Saanich has plenty going for it – big natural parks, lots of rec centres and generally a high standard of living. But the municipality is on the lookout for bright ideas on how to make the community even better.
Healthy Saanich advisory committee and Saanich Community Association Network have teamed up to host a public workshop that seeks to explore a wide range of topics: affordable housing, food security, transportation, environmental issues, greenspace and safety.
At the same time, Coun. Paul Gerrard stresses that the agenda is wide open.
“It’s about social well being and what constitutes a healthy community,” said Gerrard, chair of the Healthy Saanich advisory committee. “What I hear back from residents is that we have a great quality of life in Saanich. But are there areas where we are missing? … We want to tease out those other aspects of community.”
The workshop will be moderated by University of Victoria professor Trevor Hancock, an expert on issues surrounding urban health.
Groups representing youth, First Nations, cycling, food security and people with physical disabilities, among others, have been invited, but the event is open to the public and is being held at the Garth Homer Centre.
“This is a barometer of how Saanich is doing,” said Fred Haynes, president of SCAN. “Perhaps a year from now we can check on how we did. We don’t want this to be a standalone moment in time. We want this to be a living document going forward.”
Many of the potential discussion points, such as transportation, land use and food security have been tackled both by SCAN members and Saanich committees and council. Gerrard noted that at the workshop, the group will set the discussion topics and agenda, not the moderator or hosts.
“We want to put this in the public domain instead of the political domain,” he said. “We may get real surprises and have people speaking about things we’ve never thought of. Negatives will be (voiced) but positives as well. It’s an opportunity to see how we can improve our quality of life.”
“It is an open cafe. There’s no restrictions on ideas from the floor. The facilitator is going to draw out ideas from the group,” Haynes said. “We want to give everyone a voice. This is how you can help us help you with issues and opportunities.”
Ultimately, SCAN and the Healthy Saanich advisory committee will draft a report on ideas emerging from the workshop for Saanich council, and which could help inform the priorities in the official community plan and strategic plan.
The workshop is also an exercise for youth and the wider public to become more engaged in civic life. Turnout for municipal voting is far lower than provincial or federal elections, despite local government having the most immediate impact on peoples’ lives, Gerrard noted.
“We can’t run a deficit. We can only raise money through raising property taxes,” he said. “How do we not (raise taxes)while retaining our quality of life?”
The Healthy Community Workshop is on Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Garth Home Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. People interested in participating should register with firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-475-5494 ext 3430.