Archive for the 'local government' Category

Pondering local government on Texada

By Tom Read

BC's Local Government Act, the Regional District Tool Kit (available at the Texada Library) and "A Guide to Regional District Board Delegation to Committees and Commissions" are some of the information sources about Local Community Commissions in BC.

Last night at the Texada Island Chamber of Commerce dinner meeting we heard a presentation on the possibility of a Local Community Commission (LCC) for Texada. The speakers were Dave Murphy, now in his fourth term representing our island on the Powell River Regional District (PRRD) Board of Directors, and Frances Ladret, the District Administrator.  More in a moment on what they had to say, how some people reacted to it, and what might happen next. Warning: this is a longer-than-usual post; please bear with me.

First, it’s important to note that the Chamber is a private, non-profit organization that serves mainly as an informal forum for Texadans to discuss “what’s happening” on the island. Indeed, at last night’s meeting we also heard local farmer Dave Opko give a very informative talk about recent changes to Provincial livestock farm-gate sales regulations. Those changes favour places like our island, but that’s another story.

The Chamber sometimes sponsors public meetings open to all, such as a candidates forum at election time. But its regular meetings are held at the Texada Legion and are limited to members and guests only, by advance reservation. Seating space is limited to about 50 people for such dinner meetings. In the interest of full disclosure, I must add that I’ve been a director of the Chamber since 2002, and the just-elected president of the Chamber happens to be Linda Bruhn, my wife. Last night’s meeting was her first in that role.

Back to the LCC presentation. The idea of a Local Community Commission for Texada piqued quite a lot of interest, especially from those already involved in local government activities of one sort or another. We had a full house, including several trustees from Texada’s two Improvement Districts, along with past and present members of various committees, commissions and community organizations. Many people in the room wear multiple hats, serving on various community groups and as businesspeople.

Dave Murphy introduced the topic by saying that he wasn’t necessarily for or against an LCC, but he wanted us to be aware of the possibility of such an entity, and he wanted to get an informal idea from our group whether we would be interested in learning more about it through a public consultation process. Then Frances took to the podium and gave a succinct explanation of the LCC concept, how others have used it, and why Texada might want to consider adopting it. I don’t have the space to go through the whole presentation here, but I do want to cover a few highlights, below.

So what is an LCC, and why would Texada be a possible candidate for one? Under section 838 of the BC Local Government Act, Regional District Boards can delegate some of their authority for operating services to an LCC whose members are elected from within a remote electoral area, such as Texada Island. Although it can administer day-to-day operation of local services and can advise the Board on budgets and policies for those services, an LCC can’t pass bylaws or enter into contracts. But, as Frances mentioned, the Board would normally approve the LCC’s budget and policy recommendations, provided there was no additional cost or liability incurred by residents of other electoral areas or by the Board itself.

Local Community Commissions were designed for geographically well-defined remote areas with several local services. Texada happens to support several island-only services administered by Regional District staff who live in Powell River. There’s an economic cost to having our local government administered by people who don’t live on the island. Because of travel time, an administrator may spend five or six hours on a Texada task that would have taken less than half that time on the mainland. And Texadans who want to provide input on policy or meet with administrators have to travel to Powell River to have a meaningful voice in local government.

Frances mentioned that Texada has more services than any other electoral area in the PRRD, but there’s no coordinating body on the island to see that our services are delivered efficiently. Instead, each one acts independently of the others. Take building management, for example: our Recreation Commission maintains certain buildings, our Airport Committee looks after other buildings at the airport, and the Health Services Society advises the PRRD on the building that houses our Health Centre. There’s no island-wide venue for setting priorities or taking advantage of joint operating efficiencies.

About 80% of Texada’s residents also receive services from our island’s two Improvement Districts, one in Van Anda and the other in Gillies Bay. These existing layers of bureaucracy — PRRD and Improvement Districts — don’t coordinate much, either. According to Frances, there might be greater operating efficiency and ability to obtain grant funds by changing the Improvement Districts into Service Areas administered on Texada through an elected LCC. That might eliminate a layer of bureaucracy while still keeping local control of those services in each of the two villages.

There’s a lot more to the story, but the above highlights are enough to indicate that an LCC would represent a significant change for Texada. Not surprisingly, this prospect alarmed a number of audience members.  Objections included the following:

— Since it couldn’t pass bylaws or enter into contracts, an LCC would be powerless, so why do it?

— An LCC would be just another layer of bureaucracy with additional costs, which we don’t need.

— The only reason to even look at this would be to get funding for fixing our water systems, and there’s no guarantee of that.

— Everything is fine with our Regional District services today, so why bother?

There are also compelling arguments supporting the LCC option. Now that the topic has surfaced, I hope Texadans will do some research and learning on their own, not just relying on information brought to them by PRRD. Frances provided a background handout, and a little more delving on the Internet readily yields much more detail about possibilities and options for local influence on a regional district.

The next step, I believe, is for Director Murphy to call a public meeting to present the LCC concept to a wider audience. That meeting could address the objections that surfaced at the Chamber last night, and could also help us decide, as a community, whether to further pursue the LCC concept. We owe ourselves a more thorough and well-informed discussion about this possibility — or even other options.

