By Roy L Hales
Fourteen Cortes Island residents unleashed a political avalanche, when they filed a legal petition in the Supreme Court of British Columbia last month. Close to half of the island’s voters have signed an open letter protesting the petition’s “unfounded and mean spirited” allegations, as well as ways in which they suspect the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) may be complicit. Now, amidst mounting criticism, the SRD Board will not listen to the presentations two Cortes organizations hoped to make at their February 13, 2019, meeting.
SRD Will Not Listen
The Strathcona Regional District emailed both groups, “Delegations are not intended to be opportunities for debate, discussion, or questioning of the Board regarding its policies or decisions.”
The Southern Cortes Community Association (SCCA) presentation, which I obtained by email, says Hall Service was and is a community initiative – not Regional Director Noba Anderson’s – and thus should not be hampered by the legal petition against her. The recent push originated with a proposal at the SCCA’s July 2017 AGM. Both Director Anderson and George Sirk, her opponent in the recent election, promised to respect the outcome of a referendum, whichever way it went.
“If we are not allowed the opportunity to discuss, or question anything – then where is our democracy? … Where is the opportunity to make a wise choice? Or to change each others minds? To reach a compromise? Or a consensus? To educate each other? How does any of that happen if there is no opportunity to actually have an adult conversation?” asks Cec Robinson, who had been among those hoping to present the open letter now signed by +300 voters.
“… I had a naive view of how our local government works. I understand that the SRD Board can’t possibly give an opportunity to every individual or tiny minority group thats got a bone to pick … They would get nothing done! They have a lot of work to do, they cannot sit there and listen to little groups of people who are upset – but of they’ve looked at this they have to understand that this is not two or three people or half a dozen people, or a minority group by any stretch of the imagination. This is a huge chunk of an entire electoral district that is extremely upset. It seems only reasonable that they would modify their approach to this, and listen.”
Is The SRD Somehow Complicit?
Part of the problem may be that the SRD inadvertently encouraged the petitioners to act.
Michele Babchuk, Chair of the Board, Strathcona Regional District, denies this, “I just want to speak to that legal petition because I am sure that the people of Cortes are very aware that that is not initiated by us. So I do not have an ability to actually speak, or jurisdiction actually, to speak to that instrument.”
To which Cec Robinson replies, “I see two things here. I see a small group of mean spirited people who created that legal petition against Dr Anderson, but the other piece to that is how is it that they ever felt inspired and encouraged to do that? It is really my opinion that the Regional District, through the way they have handled correspondence and lobbying from small groups … I think the Regional District Board has provided and created the fertile ground for small special interest groups to get traction. I think that if they had not got traction and felt empowered by being listened to, I doubt the legal petition would ever have come into being.”
The Hall Tax
As regards Cortes Island’s proposed hall tax, in a June 2018 report, SRD staff reported, “ … Cortes Island residents …are tired of this issue and the rift it is causing in the community. They want [to see] a resolution and move on … holding a non-binding referendum is potentially the most expensive of the options presented, since it may require a second binding referendum to be held ft a majority supports the creation of a community hall service.”
Bernice McGowan asks the SRD, “Why did you not actually hold a public consultation meeting then to gauge the numbers of people actually in support of this tax and gauge the community feeling about it and whether to treat it as a parcel tax or mil rate tax? Instead you chose to hold an unadvertised, private meeting with a small group of people opposed to the tax and, to appease that group, chose to have a non-binding referendum to gauge whether there was enough public interest in having a binding referendum … Why is the SRD listening to a small group of naysayers whose agenda is as much about discrediting our elected representative as it is about taxes?”
A Conduit For Dissident Voices?
Then, On November 28, 2018, Area D Director Brenda Leigh told the Campbell River Mirror she receives emails from Cortes residents. She will not reveal the contents, but says she didn’t think holding a referendum on the hall tax is fair to taxpayers.
As former communications professional Maureen Bader explains, “These are emails that have gone from the constituent to the Director. When an email goes from the constituent to the board generally, through the board generally, then it becomes part of the public record and it will go into the public record somehow depending on how it is going to work, but I think a lot of citizens have an expectation of privacy when they communicate with a representative. They would not want that to go into the public record. ”
She adds, “Brenda Leigh said, quite clearly during the [Jan 23, 2019] meeting, I get hundreds of emails from people throughout the Regional District. Do you really want to get all those emails? And where is the expectation of privacy going to be then?”
Rick Bockner disagrees, “Our Director has been effectively sidelined and now Brenda Leigh is the pipeline for advice to and complaints from this minority. That is why I am copying her on this email, so that she is receiving an array of opinions to report to the board and not just one view. I feel she is out of her jurisdiction and should be directing any emails from Cortes people to oour elected Director, not being the back door for this small group to amplify its influence. This is not about Noba Anderson, it is about democratic process and attempts to distort the facts, suppress votes and ignore the views of the majority of Cortes Islanders.”
SRD Actions And Inactions
“As a resident of Cortes Island, I am shocked and angered by the obvious delaying tactics and procedural inconsistencies of your board. Have you lost your moral compasses? This island community is hurting as a result of your actions and inactions. You must know this, yet you continue to pay more attention to the malicious manipulations of a tiny minority while ignoring the goodwill of the vast majority of Cortes Islanders,” – adds Andy Vine
What About The Evidence Presented In The Legal Petition?
”I think it is important to understand that the fact it is registered with the Supreme Court of BC does not mean that there is any substance to the actual petition. The petition met the criteria that is needed to register a petition, any petition. with the Supreme Curt of BC. It doesn’t mean that the contents of a petition, in this case this particular petition, have any verification. Because it has now been registered, the courts have to respond. When it comes to the court case, it may very well be thrown out before it actually properly heard, or the courts will determine that the information in that is not sufficient to proceed,” says Christine Robinson.
In The Podcast Above
- Interviews with Chair Michele Babchuk, of the Strathcona Regional District Board, Maureen Bader, Cec and Christine Robinson
- The authors of three of the emails about to be deleted from the SRD website – Andy Vine, Rick Bockner and Bernice McGowan – read out excerpts of what they wrote the Board. (A link to all 32 emails posted in the Feb 13, 2019, SRD Board Agenda is posted at the bottom of this page. It is common practise to delete agendas, and links to associated materials, after meetings. (Subsequent Editor’s note: This was not necessary, the SRD accepts the emails into the subsequent minutes.)
- Over the course of the decade she has been our Regional Director, Noba Anderson has made some enemies. This seems to be inevitable whenever you take a stand. Frankly, I have not been paying as much attention to local politics as I should, but as a matter of principle would divide the anger against her into three categories: Sour grapes, which people need to get over; Legitimate concerns, which should be addressed; Misunderstandings – which Christine Robinson talks about in the podcast.
- Full Text of Legal Petition filed Jan 2 2019
- Factual Rebuttal to Allegations in the Petition
- Litigation Against Cortes Regional Director Noba Anderson, Resource Page hosted by De Clarke
- Open Letter to Cortes Islanders January 21, 2019
- June 15, 2018, SRD Staff Report, CORTES ISLAND COMMUNITY HALL SERVICE INITIATIVE
- The ECOreport podcast: “Cortes Island Sidelined”
- The ECOreport podcast: “Petition To Remove Noba Anderson”
32 Cortes Emails From The SRD Website
Are now at http://www.daclarke.org/Cortes/Letters.html