A group of 14 people with the words Strathcona Regional District Board written over their heads

Making room for Cortes, Quadra and other rural areas within the SRD

The Strathcona Regional District’s rural Directors often feel they do not have much input in Board decisions. The topic came up at the May 10 meeting, when the Board passed a resolution that staff prepare a report on methods to increase public consultation for regional services.’ A second resolution calls for a policy to have the Municipal Services Committee refer new services to the Electoral Areas Services Committee (EASC) for public consultation prior to a feasibility study.

Screenshot from May 10 meeting video

Regional Director Gerald Whalley, of Area A, initiated the conversation, “I was kicking this thing along to the last couple of meetings. I would just note that the staff report  begins by saying, and I’ll just quote here: ‘When the Board authorizes a feasibility study for a new regional service, the evaluation process generally involves a significant amount of consultation with community representatives from the areas that are identified as potential beneficiaries of the service.’”  

“That’s exactly what my intent was moving this along through a couple of meetings. I think that’s great, but I’m not so sure that I recall that ever happened.” 

“Case in point: on the transportation service that’s before the Board, that we’re considering. I’m not sure how the communities were consulted on this. The first awareness that Area A had of it is when it lands on the Board agenda and the motion there is to investigate, do a physical study and carry through. I think it would be appropriate to consult with the communities that are going to be involved with that before that’s undertaken.” 

“I was thinking of different ways we could do that. It’s complicated, so what I finally came up with was maybe the idea that after a committee, such as the Municipal Services Committee, agrees to propose a new regional service, they could refer it to EASC. Electoral areas could refer it to the community services.  That way we’d have an opportunity to talk to our constituents and see what they feel about it. Then it would go to the Board. I don’t know what you guys think about that. I was concerning making a motion to that end after receipt, so that’s my thoughts on it.”

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) David Leitch responded, “There’s many iterations of what it could look like and  I think it’s variable on what that service that is being proposed is.  For example, when we look in Area A we looked at a new fire service for the Race Point area, we consult every homeowner and we send them positions. That’s great. You’re not going to get more consultation than that.” 

“I’m not here to argue against Director Wally. He’s got good points and I’m just saying, what does consultation look like?  When we look at a new service, for example, and we have to go to the public: we almost always have to borrow money or requisition money, and we’re required to put out approval process. There’s the referendum, there’s petition, and then there’s alternative approval. We almost always go with alternative approval because of the cost and practicality of that and so the province looks at that as consultation because you’re sending it out and saying, this is what we’re going to do if you have a thought or opposition to that write in.”

The problem with the alternative approval process (AAP) being that if 10% of the community disagrees, as was the case with the initial proposal of the Cortes Island Hall tax, it is defeated.

CAO Leitch: “I agree that’s not engaging communities. If we look at current services, like the rec rate, we’ve done extensive consultation with user groups or if we look at the regional fire admin that we just supported, we consult with the CAOs and your staff. Transportation was brought forward by one of our member Munis (municipalities) and we consulted with the CAOs, staff and groups.”

“So it’s a mixed bag and I agree it’s complicated. You folks at the Board that are voting, you’re able to go back to your Boards and Councils and talk to it. You can defer items if you want. You can instruct us to do open sessions in communities. There’s a lot we do. There’s possibly a lot more we can do and we’re happy to take direction from the Board on what they’d like to see more of.”

Campbell River Director Ron Kerr explained, “Just recognizing the fact that electoral areas and municipal areas are different. I’ve watched this for 12 years. They always get out voted because there’s only four of them, but they have a totally different take on this whole process, or all processes, than we do at the municipal level.” 

“They’re like the little brother, or little sister. We have to allow them that place and recognize the fact that they’re always going to look at things a little bit differently than the rest of us at the table.”

CAO Leitch: “I don’t disagree with that at all, but it works both ways  in the sense is that this Board supports a lot of regional services to support those smaller municipalities.” 

“The biggest project probably that’s ever been done in the province is Connected Coast. That was an effort to support the smaller communities.  It doesn’t always work one way totally in favour or against. Some of that process that we have here, supports the smaller communities in many ways, because if it wasn’t for the bigger ones supporting, we wouldn’t have connectivity.”

