There were some tense exchanges as North Cowichan’s council once again questioned the timelines of the ongoing official community plan process at its meeting on May 5.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of a number of other factors, have led the municipality to decide last month to extend the timelines of the completion of its ongoing review of the OCP to Feb., 2022, from its original deadline this spring.
But at the council meeting as staff presented its new proposed schedule to complete the process by the new deadline, it was pointed out that many in the community believe they are still not being provided with enough opportunities to provide input into the process under the schedule’s tight timelines.
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie asked if council needs to reevaluate the timelines.
“Are they realistic based on the expectations that have been set?” she asked.
Rob Conway, North Cowichan’s director of planning and building, agreed that the timelines are tight, with little time to adjust if their were further requests for public engagement.
“We feel that we can meet the deadlines, but there could be consequences to that,” he said.
CAO Ted Swabey said he is also concerned North Cowichan is not providing enough engagement with some of the groups in the municipality in the review process.
“I know that we have been receiving some comments [from the public] that more input is needed,” he said.
“Some members of the OCP citizen’s advisory committee are disgruntled with the process, and at least half of council is also not happy with it. This process is very ambitious and I worry that we may not have buy-in from the community for the final OCP at the end of this.”
Mayor Al Siebring said the elephant in the room is the majority of council has determined that it wants the OCP review process completed by the end of its term next year.
“I said at the last meeting that the last OCP review process stretched over three council terms,” he said.
“This time, COVID-19 and other factors got in the way, and we would likely have been a different place right now if we had not been stalled in this process for the past six to eight months. We might want to question whether our expectations are too high in terms of getting it done now if, at the end of the day, the final product would suffer because of lack of community buy in.”
Coun. Kate Marsh said the deputy CAO Sarah Nixon said staff have the OCP process under control and can meet the tight deadlines.
“I think we’re the problem here and we should trust the people that work for us to get this done,” she said.
“I’ve never seen such an ideologically split council in North Cowichan, and the electorate is doing the same. That’s where leadership comes in and we should vote with our conscience because there’s no way we can get everyone in the community to agree.”
Coun. Tek Manhas said North Cowichan could have a great OCP if everyone works together and not bring their own biases into it.
He said everyone at the table believes in the environment, but council members also have to deal with the economy.
“We need a balanced approach and not choose one over the other, and we have to work together. I think we need more time and we need to engage with more people. We could have a great OCP if we talk to all members of the community.”
Coun. Debra Toporowski said the OCP is not just council’s plan, but the whole community’s, and council must listen to the public and what it wants to see in the plan.
“If we’re facing delays, it’s because we want to include everyone’s voice,” she said.
“We will never get 100 per cent buy-in for the new OCP but it must include everyone, even those who are cranky.”
No decisions were made at the meeting to again extend the timelines for the OCP process.