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.