Sunday, August 30, 2009

When is a Hearing not a Hearing?

Central Saanich Council is supposed to hold a public hearing into the Vantreight development before making a decision on whether the project should go ahead.

They are supposed to attend the public hearing with open minds and listen to what citizens have to say. The public hearing is supposed to take place before the project begins (after all if the hearing is fair there should be a chance the project will not go ahead).

Although there will be a public hearing there is no chance at all that it will be a fair one unless there is a public outcry about the tainted process. Councillors who should have recused themselves because they are in conflict, and who have already made up their minds about the Vantreight development have given a virtual go-ahead to the project. Stakes are in the ground, the pro-development councillors have already made their positions clear (how can you have an open mind when you've already agreed to a Special Interest Zoning to slip the project through?).

This public hearing will be in name only and more of the same tainted processes will follow for waterlines, a new Co-op store and pretty much anything any developer wants UNLESS we all shout out together.

If you live here because it is rural and green think about what it will be like as one after the other these projects begin to creep in and eat up our farm and pasturelands. Think and then act.

It only takes a minute to write to Council (go on the website and use the email form). You can phone the Councillors, you can buttonhole them on the street and you can come to council and watch them.

We could very quickly become Gordon Head and lose everything we value.


Special Interest Zoning

The pro-development majority on Central Saanich Council are making sure their donors get exactly what they paid for.

If you can't find it in the rules all you need to do is bend them like you bend the wires on a fence to make a hole to slip through.

Central Saanich has chosen to ignore the will of the citizens and allow development outside of the Urban Containment Boundary. To do this all they had to do was spot zone the area to be developed so that it doesn't have to face a vote at the Capital Region District. A single 'no' vote there would have prevented this travesty, but our creative councillors have found a way to circumvent the visionary planning of the entire region.

One wonders what they won't do?

Mayor Mar of Central Saanich doesn't seem to understand that being in a conflict of interest doesn't just apply in the Council Chambers. Once you have recused yourself on an issue you are supposed to be entirely silent on it outside the Chambers as well.

Although he has business dealings with Vantreight Farms and recognizes that this puts him in conflict on the Vantreight development proposal, Mayor Mar can still be heard trying to influence the media and public by talking about the issue everywhere else.

Sometimes it's a newspaper quote, sometimes it's a radio interview and sometimes it's just talking on the street: after all these years on Council you'd think he'd know enough to just keep silent.

After all these years I know he knows.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who should vote and who should leave the room?
Councillors must step aside.

At last Monday's Council Meeting (August 17, 2009), the inevitable result of the shenanigans of the last municipal election began to show themselves, and the result was less than satisfactory.

One of the standard rules to prevent any actual or preceived conflict of interest is that councillors who have a business interest or who have accepted money from someone (as in campaign money, or money for services rendered for example), should 'recuse' themselves (excuse themselves from voting), on any proposals or motions relating to anyone to whom they might be seen to be beholden.

So each time a Vantreight proposal comes up we see Mayor Mar leave the room after explaining that he has a business relationship with Vantreight Farms.

Each time the Senanus pipeline (and now the new Kubek line) comes up, we see Councillor Bryson recuse himself because he believes he is in conflict by virtue of being a leaseholder and farmer in those zones. He perceives a conflict (although no one else does, but more about this aspect later), so he steps aside.

At last Monday night's Council meeting we saw Councillors continue to sit at the table even though they had accepted election donations from the proponents of a couple of major local issues and from their companies and even though they have worked for and received remuneration from some of those proponents.

When David Wilson, a member of the public, came forward to object to this, he was threatened and bullied by Councillor Siklenka, who had the chair in the Mayor's absence. As Mr. Wilson tried to hand in his letter on the issue Siklenka said "If you take one more step Mr. Wilson, I will have you thrown out."

He repeated this several times and the whole silly scene is on tape with the Residents and Ratepayers of Central Saanich who are taping every meeting as the minutes no longer fully reflect the decision making process.

Mr. Wilson was not yelling or doing anything disruptive, he simply stated his belief that two Councillors were in conflict and should leave the meeting. The Chair's behaviour was shameful.

The only exception to this conflict rule is when a benefit resulting from a proposal is something that the greater part of the community would also share.

This is the case with Alastair Bryson who has no particular personal benefit from voting for or against these pipeline proposals. The only benefit is one that would accrue to anyone in the general neighbourhood. It is sad that he has decided to recuse himself on such a vital issue for we need his wisdom and voice to help protect our farmland and our rural ambience. I sincerely believe he is mistaken in doing this and has left the District vulnerable.

Sad times in Central Saanich. Our Official Community Plan, Urban Containment Boundary and the Regional Growth Strategy are under attack by those who think growth can continue forever and who have no respect for the decisions and concerns of the community.

