 31 Recommendations Will Be Implemented by BC Government

You will recall that I wrote about the Local Elections' Task Force a few months ago, established in January 2010 by the BC Government in consultation with UBCM. In fact, I made a submission to the group (posted on this blog) articulating my concerns and making a few suggestions for changes to local government elections processes. The long-awaited Task Force Report was released on May 28th along with 31 recommendations for changes as to how British Columbians elect their local governments. The BC Government states that it intends to implement all 31 recommendations through legislation that will be introduced in the 2011 Spring session, just in time for the next round of local elections in November 2011.

I understand that the guiding principles and terms of reference for the Task Force were as follows:

-- Improve access, accountability, transparency, fairness and honesty
-- Provide greater consistency with provincial/federal election rules
-- Encourage flexibility so that the unique needs of local governments are reflected
-- Provide balance and efficiency

I would suggest that these guiding principles also reflected the goal of greater public and candidate participation in local elections. But chief among the Task Force recommendations is to increase the existing 3-year election term to 4 years.

While I understand the rationale behind this recommendation (need for greater continuity and more time for local governments to achieve their goals), it is also argued that a longer term may discourage potential candidates from running for local office, given the 4-year commitment. I sincerely hope not. Yes, the decision to run for local office is a big commitment and one that, if you are elected, can carry with it an almost 24/7 level of responsibility. But if ordinary citizens who are quality candidates stop running because they feel that they are unable to commit to a 4-year term, then over time, part of the thrust of the Task Force and its report may be somewhat diminished.

Let's hope that members of the public will not be discouraged from becoming actively involved in local government, as voters but more importantly, as candidates. I believe that local government is closest to the people, has the greatest potential to make a difference to the community and its residents and is one of the most important elections in which we participate. Whether you are a voter, an elected official or a volunteer, if the results of this Task Force and its recommendations encourage greater public participation in local government elections by all British Columbians, then I feel that the Task Force will have made a positive difference to our democratic process.

Two Events Celebrated

Good Weather Brings Out Good Crowd For Parks
Good weather was the backdrop to this weekend's North Saanich Parks Commission Open House at Municipal Hall. Taking the opportunity to showcase the new Parks Plan, Commission members and North Saanich staff members went to a lot of work to set up displays of all kinds, including live plant demonstrations (compliments of Russell Nursery), maps, questionnaires, planning displays and, of course, refreshments. Held between 1:00 and 4:00 PM, the Open House was, in my opinion, well attended and generated a lot of interaction between the public and Parks Commission members, North Saanich staff and Councilors Scoones (Parks Commission Liaison), Chandler and Green.

Joan Gibb staffed the Dominion Brook Park display and is such a keen spokesperson on behalf of the Board that anyone would want to join the Society and certainly spend time at the Park. In fact, we have some great ambassadors who work tirelessly on behalf of North Saanich parks and the Commission. I am impressed with their dedication and commitment, given that they are all volunteers and I am also impressed with the help and support of North Saanich staffers such as Kelly Albucz, Lisa Coburn, Dawn Gould, Brian Robinson and others, who gave up their Saturday to lend a hand to the Open House. Forgive me if I have missed anyone.

The buzz while I attended was that the Open House was a big success, as was public participation in a questionnaire designed to elicit feedback on ranking which parks' projects deserve first priority over the next 4 and a half years. Beach accesses, trails, viewpoints and related projects are explored in the questionnaire, with an additional section asking respondents to list their own suggestions for neighbourhood or community projects. Neighbourhoods identified in the questionnaire include Ardmore, Central, Cloake Hill/Horth Hill, Curteis Point/McDonald Park, Dean Park, Deep Cove and the Southeast.

A big THANKS to everyone who worked behind the scenes to make the Parks Commission Open House so successful and to the public who took the time to attend and find out what the Parks Commission, with your support and input, has planned for the future.

Councilor Anny Scoones and Dawn Gould

Joan Gibb of Dominion Brook Park

Center Parks Plan Display

Parks Commission Member Talking to Resident

Parks Commission Chair Farrell Boyce

Segment of Wall Display on Parks Plan

Staffer and Admin Support to Commission, Kelly Albucz

Lieutenant-Governor Point Opens Commemorative Firefighters' Park
Chief Gary Wilton and our North Saanich Volunteer Firefighters Association scored a major honour when they managed to book Lieutenant-Governor Steven Point to attend and open the ceremony to recognize long service firefighters and a commemorative park recently established at the corner of Wain and West Saanich Roads, on the grounds of the Wain Rd. Firehall. Councilor Ruby Commandeur, as Acting Mayor, made remarks on behalf of the District of North Saanich and Mayor Alice Finall and Councilors Chandler, Scoones, Shaw and I also attended. Other dignitaries included MLA Murray Coell and MP Gary Lunn, along with BC's Fire Commissioner Rebecca Denlinger.

