The final report into local governance did not mince words, but neither did its critics.
The chair of the committee that prepared the report also publicly apologized for the wording of a recommendation that calls for the establishment of a two-term limit for the mayor and councillors while defending its substance.
“Term limits would resolve concerns we heard that councillors go past their ‘best before’ date, would permit fresh ideas and perspectives more frequently, and prevent what amounts to career politicians in Saanich,” reads the final report of the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee (GRCAC) submitted to council Monday.
John Schmuck, committee chair, acknowledged that the term ‘best before’ could be hurtful. “For this, I truly apologize,” he said during his opening remarks in presenting the report.
The committee emerged after nearly nine out of 10 voters during the last municipal election supported a community-based review of Saanich’s governance structure and policies as well as its regional partnerships through the Capital Regional District.
The report includes 30 recommendations, some of which Saanich will not able to implement without changes in provincial legislation. But if many recommendations remain theoretical at this stage, some have already caused considerable stir, perhaps none more so than the proposed term limit for council and its language that speaks of ‘career politicians’ who are past their ‘best before date.’
Perhaps sensing controversy, the report softens its own language around the proposed term limit.
“However, we see the real problem is not how long councillors serve, it’s how little public engagement there is in civic elections and subsequent holding of elected officials to account. It should be the electorate that imposes term limits, particularly on councillors, who are not performing well.”
While the report does not mention any specific names of local career politicians, it attempts to offer a definition. “A number of the councillors have been on council for many terms,” it read. “Some are, in effect, career politicians.”
Other parts of the report offered a more general critique of council. “The committee found that the [council] tends to react rather than lead, and tries to manage rather than govern,” it read.
The subject of regional amalgamation also looms large in the report, if only to underscore its complexity and the lack of consensus around it.
“There wasn’t consensus on the [committee] about whether Saanich should pursue an amalgamation of some kind,” it read.
“However, there does seem to be a consensus that discussion on this topic shouldn’t be shied away from. We feel this is probably consistent with the views of the general population of Saanich, based on our consultations and community feedback.”
According to the report, Saanich residents appear to be all over the map. “We heard a wide-range of perspectives, including strong support for and against amalgamation, a desire to continue to pursue some form of shared services with adjacent municipalities, the acknowledgment that more study may be needed on this issue and a desire to have a more specific question relating to amalgamation on the ballot in 2018,” it read.
As for specific recommendations concerning amalgamation, it calls on Saanich to lobby the province for the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly on Amalgamation with interested municipalities in the Greater Victoria Region and actively support and participate in the assembly.
Public reactions varied and critics did not hold back. “This report does not meet my expectations,” said Haji Charania, president of the North-Quadra Community Association. “I’m not satisfied.” Katherine Whitworth said the report drew false conclusions based on flawed data. “I urge you not to action this report,” she said.
Darrell Wick struck a more conciliatory tone in praising the working ethic of the committee, but also pointed out various contradictions.
However, the report also received praise. Rob Wickson called the report a strong starting point. The real discussion begins now, he said. Larry Lane meanwhile praised the committee for showing “considerable backbone” in bringing the report forward.
Council received the report and will consider the recommendations at its Dec. 18 committee of the whole meeting.
While council members generally praised the work of the committee in preparing the report, Coun. Colin Plant said he was “greatly concerned about the lack of input” in raising questions about the utility of the report.
Mayor Richard Atwell said he was less concerned about the level of public input in praising the quality of the report. The challenge for council will be for council to prioritize, he said.