If trust ever existed between the two factions on North Saanich District council, it doesn’t any more after Craig Mearns, Conny McBride and Dunstan Browne walked out of Monday night’s meeting, protesting what they called a “grilling” of a housing consultant by Elsie McMurphy and, by extension Mayor Alice Finall and Celia Stock.
Council has reached a state of disfunction on the housing issue, bordering on dereliction of duty, and it’s at the expense of local taxpayers, no matter which side of the fence they sit.
These two camps will be quick to point fingers at the other side, blaming them. Yet it is actions that count and what those three councillors showed was a lack of conviction. They seem unwilling to hear any criticism of a report they say will help usher in new growth in the community. Instead of participating in open debate, and allowing the consultant to respond, they chose to shut down the meeting.
McMurphy said she didn’t think her questions about the communication between council and the consultant would have amounted to much. Finall agreed with that, alluding to some form of collective guilt shown in the trio’s departure. Yet even they need to look beyond using procedure to gain the floor and move beyond their suspicions of the majority.
Which raises the question: was this a matter of posturing or style over substance?
If so, the two factions appear only interested in making overblown demonstrations to their constituents to prove they are in the right.
Without taking one side over another, McMurphy should have been allowed to ask her questions. If everyone is confident that their communication with the consultant was as innocent as they say, there was no harm in someone seeking answers. After all, Mearns had already asked for much of the same information back in June — and all of council agreed on that. It’s part of that whole democracy thing.
Fears that the minority of council is out to discredit the report have as much weight as assumptions that the council majority are out to discredit McMurphy, Stock and Finall.
Council faces potential paralysis on the housing debate in North Saanich. The two sides — and there are two sides, let there be no doubt about that — are dug-in and surrounding themselves with people willing to say what they want to hear.
Council will find in a community with such strong opinions, there are more grey areas than black and white. Not accepting that will leave them stuck and unwilling to budge.