March 24, 2011 Editorial - Take Big Money Out of Politics

The following is my letter to the T/C Editor regarding campaign spending in politics and municipal elections:

RE: March 24, 2011 Editorial - Take Big Money Out of Politics
Your editorial on campaign spending in politics and municipal elections is timely and I couldn't agree more. I made one of the 131 submissions last year to the provincial Elections Reform Committee, calling for municipal campaign spending/donation limits and greater public oversight by Elections BC. Good people to whom I refer as "grass roots candidates" who simply want to serve their community in local government, may be discouraged to get involved if running an expensive campaign is the key measure of success at the polls. Access to our political system should be open to everyone.

The level of campaign funding should not determine the level of election support. But some municipal election campaigns in recent years have been more about expensive marketing strategies than about the candidate's real skills, ability and genuine desire to serve. And the higher the political stakes, the greater the amount of money available to candidates it seems, given that the primary role of local governments is making decisions about land use. And with land values on the South Island some of the highest in the country, there is often keen interest in the outcome of local elections by those who may have the most to gain.

But one of the greatest weapons against the influence of big money in politics is a well informed voter. It is vitally important for voters to prepare for the next election by attending local Council meetings, talking or meeting with local candidates one-on-one or in group settings, joining or starting up a community association; whatever it takes to critically assess candidates and their campaigns beyond big signs and glossy brochures. Voters need to know details about a candidate's background, experience and commitment to public service and to the community. Local media also have an important role to play in providing the public with responsible, objective and well researched story material on local issues and local candidates.

Apart from tightening up campaign funding rules and bringing greater public scrutiny to the election process through legislation, the next best thing to safeguarding our democratic system is an aware and informed voting public because it's true, information is power.

Housing Affordability in the Capital Region


Please visit the following Times Colonist link to read a very good editorial on housing affordability across the Capital Region. It goes right back to my earlier comments about how challenging this problem is, a problem that is definitely regional and not unique to North Saanich. The message in the editorial is also clear -- there are a variety of factors that contribute to housing affordability, not the least of which is employment status and current salary to mortgage ratios. The editorial supports my views about how challenging and complex the issue is and that looking solely to local governments to provide solutions is not realistic. I understand that the TC will do another article(s) on possible solutions to housing affordability in this region so please watch for it:

Be Prepared Now More Than Ever!

I encourage you to learn more about what you can do to prepare at home for an emergency. Our Fire Chief Gary Wilton is part of a regional emergency planning process and his office can provide more details about just what you can do in the event of a similar disaster. One of the most important items is to pack an emergency kit (I have used a large tupperware container) and keep it where you will be able to access it quickly. The kit can contain such items as:

canned and dried food
prescription medications if applicable
food and supplies for infants and children if applicable
food and supplies for pets, if applicable
extra clothing and shoes, including coats/jackets
wind up radio and flashlight
blankets/sleeping bags
crowbar (for removing debris)
first aid kit

There are other items too that can be life-saving during a natural disaster and you can decide on what other special items should be included in your kit. Check the kit every few months to ensure that water and food items remain current.

I encourage you to also have a plan for loved ones if they do not live with you at home. How will you contact one another, where will you gather and what will you need for a few days if services and communications are otherwise severed? Local, regional and provincial governments have emergency planning in place and North Saanich is part of that network. I encourage you to learn more by contacting the District at 250-656-0781.

More on Food Security

Canada's Food Insecurity
Vancouver Sun journalist Stephen Hume asks the right question when he puts it to politicians: "What exactly is Canada's and British Columbia's strategic plan for domestic food security?" Another variation on the same serious theme -- how will we feed ourselves when the availability of global and world food supplies is shrinking? Check out his column at this link,

Food News


What we have been warned about for years by environmentalists, scientists, climatologists and the farming community, that world food supplies are at risk from global events beyond our control, is fast becoming our new reality. Ever increasing population growth and demand in India and China, regional and civil unrest in the Middle East and weather catastrophes in fertile areas around the world, to name just a few, are forces negatively affecting global food supplies. We are also told that these events should be a wake-up call for us in the West.

Even here, recent media announcements are alerting us to imminent price increases of up to 5% in Greater Victoria and other Vancouver Island communities that include dairy products, fresh produce, baked goods, fuel and transportation (the last two have projected increases beyond 5%). These price increases again underscore how problematic it is that we depend so much on outside food sources that require transportation to and from the Island.

Given these recent events, I can't help but see an irony, that local governments such as ours in North Saanich, led by a Mayor and Council majority who made local food and agriculture priorities when we were first elected nearly three years ago, have been criticized or even ridiculed in some circles for our focus on agriculture. I have heard us described as "simplistic" in our approach to local land use, that we are attempting to resurrect an industry that has long since seen its heyday (no pun intended). Yes, I have listened to the critics and skeptics, especially those who seem to believe that food security is when the local grocery store stays open past 6:00 p.m.

Well, I strongly disagree with these nay-sayers, especially given recent food and agricultural movements across North America and public sentiment that reflect a growing concern about food security. As I have mentioned before, of Canadians surveyed last year, nearly 82% cited local food security as their greatest concern overall. So I am proud to be part of this Mayor and Council majority's work that continues to lobby for a thriving, secure and local food supply in North Saanich, on the Peninsula and across the region.

Our recipe for success is threefold -- making agriculture economically viable, raising the profile of local growers/producers and creating a supportive environment for farming and marketing -- a complex and daunting task but one that we cannot afford to ignore.

And while the efforts to date of some local and regional governments may sometimes feel like a drop in the bucket to the local farmer or grower, as a member of North Saanich Council, I am particularly proud of what we have achieved so far, including agricultural area planning and development of a cutting edge draft whole agricultural strategy.

Of course none of these initiatives would be possible without community involvement, the dedication and commitment of local volunteers, engagement by farmers and growers, as well as direct support from North Saanich Municipal staff such as CAO Rob Buchan and many others who provide policy expertise and hands-on help when we host local agricultural workshops and events.

I am also grateful to the work of local, Peninsula and regional organizations and groups, all of whom believe, more than ever before, that growing food close to home is more than just an option -- it is becoming a necessity. But we still have a lot to do and while we cannot solve all the problems related to local agriculture in just three years, together with our community, we can establish policy and practices at the municipal level that will continue to support one of the most important values of all -- the ability of communities like ours to eventually feed themselves.

Stay tuned.

Due to illness, I was unable to attend the February 28th Committee of the Whole meeting so I am unable to provide highlights. Please consult the District of North Saanich website for a copy of the meeting minutes which will summarize the Committee of the Whole and Budget meetings for February 28th.