North Cowichan council shoots down Mayor’s motion to forego Environmental Advisory Committee input
Councillor Marsh says move would have been an insult
North Cowichan council this week defeated an effort by Mayor Al Siebring — with support from Councillor Tek Manhas — to snub the fledgling Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) less than a week after the volunteer body had held its first meeting.
At Monday’s special council meeting, Siebring proposed an amended motion that would have referred a Diamond Head consulting report to the EAC “for information” — rather than for comment — effectively saying that the committee's input is not required.
The Diamond Head report urged council to take a leadership role on environmental politics and regulations. That encompasses management of invasive species, tree protection (including the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve), bylaw enforcement, and improved protection and restoration of ecosystems and their connectivity.
Councillor Kate Marsh, chair of the EAC, immediately objected to Siebring’s motion.
“They’re going to want to dissect it and make recommendations,” she said. “I feel it’s a bit insulting to send to people with doctorates in all this kind of work: ‘Oh, this is what we’re thinking. Want to read it?’ It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Siebring had earlier prefaced his remarks with “a couple of devil’s advocate questions” — which could be interpreted as expressing his own concerns.
“I can hear already some folks in the development community going, ‘Oh God, here more regulation,” he said. "It’s going to cost us more money. It’s going to impact the affordability question, etc., etc., etc.’”
Diamond Head representatives responded that there have been negative and positive experiences elsewhere, and that the level of acceptance depended in large part on advance consultation prior to development of new environmental policies.
Ted Swabey, chief administrative officer, said that if council refers a report to a committee it should do so for a reason — “you want their comments.” He added: “'For information' is never going to work. They’ll feel disenfranchised or they’ll start making comments on their own. I respectfully suggest it’s going to cause all kinds of confusion….”
Only Siebring, former president of BC's Conservative Party, and Manhas, a strong business advocate, supported the amendment.
The role of the EAC continued to be a hot potato at Monday’s meeting, which became bogged down with one motion after another. At one point, Councillor Rosalie Sawrie voted against her own motion.
Rob Conway, director of planning and building, also weighed in by questioning the value of referring the Diamond Head report to the EAC for comment.
“The consultants have provided their report, they’ve provided the recommendations,” he said. “They are what they are. I’m having trouble understanding what the Environmental Advisory Committee is really going to do with that report. Is the intention they are going to provide comments and the report is going to be revised or that they’re going to ask a bunch of questions, ask council for further work to be done on it?”
He addd: “I feel that the report we’ve got now provides us information we can act on.”
Siebring responded by saying “you have summed up in 30 seconds” why he had problems referring the report to the EAC.
Marsh then softened her tone, saying she’d “be okay” if the report was referred to the Official Community Plan (OCP) Advisory Group and to Modus (the consultant working on the OCP update) — but not the EAC, despite her belief council may be missing out on invaluable advice.
Ultimately, council approved the following motions:
— direct staff to use the Diamond Head report as a resource and guide for developing and updating environmental policy in the OCP update and other project reviews.
— direct staff to consider and bring forward the report’s recommendations supporting the annual business planning process as funding, resources, and opportunities allow.
— refer the report to the EAC, OCP Advisory Group and Modus on the understanding that the OCP process not be delayed.
— Larry Pynn, Feb. 24, 2021