It was a warm sunny afternoon as firefighters, their families and friends and members of the public gathered at the new park site for the ceremony. The park is a wonderful commemoration to the dedication and sacrifice made by our volunteer firefighters on behalf of North Saanich. Our volunteers routinely put themselves in harm's way to protect the health and well-being of over 11,000 local residents. They also work with other communities when required and are a testament to the commitment of volunteer firefighters serving on the Saanich Peninsula. In fact, His Honour Steven Point reminded us about the importance of volunteerism and how giving back to our communities is truly an honourable achievement. In my opinion, North Saanich is particularly fortunate to have a long and impressive history of volunteerism by those whose tremendous efforts support our community at so many levels.

The ceremony went on to recognize individual firefighters Greg Smith and Ray Halsall for Provincial Exemplary Service Medals, Ken Herlinveaux, Russell Flower, Alex Bonare, Monte Taylor, George Hartshorne, Ed Banas, Pat Phillips and Gary Wilton for Park Dedication and Life Membership and a host of "rookies," newly recruited volunteers who have just completed over 700 hours of training to qualify as firefighters.

Congratulations to Chief Gary Wilton and our North Saanich Volunteer Firefighters! And thank you for the beautiful park space (all done by volunteers and local sponsors), space that not only serves to recognize firefighters but also provides a place of public respite and enjoyment for anyone who passes by.

Members Piped and Escorted into Ceremony

Left to Right: Councilor Ruby Commandeur, MLA Murray Coell, MP Gary Lunn, North Saanich Fire Chief Gary Wilton and His Honour Steven Point, Lieutenant-Governor of B.C.

The Plaque Waiting to be Unveiled

North Saanich Fire Fighters

Councilor and Acting Mayor Ruby Commandeur Shaking Hands with His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor

Chief Gary Wilton and BC Fire Commissioner Rebecca Denlinger

Happiness and Well-Being Survey Released

Greater Victoria Happiness and Well-Being Survey Released

Implemented by a partnership of eight organizations in Greater Victoria such as the United Way, the University of Victoria, City of Victoria, Community Council, CRD and VIHA, among others, the Greater Victoria Well-being Survey report on health was released this month. Some of the elements measured include:
• environmental vitality
• governance quality
• social and community vitality
• time balance
• cultural vitality
• physical and mental health

The survey was mailed in November 2008 to a random sample of Capital Region residents and 2,400 responses were returned by January 2009. Highlights of the results include the following data:
• income level is the most important aspect of health but goes beyond just the "rich" vs. "poor" comparison
• health and well-being are strongly connected (known as 'satisfaction with life')
• beyond income level, social support, family and friends and community involvement/participation in cultural, educational and recreational events were also significant factors to a sense of well-being

In my view, these results, while not necessarily surprising, do confirm for all of us that income levels and socialization seem to be important contributors to one's self assessment of his/her quality of life. For a more complete summary of the report, please visit the website of the Victoria Foundation at

North Saanich Farm Market Opens for Business!

North Saanich Farm Market Opening and Sunshine Bring Out Good Crowd

What better combination is there than warm sunshine, friendly crowds and fresh market fare? That's exactly what greeted me at the grand opening of North Saanich's Farm Market, behind St. John's Church on West Saanich Rd. Marking its third year, the market was officially opened on June 5 by Mayor Alice Finall, one of the driving forces behind the first farm market. While browsing the market, I happily bumped into provincial MLA Lana Popham (agriculture advocate and Saanich farmer), Councilors Chandler and Commandeur (local blueberry farmer) and School Board Trustee Allan Collier. The market was also flooded with residents from all over the Peninsula, many carrying bags of fresh produce from a variety of stands.

Local artist Jo Hadfield could hardly lift her large black bag overflowing with fresh lettuces, complaining that the veggies seemed heavier this year. Writer M.A.C. Farrant and husband Terry were enjoying fresh toast and jam while Christine Richards, NSRA Board member and her husband Hugh, greeted everyone with a warm smile and big hug. Susan Chandler, Penny Gibbs and Diana Chown of the North Saanich Food for the Future Society (the Farm Market organizer and sponsor), were on duty ensuring that growers and sellers were well looked after. Mayor Alice Finall also pointed out Barbara Brennan in the crowd, Chair of North Saanich's Agricultural Advisory Commission and owner of Bailiwick Farm. Former North Saanich Councilor Heather Goulet also attended, herself an accomplished gardener and pottery artist.

