Cowichan Valley Regional District directors are beginning to see the writing on the wall when it comes to their use of the Alternative Approval Process. Residents aren’t keen on the process and something needs to be done.
While not all made their opinions clear during the Regional Services committee meeting on Oct. 28, many had something to say.
The actual issues at hand that the board is using the process for barely came up this time around.
It all had to do with the process.
Area D (Cowichan Bay) Director Lori Iannidinardo said a recent community meeting went much the same way.
“We never had a chance to really get to the meat of any issues,” she said of the meeting that about 20 residents attended. “Basically they never got past the communication of the AAP. They are still not happy with the process of an AAP. I think we heard that loud and clear. Even though we explained it, they understood it…” she added.
Area B (Shawnigan Lake) Dir. Sonia Furstenau summed it up:
“I think we are getting a really clear message from the people in the Cowichan Valley that they are not comfortable with this process. I think for us the real challenge right now is to say okay, we are getting pretty consistent feedback from the population that they do not like AAPs. We can put the best initiative in the world out there and people are going to be angry about the AAP. It really is up to us now to figure it out.”
After their discussion, Area F (Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls) Dir. Ian Morrison moved that a report from staff come back to the board with some potential changes to the current system.
“We need to really have some in depth discussion on best practices,” he said. “I would move that staff gather information regarding AAP best practices and present a report in the New Year.”
The committee supported that motion.
Earlier in the meeting the group had debated whether it was wise to hand out as many forms as residents asked for. Directors were on both sides of the issue.
“I think we are being a bit silly about it in that if we really think we are doing the right thing with the AAP then I don’t really think we should have a problem handing out the forms when people ask for them because it’s really a very low cost item and I think it’s engendering more discomfort with the AAP process,” Area E (Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora) Dir. Alison Nicholson noted.
Area H (North Oyster Diamond) Dir. Mary Marcotte agreed the forms needed to be easier to find — despite being online and available at the CVRD’s headquarters.
“I, too, have had my community mention that they’re not getting forms,” she said. “It’s hard enough to get the numbers to actually decide exactly what your community wants or doesn’t want and it’s doubly hard if you have to transfer all over trying to find where the forms are. I know that I did have a couple of complaints on that from my end as well.”
But it’s not about just having forms available cautioned Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone.
“The one danger is, and I’ve seen this, that you’ll get canvassers, somebody who is ingrained against an issue, to go out and start canvassing and really tainting the information, frankly, that goes out to the public and getting them to sign on to these AAP forms under false pretences or not a full understanding,” he said.
Stone said for true democracy, CVRD canvassers would need to be out as well, explaining the other side of the story so that people could make informed decisions.
“I’m not comfortable with limits either but I think that when we’re concerned with democratic process and all that stuff, it’s very clear that when somebody wants 300 forms they are out there canvassing against something and they aren’t likely, or any way bound to deliver an honest assessment of what’s being asked for.”
The AAP process is old hat for longtime Area G (Saltair/Gulf Islands) Dir Mel Dorey. He said it would at least take away the “Big Brother” aspect to print as many forms as the people want.
“I think the CVRD, if they have to print out 20,000 forms if people request them, that will certainly take away that one Big Brother thing that the CVRD conveys. If they want more forms, give them more forms and see what happens,” he said.
Area C (Cobble Hill) Dir. Matteus Clement suggested that what the CVRD currently does for outreach is simply not enough — enough legally, yes, but not for public satisfaction.
“We’ve got to understand that what is under the Local Government Act and the Community Charter and what’s set out for the newspapers is the bare minimum so the question is do we want to do the bare minimum as local government, and that’s common practice, or do we want best practice?”
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent agreed better policy is required — one that looks as best practices and that addresses the concerns of the public adequately.
“A very, very old sage politician years ago said you cannot ask people to decide on something they don’t know is a problem to begin with and we are not very good at communicating the issues that are a problem. What are we trying to solve and if they don’t know what we are trying to solve, it’s pretty hard to communicate with them,” Kent said.