Fearing another “torturous experience,” in the words of Coun. Susan Brice, Saanich council postponed the ongoing process to replace the controversial Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) into next month.
Council will resume debate around the proposed Environmental Policy Framework on July 8. The decision to press the pause button happened towards the end of a meeting that lasted more than six hours that included two-and-a-half hours worth of public input on a staff report that outlined the proposed work plan for the Environmental Policy Framework.
It represents an ambitious effort to replace the controversial EDPA that the previous council had rescinded by a narrow 5-4 vote following months of emotional, frequently divisive public debate during which critics accused the EDPA of being excessively restrictive and ineffective. Supporters, meanwhile, acknowledged some of these arguments, but recommended reform instead of rejection in stressing the need for specific legislation designed to protect sensitive environmental areas.
Coun. Nathalie Chambers (with support from Coun. Judy Brownoff) recommended council press ahead with the framework staff recommended, noting that council had rescinded the EDPA on “faulty science.”
“It’s irresponsible not to have conservation measures,” said Chambers, who worried Saanich would lose its credibility on the climate change issue if councillors were to reject the staff recommendation. How can Saanich declare a climate change emergency, then say no to measures that preserve ecosystems critical to climate change resiliency, she asked. Yes, the EDPA was not without its problems, she said later. But sensitive ecosystems, even if fragmented now, can experience restoration, said Chambers, pointing to her own experience with Madrona Farm.
Coun. Colin Plant, who chaired this portion of the meeting, said at the end of the meeting that he would have supported Chambers’ motion.
Coun. Rebecca Mersereau (with support from Mayor Fred Haynes and Coun. Karen Harper) argued against the report.
“I’m concerned that by going down this lengthy road, this lengthy process, we are setting ourselves up for unrealistic expectations about what we can do,” said Mersereau. “We are setting our community up for unrealistic expectations.”
Saanich should focus its limited resources on protecting the eco-diversity of its own park system, step up public education around biodiversity, and create financial incentives for private landowners to do their part, said Mersereau, who opened her remarks by noting that she would not have rescinded the EDPA had she been on council back on 2017. “But here we are,” she said.
Harper — who ran as an EDPA critic in beating out Mersereau during the 2017 byelection that preceded the demise of the EDPA — agreed with Mersereau. Harper also added that elements of the new framework would reintroduce elements of the EDPA through a back door. “Mapping was part of the reason why the EDPA was so problematic,” she said.
Haynes rejected also Chambers’ argument that support for her recommendation was a litmus test for Saanich’s commitment towards addressing climate change in calling for a broader perspective.
Council, working as a collective, shows its care for the environment by moving forward with care, and looking at all aspects of the issue, he said. “We all care for the environment,” he said. “I realize the passions [on all sides]. But I’m optimistic we can find the right way forward.”
It was at this stage of the debate that Brice brought forward her motion. “I just don’t think good decisions are made early in the morning, quite frankly,” said Brice “I do not think it would be healthy for this council to move forward on this issue without a more cohesive idea about where we are heading. To start down this road, with a split-vote council, just would not auger well for where we would need to get to.”
Harper agreed with the postponement in asking councillors to use the time to think about the issues in front of them. But if any future council decision around this issue is not unanimous, so be it, she added.