Co-op's Ambush of Candidates

The Co-op ambush of candidates during the civic election last November violates an important principle.

Candidates in a civic campaign are not talking about the policies of a party. They are there to stand as representative of their community and the only promise that matters is the pledge they should make to listen to all points of view and to decide issues in an unbiased fashion.

The Peninsula Co-op's action tried to force candidates into saying whether they did or did not support a development proposal that hadn't yet been made. This means we had to comment without benefit of the wisdom of our neighbours who sit on the Advisory Planning Committee; without the recommendations and comments of experienced and knowledgable district staff and without ever having had the chance to listen to concerns during a public hearing process.

And, as anyone knows, what ever we said would have been held/used against us after the election.

If you truly want good governance, you have to uphold fairness during election campaigns too.

It's time for the province to clean up our dirty little civic elections secret

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun August 13, 2009

At the rotten core of democratic elections are shady dealers who quietly or secretly finance candidates' campaigns in hopes of future favours.

It's no credit to the B.C. government that scofflaws from last November's provincewide civic elections are being investigated and may yet be charged.

Even though the Liberals revised the Local Government Act in May 2008, among its gaping holes are no spending limits and no electoral oversight by an independent body.

With unlimited cash possible, enforcement is all the more necessary. But that's left up to citizens to police, along with everything else from how ballots are counted to ensuring that campaign organizers register so that voters know who's behind a candidate's campaign.

Few citizens have the time, money or stomach for holding local politicians to account. Yet, there are those odd few willing to brave publicity, intimidation and/or ostracism to complain to police.
David Wilson of Central Saanich is one of them.

He was told by RCMP earlier this week that after 400 hours of investigating his complaint, it's recommending 19 charges be laid regarding financial reporting irregularities.

The RCMP had to investigate because the local police chief is a director of Peninsula Co-op, one of the groups that failed to register as an elector organization in a timely manner.

The recommendation has gone to local Crown counsel and it will likely be at least a month before a decision is made on whether to lay charges. Wilson doesn't know who may be charged, but expects it could include campaign contributors, financial agents or even councillors.

Three months ago, West Vancouver police forwarded their charge recommendations to Crown counsel. They investigated complaints by candidate (and now councillor) Michael Lewis and his campaign manager David Marley about the longstanding, quasi-party West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government's late registration and the Low Tax, Low Growth Association's failure to register or account for thousands of dollars spent trying to elect a slate of candidates.

In Langley, RCMP investigated and found that Parents for Independent Trustees breached the Local Government Act by failing to register as a campaign organizer after the group had spent more than $500 on candidates' campaigns.

The penalty under the act is up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year.
Insp. Lesley Bain, who's in charge of the commercial crime section, did not recommend any charges since the group did eventually file the requisite financial information.

Nor did Bain recommend charges against two B.C. cabinet ministers -- Rich Coleman, minister of housing and social development, and Mary Polak, minister for children and family development -- who endorsed candidates.

After consulting federal justice department lawyers and other counsel, RCMP concluded that an endorsement does not have a "fair market value" as stipulated by the act, so the ministers didn't need to register or report their contributions.

Yet, in a five-page letter sent to complainant Sonya Paterson in late June, Bain makes it clear that the act is a shambles. Officers with legal training, senior department of justice officials and B.C. ministry officials all were consulted "to ensure the accuracy of our interpretation of the provisions of the Act as well as the procedures and practices of the ministry with respect to complaints arising from the act."

Even RCMP were assured that both the Crown counsel and the ministry of community and rural development are aware of the act's problems. Bain has a senior member of the commercial crime section writing a report for the divisional headquarters outlining issues that arose during the investigation and proposing better ways to deal with similar complaints in the future.
It is no comfort at all that other provinces do little better when it comes to good legislation and transparency concerning municipal campaign financing.

Manitoba introduced legislation in June that requires full financial disclosure, sets spending limits, bans donations from corporations, unions and people from outside the province, and puts in place employee conflict-of-interest guidelines.

In Quebec, former judge John Gomery stepped into Montreal's municipal election fray this week as chair of a Montreal political party. As inquiry commissioner into the federal Liberals' sponsorship scandal, Gomery says he learned that election financing is at the root of government dishonesty.

Elections and campaign spending are too important not to be regulated and monitored closely. Here in B.C., that requires substantive legislative changes.

Most importantly, responsibility for elections must be taken away from individual municipalities and transferred to Elections B.C., which is an independent agency.

Police and Crown counsel would still be left to investigate and lay charges, but at least this would take the onus off citizens to be the watchdogs.

Within a few months of the last municipal election, Premier Gordon Campbell said he'd consider it. But nothing happened.

Now, three community development ministers later and with evidence of electoral misadventures mounting, it's time to act.
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