A bustling morning was punctuated with some great music and vocals by the band Water in the Crawl Space, with one of the band members Farrell Boyce front and center. Besides being a local musician, Farrell is also Chair of the North Saanich Parks Commission. Yes, it was a perfect opening, with great people, great weather and great produce, flowers and baking galore.

Please support the North Saanich Farm Market and make its third season the best ever! By the way, did you know that over half of the arable land in North Saanich is actively farmed? So please get out and support our local growers and suppliers and do your part to enhance agriculture in North Saanich and on the Saanich Peninsula.

And don't forget, the market runs every Saturday morning from 9:30 to noon, right behind St. John's Church across from Deep Cove Elementary School on West Saanich Road. Once again, we owe our thanks to Janet Silman and the Church for providing market space and helping to keep the dream of a local farm market alive.

Saturday Forum Examines How We Move

The CRD hosted one of its semi-annual Forum of Councils' workshops on the weekend, a half day devoted to transportation planning priorities and challenges that lay ahead for this region. Titled "The Path to Sustainable Transportation -- One Step Closer," municipal officials and staffers from all over the CRD, joined by provincial MLAs and others, gathered for a morning of keynote addresses, video presentations and a glimpse of what our future transportation needs will be over the next 25 years.

I attended the forum with Mayor Alice Finall and Councilor Peter Chandler and, take note, we carpooled in Councilor Chandler's hybrid vehicle. I also noticed that our Central Saanich Council colleagues, Councilors Olsen, Mason and Bryson, carpooled to the forum too, which was held at a downtown Victoria hotel.

The forum opened with a presentation by Dave Byng, COO of the Province's Transportation and Infrastructure Ministry. He showed a promotional video made by the BC Liberal government to showcase their "mega-transportation" projects completed or planned for locations all over BC. Curiously absent from the video were Vancouver Island and our capital city Victoria, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the audience of nearly 100. Mayor Dean Fortin expressed his disappointment, as did others. Mr. Byng then willingly took some tough questions and comments from the audience but it was clear to me and to everyone else I suspect that he was not in a position to provide any concrete answers.

A CRD presentation followed by General Manager of Planning and Protective Services Robert Lapham that outlined the CRD's regional policies, long term planning and implementation priorities and investment strategies to address the following transportation key elements:

Housing affordability

Mike Davis, VP of Business Development and CIO of BC Transit, talked about planning priorities that include linking transportation with growth centres (Western Communities for example), climate change initiatives and the 2008 Provincial Transit Plan. We also heard how we must focus on travel choices that involve alternative modes of transportation such as electric cars, cycling and pedestrian networks, the fast bus and the E&N Rail Trail.

Mr. Davis stressed that although Portland, Ore. is touted as the leader among North American cities for its public transportation alternatives, Victoria is a "transit-oriented" community with bus ridership that exceeds Portland's. He also talked about the power of choice and used Copenhagen as an example of how the population made a monumental shift in its transportation choices, resulting in today's model that is a world-class example of sustainability and efficiency.

The last part of the morning was spent with Halcrow Consulting Inc., a British-based consulting firm (with an office in Vancouver) that specializes in planning of all types. They introduced us to an electronic consultation process that produced data based on audience responses to various transportation questions.

It was evident that the majority of the audience believe that transportation is a critical planning priority for not only individual communities but for the whole region. We also acknowledged the strong link between land use management and transportation management, the need for regional coordination to identify transportation corridors and the following decision-making options that include:

Status-quo -- making decision at the local level only
Local level decisions via regional guidelines
Local level decision via regional policy
Decisions made at the regional level only

I agree at this stage that collaboration between regional and municipal levels of government is a decision-making model that will help us to focus on setting transportation priorities and investments for the future.

The workshop ended with the CRD collecting our feedback results to help inform next steps in planning and consultation on transportation across the region.

Shining A Light on Municipal Elections

I read with interest last week two articles by Vancouver Sun reporters Lori Culbert and Chad Skelton who explore what they argue is a lack of transparency related to municipal campaign financing and the ability of those with money and influence to tilt the outcomes of municipal and local government elections. It appears that while the majority of voters tend to "ignore" municipal elections, Culbert and Skelton suggest that "those with money pay close attention." To support this argument, the Vancouver Sun created a database of Lower Mainland campaign donations that "reveals that a relatively small group of deep- pocketed donors wields disproportionate influence on the financing of municipal races, accounting for a huge share of the money raised by local candidates and parties."

But who are these well-heeled supporters? Well, it appears that many of these donors "have direct business with the city councils they help elect -- mainly developers hoping for zoning changes..." The data base also reveals that in some instances, union groups who represent municipal employees also donate to municipal election campaigns. Data compiled by the Vancouver Sun illustrates that over "4,500 businesses and individuals made donations to the city-hall candidates in Metro Vancouver in the lead up to the November 2008 election. Yet just 50 of them (or 1 per cent of all donors) accounted for nearly a third of all the money raised."

