The May 10 deadline is nearing for Esquimalt residents to register their desire to go to referendum on the township’s proposed public safety building, but some say the project is large and important enough to have been sent straight to a public vote.
Former Esquimalt councillor Bruce McIldoon is among the voices criticizing the municipality for going with an alternative approval process (AAP) rather than calling for a public referendum on the proposed $42-million project. The AAP requires 10 per cent (1,380 responses) or more of the electorate to register their opposition to the project as advertised, in order to force a vote on the municipality borrowing up to $35 million.
“To think with a project of this magnitude – the biggest ever undertaken by the township – that you wouldn’t go to referendum, that’s almost an insult to me,” McIldoon said. “If we stopped it at the referendum stage, then we could have a good vetting of the project. Why not make it a referendum that is tied to next year’s election?”
Another nearing deadline, the extension from the Capital Regional District to use at least $5 million of the wastewater treatment facility amenity funds and potentially more, was part of the reason council voted to go with the AAP, Mayor Barb Desjardins said.
“It would really be a shame to lose that,” she said. “We do need to come to some conclusion or the CRD has the right to pull back the funding.”
The topic has generated much discussion and questions on the Esquimalt Community Connection Facebook group. Commenters’ concerns have ranged from the amount of the loan and other financial aspects of the plan, to why elector response forms weren’t mailed out to all households to make it easier for dissenting residents to participate in the AAP.
“I have received letters from the municipality on adding small houses to lots, adding a sidewalk to our road, why the speed limit on our road has to be 50 km … but nothing on the new fire hall with the form attached to fill out and return,” wrote Susan Sturt-Clamp.
Desjardins and Coun. Lynda Hundleby responded to a number of comments, steering people to more information online and project updates on the township’s project web page. One commenter posted a link to the response form, and it was also noted that paper forms were also available at the municipal hall.
McIldoon has reservations about the scope of the facility and its projected price tag. The township could build a more cost-effective standalone fire hall, he said, and shift the VicPD offices to the library space below the municipal hall, after the library shifts to the Esquimalt Town Square development.
Hundleby pointed out that the regional K-9 police unit is planning to locate in the new building, meaning the current library space may not be big enough.
With the pandemic limiting most in-person communication, and many older residents either not tech-savvy or lacking easy access to a computer, McIldoon said, forcing people to undertake the more complicated AAP is not good governance.
“It’s just another hurdle,” he said.
Desjardins noted that consultation on the public safety building has been going on since 2018. She worried that with such a lengthy process, and with the pandemic distracting people, some of the momentum around the project and taking advantage of the amenity funds may have been lost.
McIldoon had a slightly different spin on that point.
“By 2019 we’d had enough of sewage treatment, it was, spend the $17 million on some worthy projects and let’s move on,” he said.
Details of the public safety building project, with links to B.C.’s alternate approval process, the voter response form and an AAP public information packet, can be found at esquimalt.ca by clicking on the link on the home page.
Desjardins also encouraged anyone seeking information on the project, the financing or the AAP to reach out to herself, other members of council or municipal hall staff.
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