Virtual public meetings starting later this month will ask the public to help improve environmental governance on the Saanich Peninsula.
The Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition (SPEC) is organizing the webinars with the first one starting Wednesday, July 29. The coalition has scheduled a second one for Aug. 11 and is working on a third one with Saturday, Aug. 15 as a potential date.
Bob Peart, who helps to coordinate the coalition, said the upcoming input sessions build on a town hall meeting held earlier this year before the COVID-19 pandemic. SPEC consists of at least nine local groups including the Friends of Shoal Harbour, the Peninsula Streams Society, and the WSANEC Leadership Council. Local MLA Adam Olsen has also been working with the coalition.
Peart said that meeting showed considerable support for the creation of an arching framework that would allow the three municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula to better protect the local environment. Peart said this success prompted the coalition to hire Jerram Gawley, a co-op student from the University of Victoria with a background in biology and political science, to help write the framework with a draft available in the middle of August, followed by consultations with the WSANEC Leadership Council, as well as UVIC’s environmental law clinic.
“The document idea has evolved a little bit, but we are basically attempting to develop what is termed a bioregional framework for the Saanich Peninsula, really focused in on what is referred to as ecological sustainability,” said Gawley. Ecological sustainability, in turn, consists of three factors, he said: the aim of maintaining ecosystem integrity; increasing municipal collaboration; and community perspective.
While the framework itself aims to reconcile science and politics, it will recommend two specific mechanisms, he said.
The first is the revision of bylaws and policies following a gap analysis. “We are also looking at formal and informal mechanisms of communication between the municipalities,” he said. “That is a big factor in this, recognizing that because we exist within a bio-region, we are inter-connected. Our environment doesn’t stop at jurisdictional boundaries.”
The timing of this work could not be better, as all three municipalities find themselves at different stages in reviewing their respective OCPs, and COVID might have actually bought the coalition time to prepare a final document, so that it would be ready for planners and politicians in those communities as they move into their respective public engagement, he said.
Looking at ecological issues that require immediate coordination among the three communities, Gawley said it is quite difficult to limit it to one specific issue. This said, one big current focus is around shorelines with its myriad of jurisdictions, ecological interactions and connection to climate change through rising sea levels, he said.
“That’s a big issue in this document,” he said. Land use planning is another issue generating a lot of attention, added Peart.
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