We know that campaign funding transparency exists for provincial and federal election campaigns and that all the information is available to the public online. But in the case of municipal elections, transparency seems to be a problem. The Sun reporters state that "such transparency has never existed at the municipal level in B.C. Some city halls put campaign-finance data online, but only in the form of scanned copies of disclosure forms filled out by the candidates." They suggest that other municipalities don't put anything on their websites at all, forcing voters "to visit city hall in person to flip through a binder of the forms."

One only has to pick up the newspaper these days to see stories about the potential for conflict of interest, political manipulation, questionable practices and poor judgment related to local government and its decisions about land use. Knowing which organizations, businesses and individuals fund municipal candidates and their campaigns is therefore, in my opinion, critical information for voters, especially when you consider that local government spends about 80% or more of its time either making significant land use decisions or making significant policy about land use decisions. After all, there is a lot of money at stake.

I believe that voters should know who really drives the bus and just where the bus is going. As voters and taxpayers, I urge you to stay informed and to get to know your candidates at election time and in between. Ask yourselves, "Who represents the community and how grass roots are they?" Pay a visit to the North Saanich municipal hall at 1620 Mills Rd. and ask to see the financial disclosure statements filed by all the candidates who ran in the last municipal election.

And for more information on the Vancouver Sun articles, please visit For more information about local government and municipal elections, please visit

Have Your Say!

I may have mentioned before that the Province recently announced the creation of a Local Elections Task Force to investigate and make recommendations for improvement related to the local government election process. The Task Force will explore issues such as campaign finances, enforcement and outcomes of election rules and regulations, role of appointed officials such as Chief Electoral Officer, existing election cycle or term of office for locally elected officials (currently three years) and other issues previously raised by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM), of which locally elected individuals such as Mayors, Councilors and Regional Directors, among others, are members.

The following is my response to the Task Force's request for feedback and I am happy to share it with you.

In the meantime, I encourage you to contact the Task Force with your comments, suggestions and ideas to improve local government elections. I believe there is a real need for improvement, as you will see from my comments. The Local Elections Task Force can be reached through their website at

Please take the time to participate and have your say about how local elections can be improved and administered so that your voice and the needs of your community are not lost after all the ballots are counted.

First and foremost, all municipal elections should be conducted through Elections BC, just as with provincial elections; this same administrative infrastructure can provide oversight, controls, accountability and processes, pursuant to existing and/or new legislation. Related to the election process, there should be few, if any, differences between provincial and local elections, apart from the obvious legislative statutes/rules that differentiate local from provincial jurisdiction and authority.

Campaign Finance, including contribution/spending disclosure and limits, and tax credits
This is the most significant area needing better oversight and accountability. There is a quotation, "The smaller the community, the easier it is to corrupt." While no one wants to admit to corruption and it is hard to prove, it can emerge in a more benign form as "campaign irregularities." Such dynamics occur most often because of the high stakes related to local land use decisions. My experience running in three local elections and observing another local election in a neighbouring community, points to the need for new enforcement and accountability processes that "shine a light in the dark corners" of our local communities where personal agendas or private interests sometimes trump the common good and community best interests.
Financial limits should also be placed on campaigns. A campaign for the position of Mayor, Councilor, Trustee or Regional Director should have spending limits tied to a per centage of the annual stipend for each position. For example, if the Mayor's position earns $25,000 a year, then a candidate running for Mayor could have a campaign spending limit of up to 35% of the stipend amount. There are as many formulae as there are locally elected positions but whatever is decided, the formula should be applied consistently across the Province.

Disclosures should be tightly controlled and transparent, to prevent campaign organizers, lobbyists, corporations and private individuals from having undue influence or from hiding donations to individual campaigns. In the case of corporate or organizational donations, they should either be prohibited completely or capped. The ceiling for Individual donations should be lowered and all details about lobby groups, corporations or organizations, including the names of its principals, directors, terms of reference or purpose and any other relevant information should be disclosed in full as part of the public reporting process.

Enforcement process and outcomes
This area needs vast improvement. In my opinion, there appears to be a lack of clarity and consistency about the application of rules and sanctions during local elections. When legislative rules appear to have been violated during a local election, enforcement processes seem vulnerable to subjective interpretation; it is often unclear as to whom is responsible to report, enforce, investigate and process infractions or impose sanctions.

Local election processes seem to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as do enforcement and outcomes. Where there has been a clear breach or violation, It does not seem fair or appropriate that members of the public are left to pursue the matter and in some cases, bear the costs of investigation and prosecution.

