A new policy proposal in the Municipality of North Cowichan that would limit public access to councillors is raising concerns.
North Cowichan council is considering a motion that would prevent council members from meeting or having conversations with applicants, neighbours, community groups or other interested parties regarding proposed development projects prior to the public hearings on the projects.
All requests for private meetings or discussions with council members prior to public hearings would be referred to staff, if council passes the motion.
The new rules are the result of a motion made by Coun. Maeve Maguire in December in an effort to ensure that all proposed developments in the municipality are treated equally by council.
But North Cowichan has been receiving a significant amount of negative feedback to the proposed motion from residents.
At the council meeting on Feb. 15, Stephanie Aikenhead said the public has a right to speak to council members about their concerns around proposed developments and other issues.
“This proposed policy would muzzle the public,” she said. “The public has a democratic right to talk to council members on issues and then work with staff, not the other way around.”
Catherine MacNeil questioned how council members will get timely information from the public on developments if the public is denied access to them at this stage of the development-approval process.
“Staff are employees, not elected officials,” she said.
“Staff should not be responsible for vetting the flow of information going to councillors. I encourage council to reject this recommendation and not distance yourself further from the citizens of North Cowichan.”
Maple Bay resident Christopher Justice also said he’s concerned about the proposed policy
“Neighbours and citizens wouldn’t be able to say anything to council members regarding land-use issues in North Cowichan before public hearings,” Justice said.
“They now can’t say anything after the public hearing either, and that already severely limits the public’s access to their elected officials.”
Maguire said the motion is just a “starting point” for developing a policy on the issue and, in the end, she envisions a policy that all parties will agree on.
“I’m anticipating a policy that will provide consistent protocol so the public and developers will all know what to expect in the process,” she said.
“The goal is not to restrict access to council from the public.”
The issue is expected to come before North Cowichan’s committee of the whole within the next two weeks.