Having the Municipality of North Cowichan use local companies for contract work if it’s economically feasible to do so is the top preferred “action” from a public engagement survey administered by the local government this fall.
More than 72.5 per cent of the 116 participants who took the survey considered the issue the most important priority action of council’s four-year strategic plan, developed last year after the municipal election.
More than 71 per cent of the survey’s participants indicated they favour creating opportunities for new forms of housing in North Cowichan, while 70.8 per cent said they support the health of local beaches, and are willing to work with other levels of government to maintain their health.
On the other end of the spectrum, just 16.8 per cent favoured improved pedestrian safety on Boys Road, 20.4 per cent consider it important to consider the merits of implementing an economic development committee, and 23.4 per cent were in favour of developing a comprehensive climate change risk and vulnerability assessment.
When council prepared its strategic plan following its inauguration after last fall’s municipal election, public input on the plan was not sought on the basis that council members were very recently elected and, through their respective campaigns, had a clear sense of what their constituents sought from them with respect to the vision for the community and the projects to be taken that would realize that vision.
That decision was made with the understanding that public input would eventually be sought in preparation for business planning and budgeting for 2020.
Three meetings were held in October in various parts of the municipality in which information was provided and survey stations set up to determine what North Cowichan should budget for in 2020.
The survey was also available online on the city’s website.
But Ted Swabey, North Cowichan’s CAO, cautioned in a staff report that while more than 100 people participated in the survey, the low number of responses render the results not statistically significant, or representative of all North Cowichan residents and not a solid basis on which to make inferences about what residents want.
“Further, not all participants answered every question on the survey which further reduces the quality of the data gathered,” Swabey said.
“Therefore, any inference drawn from the responses received are merely notional and reflect only the smallest fraction of the residents’ preferences, although it should be noted that this feedback is likely from some of our most engaged residents, and this statistical commentary is not meant to devalue their input.”
At the council meeting on Dec. 18, Mayor Al Siebring wondered why there was not more participation in the survey.
“We’ve been banging the drums over several meetings telling people that council needs to hear from them,” he said.
“How do we do this differently?”
Swabey pointed out that the City of Port Coquitlam asks survey-type questions of its citizens when they send out tax notices every year.
“We’re going to have to come up with some proposals on how to do things differently here,” he said.
Swabey said that, due to the low participation rate on the survey, staff are not recommending that council amend its strategic plan or adjust prioritizing strategic projects based on the survey’s feedback.
“With that said, of the notional information available, there appears to be some alignment between our engaged responders’ assessment of what they deem ‘very important’ and ‘important’, and what council has prioritized and not prioritized for action over the life of the four-year strategic plan,” he said.