I suggest that Elections BC is the arm's length body that should provide the enforcement framework for local government elections, leading I hope to a fair, consistent and transparent application of relevant legislation and sanctions in every local jurisdiction across the Province.

Role of chief electoral officer in local government elections
I do not believe that local government staff should act as or serve in the capacity of Chief Electoral Officer during local government elections; the Chief Electoral Officer should be independent, appointed directly by the Province and directly accountable to Elections BC. The practice of appointing local government staff members appears to be a common one in many jurisdictions but creates, in my opinion, an untenable situation for staff who, ultimately, report to the incumbent Mayor and Council. Whether real or perceived in the eyes of the public, this situation creates the potential for conflict of interest and for compromising the entire election process and the staff who are involved.

Election cycle (term of office)
I suggest no change to the existing three-year term of office.

Other agreed upon matters (UBCM, etc.)
The one area where I believe that UBCM has tried to make a difference to local election outcomes relates to restrictions on who can run for and hold local government office.

One Lower Mainland community urged UBCM to consider a resolution that would restrict real estate agents and land developers from running and holding local office. I believe that this is a sound recommendation and should be seriously considered for implementation by the task force, given that the majority of local government decision-making and business involves land use decisions.

Any potential loopholes should also be addressed to avoid the situation where, for example, the realtor or land developer suspends temporarily, for the purposes of the election process, their activities and/or assigns responsibilities/holdings/commercial activities to a silent partner or family member. Rather, I suggest that the realtor or land developer should be proved, through a public process, to be "inactive," with no interests whatsoever, in their respective business or profession, for a minimum of three consecutive years prior to their candidacy and/or election.

For relevant background on this important issue, please refer to the precedent-setting 2005 Supreme Court case, Godfrey et. al. vs. Bird.

Agricultural Area Plan Open House Brings Out Nearly 100

Saturday's Open House to showcase the new North Saanich draft Agricultural Area Plan was considered a great success with nearly 100 people attending. Mayor Finall and Councilors Chandler, Commandeur (herself an organic blueberry grower), Scoones and myself joined members of the North Saanich Agricultural Advisory Commission (AAC) (Chaired by Barb Brennan of Bailiwick Farm), consultant Derek Masselink and other local farmers, growers and agricultural enthusiasts as we all crowded into Council Chambers at the municipal hall to mingle, browse displays, hear the consultant's presentation, nibble on local finger foods and share opinions about what it takes to successfully support local agriculture.

There are as many opinions about how best to promote local farming as there are flowers to count in Victoria in spring. Some farmers seem skeptical (and you can hardly blame them) about how local governments can really help farmers and farming when so many of the issues they face are to them much more about rules and regulations at the regional, provincial and national levels. Such topics as farm assessments and tax regulations, land use and development, multi-nationals and agri-marketing, land values and availability, food inspection control/regulations, lack of local meat processing capability and transportation are just a few of the daunting challenges that many farmers and others believe do more to obstruct farming than encourage it.

Farmers and growers warn that if we (communities and governments) don't soon do something meaningful to make farming more viable, there will be no farms left to pass to next generations. Canadians will rely more and more heavily on multi-nationals and big box stores to provide off-shore food -- and we're told that can be a high risk dependency, especially here on Vancouver Island if there is ever a major catastrophe and all transportation links are severed.

These reasons and more are all part of the decision by North Saanich Council to take a pro-active approach to agriculture by becoming, I understand, the first municipality in the CRD to complete its agricultural area plan (I'm also told that Central Saanich is in the process of planning and Salt Spring Island completed their plan over a year ago). North Saanich's Plan involves five key strategies:
  • economic viability
  • leadership and governance
  • protection and stewardship
  • education and training
  • community health
Participation of the AAC, an on-line public survey, two community dialogue sessions and interviews with North Saanich agricultural producers and stakeholders formed key parts of the consultation process that ended with Saturday's Open House. Survey questionnaires were also handed out to Saturday's participants and the feedback will be integrated into the final Plan draft, ready sometime in March for presentation to North Saanich Council. Please watch for the Council agenda where the final draft will be presented and discussed by Council and visit the North Saanich website to read or download a copy of the current Plan draft. Kudos and thanks to municipal staffer Lisa Coburn who helped so much with putting this event on. Thanks too to the AAC and to Councilor Anny Scoones.

For more information or if you have questions, please contact Barb Brennan or Councilor Anny Scoones through the municipal hall at 250-656-0781.

Celebrated Food Advocate Gives Valentine's Day Message

"Deconstructing Dinner" Radio Host Jon Steinman Gives Keynote

Sponsored by the North Saanich Food for the Future Society, Valentine's Day at the Chalet Muse Winery was sold out for Jon Steinman, radio broadcaster and host of the national food show "Deconstructing Dinner," also available on podcast and ranked by Apple iTunes as Canada's top food podcast. Based in Nelson, B.C. at Kootenay co-op radio CJLY, Mr. Steinman is part of an award-winning independent media network working for a food secure Canada. Besides hosting his popular radio show, he travels and speaks to communities and organizations all over the country who are concerned about food production, transportation and safety.