“If I put on the table, let’s say, tourism or economic development, everyone’s going to have a different viewpoint, and I’m not sure it’d be consistent between all EAs (electoral Areas) and all Munis.  I don’t know if there is one single answer to it, it’s complicated.”

“If I look at connectivity, again, a huge portfolio, we didn’t really do consultation in the communities . It was so overwhelming that people wanted connectivity that this Board decided on it. We went out, we did an AAP (alternative approval process), we established our service, did the legislative consultation, and the Board felt comfortable.” 

“I don’t know if there’s a single answer, but  we certainly have the opportunity, whatever that service is, to look at that individual and say, this one requires that and the other, maybe that’s the solution. I’m not sure.”

Chair Mark Baker (the Mayor of Sayward) added a little levity to the conversation, “Who’s first, your second, who’s on third? Director Mawhinney.” 

Director Robyn Mawhinney (Area C): “I actually really appreciate Director Whalley’s thought about having municipal services  forward their ideas or recommendations to the Electoral Areas Services Committee. I think that’s really interesting. When I had read this report and was considering community consultation, what had come to mind for me was that perhaps some level of community consultation could be built into the framework of the feasibility study when it’s undertaken.”

Campbell River Director Doug Chapman emphasized the point this is, “not rural areas against municipalities, it is all of us. If we can keep that in mind, I think we can continue on a positive note.” 

“In the policy I notice that we just have one definition of local service. Would it be advantageous if we broke that out to regional service, sub-regional service and local service? So our regional service would be a service like general government, all areas are participants.  Then we could have a sub-regional service, which would be like the Strathcorna Gardens, where that would involve more than one area. In that case, the city of Campbell River and Area D, or a portion of Area D. A local service would be a service located only in one area, for instance, only in electoral Area A. We would know that it’s just one area.

CAO Leitch: “Lots of things can be beneficial and I’m not arguing the point. It’s about who votes on participating in the service, and the fairness lies in that, if you will. So, regional service, we all vote on. Local service with one participant, we all vote on that as well because you can’t have one director. So it’s sub-regional service – is that 2 or 3 and where does that consultation arise?  We had a deferral of a regional service last meeting on the fire admin. That’s the first time either Senior Manager Tom Yates and I, in our entire careers, can ever remember a regional Board deferring back to municipality, to their council’s discussion.” 

(Chair Baker is the Mayor of Sayward and had not had time to discuss the proposal with his village council. He moved that the issue be deferred to the next meeting, so the Board would have time to take the idea back to their respective areas.)

CAO Leitch: “Doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong but I would say historically, regional Boards have been appointed to make decisions and you make that. Everyone has a different viewpoint about what that consultation, what their authority, and what they’re sitting at this table to do. So it’s really a difficult question to answer. I’ll bet out of the 14 folks here, we might have 12 different answers.  The authority is here to tell staff to consult in a variety of ways on whatever the service may be.  And the local act says do what you need to do, have discussion and call a question. We’re a democracy and 8 hands in the air (a majority of the 14 Directors) wins here.  Some would argue that’s fair and some would argue -but I don’t know if there’s a better way of doing that. That’s the system we have. So we do have latitude in there. If there is something specific, like we did with fire admin, certainly,  we’re happy to do that.”

Mayor Julie Colborne of Zeballos was cautious, “While I hear what Director Whalley is saying, I do think that’s an opportunity for a divisiveness and I think that whatever we can do to avoid that is probably the best.  I understand that the reason that a director wants it referred to a certain committee, but I also think that  there are so many trickle down things in this region.”  

“Looking at something like the tourism service, that really benefits a lot of people in the area. The more people we have, the more economic drivers, the more farm stands are seen. It really is an economic driver.

I would be cautious about it, knowing that what each one of us does in our area has direct repercussions for others. I have friends that stay in hotels in Area D. This is a regional Board and I think the more cohesive and the more we can work together for the region (the better).

“I don’t know that I would vote against the motion, but I do have that in the back of my mind.” 

