A motion that could have led to restrictions on some delegations speaking to council at North Cowichan’s council meetings was defeated in yet another tight 4-3 vote.
Coun. Christopher Justice made the motion to direct staff to develop a policy for council to consider that would restrict delegations from addressing council on issues relating to active land-use applications that require a public hearing.
He said other jurisdictions on Vancouver Island, including the Cowichan Valley Regional District, and the Lower Mainland have similar restrictions.
“It seems to me and some other council members that it’s quite problematic that immediately before a recent land-use workshop, council received a presentation from a particular interest group to the exclusion of other perspectives,” Justice said at the council meeting on Oct. 7.
“Our corporate officer told me that staff don’t have the policy tools available to say no to a delegation or schedule it at an appropriate time, so I thought this needed a discussion.”
Justice said there will be those who misunderstand his motion because they think it will prevent people from having their say on land-use issues, but the exact opposite could happen if the motion succeeded.
“The idea here is to equalize the playing field and keep the voices of everyday citizens from being overwhelmed,” he said.
“[Delegations] should come to us at the public-hearing stage where everyone can make arguments on a level playing field.”
But Coun. Tek Manhas said when the council was first elected, its members promised there would be openness, transparency and engagement in all council proceedings.
“This is against all of those things,” he said.
“Actually, having a delegation speak to us equalizes and brings everyone onto a level playing field rather than having them talk to us one-on-one. This would be a backward move.”
Count. Kate Marsh noted that many other jurisdictions, including the CVRD, have similar restrictions on delegations.
“I think it would be backward of us if we didn’t have staff explore this sort of thing,” she said.
Mayor Al Siebring disagreed, stating that he has concerns about transparency if the motion moved forward.
“If folks can’t come to us as a delegation, then we get into situations where people would want to buy the mayor lunch and get together one-on-one with individual councillors,” he said.
“Then there would be no public transparency in terms of what kind of discussions are taking place as part of that lobbying process. Right now, those things are minimized because people can come to council.”
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie said she understands the intent of the motion to have everyone on the same page in regards to providing information at a public hearing.
“But what’s missing for me is I wish I heard more from people on their projects before it got to the public hearing stage, especially those that become contentious, so we can have a broader conversation with the proponents and hear from the community as we do,” she said.
“Part of our job is to listen to people, whether we agree with them or not.”
The motion failed, with Siebring, Manhas, Sawrie and Coun. Debra Toporowski voting against it.