Mr. Steinman presents a variety of challenges, issues and problems facing the Canadian consumer when it comes to food and warns against the threats to our food system of agri-business multi-national conglomerates such as CarGill and Monsanto. He talks about the need for resilient food secure communities and cites a variety of successful co-operative and local food growing examples from Nelson and elsewhere. He also tries to answer such questions as:

  • why do tomatoes look so perfect and how much fuel did it take to bring them from Mexico?
  • my neighbour grows tomatoes so why doesn't my local market sell his tomatoes?
  • what do 'organic and non-organic' mean?
  • why does organic produce require more packaging and labeling than non-organic?
  • why is 'fair trade' and 'unfair trade' coffee made by the same company?
In his presentation on February 14, Mr. Steinman explored some of the answers to these questions and left us with a strong message: Get involved, get organized and get active in supporting local food production and marketing. It may be as simple as planting your own fruit or nut tree or vegetable garden, raising eggs with 2 or 3 chickens or supporting your local farm market. Or it may require wide-scale involvement through creation of a local co-op program and marketing strategy. Whatever your community decides to do, Mr. Steinman challenged us to do something.

For more information and to get a list of radio stations who carry his program, archived shows and podcasts, please visit Jon Steinman's Deconstructing Dinner website at

Thanks to the North Saanich Food for the Future Society for bringing this event to North Saanich, to the Chalet Muse Winery for providing the venue and to all of those who attended. Please don't forget to support "Growing Home" and your North Saanich Farm Market, which has winter market events and will open in June for its second full summer season.

CRD Committee Votes to Uphold Regional Growth Strategy

I attended, along with residents from North Saanich, Central Saanich and others from around the region, a meeting on January 27, 2010 of the CRD's Planning, Transportation and Protective Services Committee, of which most Mayors and selected Councilors are Directors. This is the standing committee that deals with regional planning issues, including those related to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), the strategy upon which municipalities base their Official Community Plans and Regional Context Statements, ensuring that they are all consistent.

This meeting was significant because we wanted to hear the Committee's decision on an agenda item referred by the Municipality of Central Saanich to the CRD for review -- the contentious and high profile Vantreight 89-unit hilltop housing development proposed for the Northwest corner of the Vantreight farm property.

As you may know, this development proposal has been in the news on and off for the past 2+ years, raising community concerns in both North and Central Saanich. My understanding is that it is also a hot topic at Central Saanich Council meetings and among community groups, because of concern about impacts of high density housing on farmland and implications for the newly minted Central Saanich Official Community Plan.

I also understand that while this development proposal was initially questioned by Central Saanich planning staff and the municipality's Advisory Planning Commission, the proposal continued to move ahead, survived an intervening municipal election in November 2008 and picked up new Council support from new Council members in 2009. Nevertheless, Central Saanich Council recently voted to send the proposal to the CRD for their review, perhaps because they suspected it might not meet the test for compliance with the RGS. If not, it would then require an amendment approved by the CRD Board, a process that can be lengthy, protracted and with uncertain outcomes. Just ask Highlands Mayor Jane Mendum.

The CRD staff report was clear -- the proposal as it stands, does not comply with the RGS and will require CRD Board approval for a change to the Regional Context Statement in Central Saanich's OCP. In my view, CRD staff deserve kudos for calling it like they saw it because it was obvious that the majority of speakers and Committee Directors saw it exactly the same way, based on their remarks and on the votes at the table.

Only one Committee Alternate Director voted against the CRD staff recommendation and that was Councilor John Garrison of Central Saanich. Speakers strongly in favour of the proposal were Central Saanich Councilor and realtor Ron Kubek, Ryan Vantreight and developer Merv Mawson (remember Cresswell Subdivision?). Other speakers against the development proposal included Vicky Husband of the Regional Planning Society, Nathalie and David Chambers of Madrona Farm and Farmers of the Future Society, Gordon O'Connor of the Dogwood Initiative, Ian Cameron of Residents and Ratepayers of Central Saanich Society, Ed Johnson of Farmlands Trust, Ethan Krindle of the U-Vic Environmental Law Centre and residents of Central and North Saanich.

Chaired by Mayor Graham Hill of View Royal, the Committee then debated the issue at length, with all but two members (Mayor Janet Evans of Sooke and Councilor Garrison) citing the need to uphold the RGS and protect the integrity of farmland. Mayor Alice Finall of North Saanich spoke articulately about a variety of reasons why she supported the CRD staff recommendation, specifically referring to the need to adhere to the RGS and to preserve precious farmland on the Saanich Peninsula.