Director Whalley: “I agree with Director Colborne 100%. My intent wasn’t to be divisive, but just a matter of an opportunity to give the other committee an opportunity to inform their constituents before it comes to the Board. That’s all I’m requesting.  I couldn’t think of another way to do that would fit every situation because, as our CAO pointed out, every situation is so different.”

“If it was referred to the electoral committee, it’s just a matter of information. There’s no motion involved, it’s just for receipt and we can say, ‘oh yeah, this is coming to the next Board agenda.’ Gives us time to talk to community so we can get some feedback. So we’re just not caught cold footed when it hits the Board and ‘what are we going to do?’ That’s all.  So after receipt,  then I’ll make a motion and the Board can do the wish with it.” 

CAO Leitch:  I think that’s information sharing and, personally,  I think that helps us all. I don’t think we’ve met this year,  for municipal services, so it’s not like that really happens that often.” 

“We have an upcoming one for a potential sub-regional service in Sayward for Fire. So we’re going to have a couple of options. We can get a council resolution to support that from Sayward, or we can do public consultation to the community.”

“There’s just not one size fits all but as for sharing municipal services resolutions,  I don’t see any harm in that.” 

Chair Baker: “I personally agree with what Director Whalley’s saying in terms of sharing information. I don’t see a downside to that.”

“We had this problem in the past where people lost sight of the fact that we are a Regional Board. We are not an individual municipality or electoral area, so if there are things that we can make to ensure that we always focus on the fact that we’re regional, I fully support that. I think that’s a direction we must be moving towards.”

Cortes Island Director, Mark Vonesch: “I just wanted to say that I really appreciated your motion in last meeting, Director Baker, to have a deferral and to give some time. Certainly gave me time to be able to speak to people about the service. I do agree with Director Whalley that sometimes having two or three days from seeing what a service is going to look like to voting on it, can feel really rushed.” 

“Just throwing out the idea, for regional services that are affecting everybody, what about just having  a one month automatic deferral from when the Board sees it to when we actually vote on it? I don’t know if that’s a possibility,  that just might allow us to be able to go back to our constituents, present the idea, get feedback  and then make a more informed decision based on what our constituents are looking for.”

CAO Leitch:  “I don’t think we need a policy in terms of that. That’s a liberty that every director has a deferral.  You saw it in action there last week, so keep it in the back of your mind  that’s always an option if you feel rushed or you want to do more consultation, deferral, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Director Whalley: “I move that we develop a policy to have the municipal services committee to refer a proposed new regional service to the Electoral Areas Committee before they appear on the Board agenda and vice versa for electoral areas committee to refer their proposed new regional services to the municipal services committee.”

Mayor Colburn seconded the motion, at which point the Board had an opportunity to discuss it.  

Mayor Kermit Dahl of Campbell River: “So the intention of this is to get public consultation before doing a feasibility study?”

Director Whalley: “Yes.”

Mayor Dahl: “I wouldn’t support that, but I’ll explain why.” 

CAO Leitch: “If I can jump in, I didn’t understand it to be that.” 

Mayor Dahl: “You want to have public consultation before feasibility study is done. That is what was said in the beginning of the previous motion.”  

Director Whalley: “I’m probably a little bit confused on process. I thought generally what happened was, for example, the municipal services would come up with a proposed service, like the transportation service. Then the next step is it comes to the Board and there’s a vote on, shall we proceed with a feasibility study.”

“So before that happened, it would go to electoral  areas and we’d be aware of it, and that would delay it by about two weeks before it comes to the Board. We’re not going to make any motions on it.” 

Mayor Dahl: “I don’t care about the time. This is like doing a business case, and we do the business case before you make decisions. You’re going to go to your constituents and say, ‘Would you like to have this service?’ The business case, or feasibility study that will be done after, will determine how much that service is going to cost. I would think it would be better to do the feasibility study and find out what the cost analysis of the new service is going to be before you go to your constituents.”

Dahl pointed out that by doing things the way Whalley proposed, Directors could find themselves having to make one of two bad choices:

“Do what they asked at whatever cost because you didn’t do it in the proper order to begin with. Or you have to go back to them and tell ’em that they can’t have what you already proposed to them because you can’t afford it.” 

