The future of North Saanich’s Official Community Plan continues to divide that community’s council.
Mayor Peter Jones joined Couns. Irene McConkey, Sanjiv Shrivastava and Celia Stock on Dec. 5 in creating the first of what could up multiple committees designed to give council advice on specific subjects related to the OCP review. Couns. Phil DiBattista, Jack McClintock and Brett Smyth voted in opposition.
This vote mirrored the earlier vote to temporarily stop the OCP review process to gather input from community experts — now to be realized through this and subsequent committees — and hardens the impression of a divided council with McClintock — once a critic of the previous OCP process — joining Smyth — a historic supporter of the process — and newcomer DiBattista for a second time in opposition to high-profile plans by Jones concerning the OCP.
Jones had promoted the temporary suspension of the OCP — now realized — during the campaign and the creation of the committee officially titled Mayor’s OCP Advisory Committee marks his second major victory around the contentious issue.
“It allows mayor and council to have direct input from experienced people in the community,” he said during debate.
“The last thing I want do is poop on things that people bring forward, even if they have some flaws,” he said. “There are a lot of flaws in this and I think we need to highlight them.”
Smyth appeared especially concerned about who qualifies as a local expert. Residents may have expertise in a certain field, but might not see the bigger picture because of their political positioning, he said.
“And that is my biggest problem — if we are picking people based on their political positioning on this, then we are in trouble because now we have disenfranchised a whole section of the population.”
Jones legitimized the creation of the committee under S. 141 of the Community Charter, saying during debate that he did not bring the issue before council, a point he reiterated during an interview with Black Press.
“I brought to council for approval, which is an act of transparency, to the residents of North Saanich,” he said. He later confirmed that the first committee will cover the OCP in its entirety as an “umbrella” committee, adding that “perhaps three, perhaps four” other standing committees will deal with specific aspects.
Jones, who would also chair each of those additional committee, said he would strike them under his authority without council approval.
“I don’t need to,” he said, when asked about this aspect. “The first one has been put there. The public is aware of what I am doing and I’m doing what I said in my campaign … I could have kept this one silent and done it.”
He added that North Saanich will launch a communication campaign around the committees.
As for the advisory committee itself, it will consist of three councillors and three members of the public, with Jones serving as chair.
Smyth as well as staff pointed out during debate that North Saanich prohibits committees with four members of council physically present because four members represents a quorum. (That committee, in other words, could serve as a shadow council, raising questions about transparency).
Jones said during debate and later in the interview that four members would never be physically present during meetings of the advisory committee, thereby staying clear off the quorum threshold.
Jones said during debate that council would choose the committee’s public members through what he called “consensus.” When asked about his definition of consensus, Jones said he would like to see all seven members to agree.
“If that happens, I would be delighted,” he said. “But if that is not going to happen, then consensus is going to 50 per cent plus.”
Jones said there would not be any public application process for the positions.
“I will be appointing them in consultation with council members individually,” he said. “I’m committed under the Community Charter to appoint and I will appoint.”
When asked whether this process leaves the impression that only members of public favouring his agenda would serve on the mayor’s advisory committees and subsequent committees and whether non-supporters of his could serve, Jones said the question of membership is his choice.
“I will discuss it with individual council members,” he said.
He added that this selection process will happen fast in the new year.
“And if there are members of the public who have concerns, they voice them then and they will be considered. We will not ignore any member of the community.”
Jones said the committees will not have recommendation power.
“They will advise,” he added.
Is council thus free to ignore the advice?
“It depends by what you mean ignore,” he said. “We will discuss. So if a particular committee, which is three councillors and three experienced residents (bring forward advise), any and all of it will be discussed. Then a decision will have to be made and I will make the decision.”
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