In my opinion, the final vote was a victory not only for the RGS but also for a community grass roots' movement inspired in part by North Saanich resident Mrs. Hildegard Horie. Mrs. Horie has been "rallying the troops" for as long as the Vantreight proposal has been in the hopper. Mrs. Horie, with the support of her family and neighbours, has proved that effective political activism can start in someone's kitchen over a cup of coffee and grow to a community-wide movement with regional support.

It is clear to me that many Peninsula residents are committed to making a difference and shining a light on a development proposal that they believe will have a negative impact on their neighbourhoods, their communities and the region as a whole. Stay tuned...

Volunteers Answer the Call

As you know, at this time every year, Mayor and Council recruit new volunteers to serve on a variety of municipal Commissions/Committees, on the Victoria Airport Authority Board and on the Peninsula Recreation Commission. I am pleased to report that again this year, a group of highly qualified and enthusiastic new and returning volunteers stepped up to the plate to serve our community. What is even more encouraging is the number of young people and new residents who responded to the call.

The volunteer demographic this year is good news for North Saanich! It seems that young families are indeed moving here, neighbourhoods are changing and student enrollment at Kelset School is up this year. These are all signs that North Saanich is an attractive destination for new residents and families who want to live in one of the safest communities in the province. Taxes are manageable (about the second lowest tax rate in the CRD), recreation is both diverse and accessible, rural and natural environments are some of the most pristine on Southern Vancouver Island and two major transportation hubs, Victoria International Airport and BC Ferries, are at our doorstep. With a new elementary school already open and a new middle school planned to open next year, it's clear to me that North Saanich is a vibrant active community that continues to draw people who want to escape the urban crush and raise their families in a community that offers unique amenities.

I am grateful to the many volunteers who have served and continue to serve on North Saanich Commissions and Committees. By the way, we still have two vacancies on the Heritage Advisory Commission and will be advertising shortly to fill these positions. If you would like more information about the Heritage Commission or are interested in applying, please contact Charlene Nash or Curt Kingsley at North Saanich Municipal Hall, 250-656-0781 or visit the North Saanich website (below on the right).

First Full Meeting for New Union of BC Municipalities Executive

As you know, UBCM is a provincial working body representing all municipalities and regional governments across the Province. Meeting in convention every year, UBCM brings together locally-elected representatives for purposes of adopting resolutions, networking, meeting with provincial government officials and attending working sessions and related meetings.

At every convention, a new UBCM Executive is elected by the membership, filling key positions of President, First Vice-President, Second Vice-President, Third Vice-President and Past President. There are also positions that reflect the community diversity that is uniquely British Columbia. These positions represent Vancouver, Metro Vancouver, Small Communities, Electoral Areas, various Regional Associations (ours is the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities Chaired by Mayor Chris Causton of Oak Bay) and Directors at Large. The 2009/2010 Executive group is 19 strong, drawn from Mayors and Councilors around BC.

The November 2009 Executive meeting (a two-day session) was the first full meeting of the newly elected group, with highlights as follows:
•Appointments made to the provincial government's new Local Elections Task Force
•Process approved to develop recommendations related to industrial taxation, including establishing Advisory and Steering Committees
•Work plan approved for consultation related to amending the resolutions process
•Recommendations related to future fire services delivery reviewed
•Supported 2010 conferences on electoral area reform, benefits, regional districts and Chief Administrative Officer forum, environmental issues, local government leadership, RCMP contracting and First Nations
•Considered 2009 Convention resolutions referred to the Executive
•Confirmed Committee appointments
•Agreed to continue working with the provincial government on the farm assessment issue
•Agreed to monitor new Home Inspectors' licencing requirements
•Agreed to lobby provincial government on importance of local government involvement in HST implementation (especially related to hotel and resort room taxation)
•Agreed to consult with local governments on landfill gas capture regulation
•Agreed to monitor implementation of Controlled Alien Species regulation
•Agreed to monitor impact of province's new "Wood First" legislation and regulations

In addition, the following UBCM working Committees were confirmed for 2010:
•Presidents Committee
•Community Safety
•Healthy Communities
•First Nations Relations
•Community Economic Development
•Regional District Task Force

The UBCM Executive will meet again in January 2010 and later in the spring. For further information about UBCM, please visit their website or e-mail them at

Making Meaning from Middle Ground - My View

It's the beginning of a new year and a new decade and for many of us, a time to also re-assess. In a recent conversation with a Council colleague from another municipality, we talked about our Council work and took some time to reflect on what it means to each of us. At the end of our discussion, my colleague asked the inevitable questions, "Do you find this work meaningful and do you think you make a positive difference?" I hesitated for a moment, thinking to myself that the work has meaning for me but perhaps not for others and, if I do feel I make a positive difference that probably depends on one's perspective. I shared these thoughts with my colleague who replied "Good answer and good luck."

