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