Three men and a woman posing for a selfie

How the EASC Committee is working together 

One of the biggest stories coming out of the SRD may be the way the new Electoral Areas Services Committee (EASC) seems to be working together. It has only been a little more than five months since the election, but the deep personal divisions that were so apparent in the previous EASC are not there, at least not yet. Cortes Currents asked our two local Discovery Island Directors about this.

Mark Vonesch, Regional Director of Cortes Island, said, “I wasn’t involved  in the last administration, but there is a lot of teamwork between the Rural Directors. We talk a lot. We don’t agree on everything, but we have relationships where we feel comfortable sharing our ideas and our thoughts and reflecting on each other’s ideas.  Generally there’s a lot of cohesiveness  and support  for getting things done in our own communities.”

Image credit: Screenshot from EASC’s inaugural meeting on Jan 11, 2023 (l tor) Regional Director Robyn Mawhinney (Area C), CAO David Leitch, Senior Manager Thomas Yates, Regional Directors John Rice (Area D), Gerald Whalley (Area A) and Mark Vonesch (Cortes Island).

Gerald Whalley has been such an interesting person to work with because his political values are quite different from mine. He doesn’t really believe in climate change. He’s a Trump supporter. Any tax or government intervention is overreach, but he’s also been really supportive of me, of how to get things done. As long as I’m not trying to push things into his community, he’s very happy and generous with his time to share with me on just bouncing ideas off  in a realistic way of how to get things done in government.”

“One of my hopes for politics is that people who are different from each other can sit down and have conversations. We can hear each other. We can be okay with thinking differently and having different visions, and we can come to a place that  is of compromise and working well together.” 

Robyn Mawhinney lives across the waters on Quadra Island, “I haven’t seen any friction. I haven’t felt any friction. We’re all there to work for the betterment of our communities. We listen and hear the will of our communities and arrive at the board table or the committee table, knowing those desires and hopefully able to represent those as well as being willing to think regionally.”

 “I’m happy to support Director Rice and a bylaw to legalize having four chickens in backyards of Area D and Director Whalley to find a noise bylaw that works for the Sayward Valley and Director Vonesch’s Cortes Island Initiatives.”

MV: “I think politics at its best is when people who think differently  and have different values can work together and support each other and be colleagues and be allies and in getting positive things done and for the people that we work.” 

“I think it’s important to recognize in politics that nobody is the same. There’s never going to be 100% consensus. I think the important thing  is that we can hear each other. We can have empathy and understanding before each other, and we can make decisions that are  best for everybody.”

RM:  “I think being positive and focusing on areas where we can find alignment is going to get more done at the committee table and at the board table. We’re going to achieve much more. My personal philosophy is collaboration yields better results.”  

MV: “Robyn Mawhinney made a motion to ask for a staff report on what we can do to prevent the possibility of people bottling and selling water commercially. One of the things is we’re addressing climate change and thinking long term about our resources. We have to think about water.  This was a great motion that she put forward.  She wanted to do it for her area. John Rice and myself added on to that motion and wanted to also  have a staff report for Cortes and Electoral Area D, John Rice’s area. Gerald didn’t want that in his community, but he is quite happy, for us to be able to do that in ours.”

SRD staff is currently investigating the feasibility of limiting water bottling, bulk water sales and groundwater extraction on Cortes Island, as well as in Electoral Areas C and D.

Cortes Currents asked Director Vonesch about the way Director Whalley helped him draw up a 3% tax on Cortes Island’s vacation rentals

MV: “That wasn’t in EASC Committee, it was the first meeting of the SRD Board. It is generally set aside for everybody to do their inauguration and get sworn in as Directors. I brought this to the table, the fact we needed to get SRD support to put in an application for the short term rental tax to the provincial government. Gerald was one of the people I called and asked,  ‘How do I do this? How do I make the motion, what do I need to say and what’s the process for how to do it?’”

“He would never put a 3% tax  on short term rentals in his community. I don’t think that’s something they want, and he honestly represents the folks there, but he was really helpful and supportive of teaching me how to do it.” 

“One of the things that I wanted to do early was build some team cohesiveness there. So, I helped organize for Robyn and John and I to go visit Gerald in his community. We showed up very shortly after getting elected, and  had tea with him and  did a tour of his community. We talked frankly about issues that we cared about and things that we want to get done. I think that kind of outreach and personal connection sets the tone for how people can work together.”

RM: “We should have another road trip. We haven’t had one since then. That was a fun time, seeing the Sayward Valley. When we experience another electoral area, it gives us a much clearer understanding of the needs. I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to see Sayward Valley and the Sayward Village because it really clarified for me, honestly, how different that region is from Quadra Island.”

MV: “I think there’s a lot of opportunity in government for people to connect with each other outside the formality of board meetings, talk about their values, what’s important to them and just have more understanding for each other. I think personal connection, there’s room for growth in that.” 

“The cohesiveness there and the cooperation that people are seeing is very much true and alive.  I hope that  can expand into the SRD board level as well. We haven’t had a lot of  out of board meeting connection time.” 

“I’m leaving today to go to AVICC (Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities) in Nanaimo. It’s  a three day conference that includes representatives from 54 Municipalities and Regional Districts on Vancouver Island and the West Coast. I know there’s a lot of SRD Board members going there, so I’m hoping that we can connect  in more of an informal way,  build relationships and figure out ways for us to align and work together in a better way.” 

RM: “Our chair, Mark Baker,  encourages dialogue and brings his sense of humour to the table. He really keeps things moving and gets folks smiling, which makes things work well.”

Top photo credit: EASC visit to Sayward on Nov 3, 2022 (l to r) Regional Directors Mark Vonesch, Robyn Mawhinney, Gerald Whalley and John Rice – Photo by Mark Vonesch

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