These questions are ones that many of us ask ourselves from time to time. Whether it's about our personal or professional lives, about paid or volunteer work or about elected or appointed positions, we want to know that what we do has meaning for us and for those we serve and makes a difference to others. As a Municipal Councillor, I want to feel that I make a difference, no matter how small. I want to know that, somehow, what I do has shared meaning with my community and its residents. I also want to know that most of my decisions have positive results for others.

Working in a political environment, however, can make it more difficult to always identify positives and realize the meaning of the work. One can sometimes feel like the "meat in the sandwich," squeezed somewhere between the community, the bureaucracy and the politics; and, how tight this squeeze is usually depends on how high the stakes, how complex the issue, how responsive or reactive the community and on how the parties directly involved behave.

I have said before that I believe that the Council Chamber is where people and issues sometimes collide and wherever one happens to be standing at the time of the collision, defines the meaning for them. Put another way, depending on what side of the issue or decision you happen to be on generally defines the experience for you.

I think two other factors have a significant bearing on the meaning and outcome of this work -- sorting out the difference between the reality of what happened and the perception of what happened. If the decision is perceived as a "good" one, where the result is acceptable to all parties, then it's likely that the distance between reality and perception was relatively small. If the decision is perceived as a "poor" one, then it is likely that the distance between reality and perception was large, creating what I call an "understanding gap" between all the parties involved. Trying to find a way to bridge the middle distance between what is real and what is perceived (trying to reach middle ground or to close the gap) when you are dealing with a contentious issue, can be the greatest challenge facing decision-makers. But why?

Well, in my experience, there are often three sides to a situation or issue -- yours, mine and the truth (or facts). It's well researched that each of us sees a situation through our own "lens," hence the saying for the eternally optimistic, "seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses." Every one of us wears a pair of our own glasses that can blur or colour truth or reality based on previous experiences and beliefs. How we see the world around us may cause us to pre-judge, re-interpret or re-define a situation or issue, based on what we believe to be real or true. When someone says to me "Tell me the truth" I am tempted to reply, "But which truth do you want? Yours, mine or the truth?" Your experience and my experience can be totally distinct from one another, so that we each see a situation very differently.

When faced with an issue that requires a decision and a meaningful outcome, the challenge for the decision-maker, as I see it, is separating fact from fiction, getting to the heart of the issue, managing differences and making some sense out of everything. As an aside, when I hear the phrase "using common sense" I admit I have to chuckle. There is nothing "common" about common sense when making difficult decisions about people and issues -- people are complicated and unpredictable and the issues they present are often complex. No two people nor two issues are ever the same and I have learned the hard way that the only thing predictable about people is that they are not.

Specific to Council work, I believe a third factor also defines meaning for each party -- the inherent power and authority imbalance that exists between decision-makers and residents. In a quasi-judicial setting such as a Municipal Council, legislative power in British Columbia to make legal and binding decisions is vested with elected officials through the BC Elections Act, Local Government Act and Community Charter. It is accepted that decision-makers have "power over" others by virtue of their role and responsibilities; it is incumbent, therefore, on decision-makers to use his/her power and authority judiciously and to apply governing legislation, bylaws and policies to local government decision-making in a sensitive, respectful and thoughtful manner. In the case of municipal administration, while residents may not necessarily agree with the final staff or Council decision, it is vitally important to ensure that residents leave the Municipal Hall or Council Chamber feeling heard, understood and respected.

I believe that the recipe for making meaningful decisions that reflect fairness and balance seems to involve a real mix of ingredients -- the situation or context, dynamics, available information, individual perceptions, understanding, parties involved, history, behaviour, personal experiences, legislation and, last but not least, the politics. Then imagine the decision-making process as a kitchen blender, where all these ingredients are thrown together and whirled, tossed and blended to create from this incredible mix a certain "consistency." In the case of Council work, I strive for a "consistency" too, by making decisions that I believe reflect a "blend" of adequate public and staff information, administrative fairness and balance.

I remember once getting some helpful advice from a political mentor who explained the nub of Council work and how best to make meaning out of decision-making. She advised, "There will be many times when you will be trying to make ideal decisions from less than ideal circumstances, trying to find meaning from situations that may have none."

When reflecting on the real meaning of my Council work, it may well be found in how decisions are made rather than in the decisions themselves; regardless of the final decision or outcome, if you leave the North Saanich Council Chamber feeling heard, understood and respected, then for me, that may be the best meaning of all.