Director Whalley: The difference is that,  depending on whether Areas want to participate or not, that changes the cost. For example, in transportation service, if Areas B and D, which aren’t involved, were involved, that would change the cost. If Area A was involved, that would change the cost. So whatever the feasibility study cost comes up with, if later some Area says, ‘no, we don’t want to be involved,’ then that whole cost analysis is wrong.”

“Mainly it’s a philosophical thing that the electoral areas are more concerned about. Like in the bus service, it’s not a matter of cost. It’s a matter of ‘are they going to use this service? Is it going to be beneficial to them?’ Because the amount that electoral areas pay compared, for example, to Campbell River is minimal.”

“It’s not always a matter of cost. That’s just the other side of the equation. I understand what you’re saying and that’s valid too, but to do what you’re saying is  to go all through that feasibility study, and then the next step comes back to the Board for final approval. There is no midterm step, and that’s really late in the game.”

Mayor Dahl: “I don’t think that the feasibility study is the second last step. There’s no adoption immediately after the feasibility study, that’s when it should go out for public consultation.” 

CAO Leitch:  “That’s correct. So let’s just create a scenario that we want to do municipal services and we have this transit idea.”

“Director Davis brings it forward and municipal services supports it. So they say, okay, staff go bring this to the Board a resolution that we explore it. So then we would take that resolution, based on Director Whalley’s motion here, we would say, ‘Hey, this is a report and resolution that came to municipal services. It’s on its way to the Board. Before it gets to the Board, we’ll bring it to EASC, you can discuss it. So then when it does come to the Board, everyone at the table is on the same page.’ 

“That motion has to pass at the Board and then you say, ‘Okay look, the Board supports a transportation study at feasibility. So we go do that and we come back and say, this is what it looks like, folks.’” 

“You say, okay, well let’s have a discussion and should we think that’s acceptable, that’s when the public consultation starts  and you can do all sorts of things, or you can just do an AAP and there’s a consultation.”

“So if I understand the motion, I’ll bring a policy that reflects that and if I’ve totally missed the mark, you tell me on that. Okay.” 

Director Kerr: I think this kind of highlights the differences between municipal areas and electoral areas. In the municipal areas. I can turn to Kermit and talk to him about it. We can talk amongst our council, we can go back and talk to staff. In electoral areas: there’s just one of them, they don’t have the capacity.”

“I think what that does too is gives them a little bit of time to discuss things with the community and their advisors in the community or whatever.” 

“We’re two different animals and I think a lot of times we think of ourselves just as single boats and, but they’re two different kinds of animals that are pressed together in this regional district.”

Chair Baker: “I see director Whalley’s motion is just for information sharing right to when we get to the Board, it has nothing to do with feasibility studies at all.”

CAO Leitch: “That’s how I see it, and that’s how I’ll represent the policy. And again, if I’ve got it totally wrong, you tell me when I bring it but that’s the way I’m going to write it.” 

Chair Baker: “So we have that motion on the floor, correct?” 

CAO Leitch: “Correct.” 

Chair Baker: “So, all in favour …. opposed? Director Whalley, just kidding. Okay. Okay.”

Director Vonesch: “Did that motion pass?” 

Chair Baker: “It did.”

Director Chapman: I move the staff report on methods to increase public consultation for regional services,  for further consideration. 

Chair Baker: Okay, we have a motion on the floor. Do we have a second Dr. Whalley …  Discussion. … All in favor? …. Opposed? Seeing none, the motion is carried.” 

Top photo credit: (Back row, l to r) Ben Lanyon (Campbell River), Kevin Jules (Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ First Nations), Mark Vonesch (Area B), Julie Colborne (Zeballos), Gerald Whalley (Area A), Susan Sinnot (Campbell River), Doug Chapman (Campbell River), John Rice (Area D), Robyn Mawhinney (Area C) (Front row, sitting) Michael Lott (Gold River), Kermit Dahl (Campbell River), Mark Baker (Sayward), Ron Kerr (Campbell River), Martin Davis (Tahsis)

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