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More parks for Texada like shipping coals to Newcastle

By Tom Read

About one hundred years ago a large hotel stood on this bluff overlooking Texada's harbour at Marble Bay. Some of the ruins are still visible among the trees and along the shoreline at low tide. Today this spot is a local park administered by the Powell River Regional District.

To the Directors

of the Powell River Regional District:

I am a full-time Texada Island resident and business owner who has lived on the island for the last 10 years. My comments relate to the proposed Regional District Parks and Greenspace Plan in relation to Texada.

Texada has ample existing parks and publicly accessible recreation areas, along with relatively low development pressure. Even a cursory reading of Texada’s Official Community Plan (OCP) confirms that approximately 75% of Texada’s 100,000+ acres are Crown land, and many lakes and trails contained therein are freely available for public recreational use. In addition, Texada already has a host of designated parks and recreation areas, including Shelter Point Park with its two campgrounds and nature trail, Van Anda Cove, Erikson’s Beach, Marble Bay Bluffs, two large provincial parks totaling hundreds of acres at the south end of Texada, Shingle Beach and Bob’s Lake forestry campgrounds, the Emily Lake trail, and the walking trail and access points all around Gillies Bay. We have oodles of acres of designated parks and recreation areas already, considering our small population of 1,100 residents.

So I was surprised that our electoral area director would include Texada in the proposed Parks and Greenspace Plan (PGP). Also, as a practicing licensed realtor serving Texada Island, I can confirm that there isn’t much happening in private land development here. So why is the Powell River Regional District (PRRD) pushing a PGP on our island?

Could it be that the mainland electoral areas and PPRD administrative staff feel they need a PGP, and they want Texadans to help pay for the consultants? If so, then I feel this is a misuse of Texadans’ tax dollars, because our island clearly doesn’t need more parks or “greenspace.”

I put that word “greenspace” in quotes because it is an urban planning term that’s inappropriate for rural Texada Island. Cities need “greenspace” among their large swaths of concrete and blacktop; we don’t. Unlike a crowded urban area that has destroyed almost all of the natural flora and fauna in its vicinity, Texada retains much of its natural inheritance.

Texada’s OCP already contains several potential park and recreation sites should our community someday need them. These areas were carefully selected by Texadans only five years ago both for their natural beauty and to avoid conflict with potential resource development. Our OCP also designates certain lands for “Resource” and “Rural Low Density” uses, which explicitly support environmentally and socially responsible mining, forestry and other industrial activities. It appears to me that the PGP, a mainland- and consultant-driven process, is both duplicating and undermining our OCP by trying to add more parks and “greenspace” on Texada at the likely expense of our Resource and Rural Low Density lands. This could ultimately discourage local industrial investment, endanger local businesses and choke off the well-paid industrial jobs that support Texada’s generous community and public services.

Finally, parks cost money. Given current economic conditions it should be obvious that many of us would prefer not to have our taxes increased just now to buy and operate yet more Texada Island parks.

For the above reasons, I object to including Texada in the PGP process in the first place. But since that ship has sailed, I strongly oppose any PGP recommendations for further parks or “greenspace” on Texada Island.

Sincerely,

Tom Read

Citizenship practice

By Tom Read

The Powell River Regional District lives in a former residence in the Townsite part of Powell River. The residence may date from 1911, but the PRRD started in the late 1960s. Texada Island is known as "Electoral Area D" of the regional district.

It is not uncommon for Texadans to consider themselves citizens of Texada Island. If you care enough about a place to identify yourself as a citizen, not merely a “resident,” then it follows that you would find it worthwhile to keep yourself informed about public policies affecting your home. So it is with me.

A routine part of my citizenship practice is to keep an informed eye on government. All levels of government affect our lives here on Texada, but I especially like to follow the activities of our local government, the Powell River Regional District (PRRD).  Why? Because local government touches our community directly, every day, and it seems more accountable to citizens than the “senior” levels of government (provincial and federal).  Here are some examples of PRRD agenda items:

— Proposed tax rates for Texada property owners for next year, and the cost of our local government;

— Proposed new services and the tax increases and fees expected to fund them;

— How often the PRRD Directors meet in camera (behind closed doors) and for what purposes;

— Who is recommended (and ultimately given) contracts, at what cost, to do tree work, gardening, carpentry, grass-cutting, facilities maintenance, and various types of professional consulting regarding Texada;

— How many campers stayed at Shelter Point Park last year, compared to previous years;

— Proposed land subdivisions;

— Proposed new regulations, including zoning bylaws, development permits, and burning restrictions;

— Proposed water licenses;

— Proposed industrial developments, including aquaculture, mining, power generation facilities, and communication towers;

— Who gets appointed to the local and regional committees that shape public policy on Texada;

— This year’s cost of insuring, heating, lighting and administering Texada’s public buildings;

— Who wants a local road permanently closed to vehicle traffic, and why;

— Which community groups are getting grants from the PRRD;

and the list goes on and on….

The word “proposed” occurs frequently, doesn’t it? That’s because such topics show up as agenda items for PRRD committee meetings before they’re voted on at an actual PRRD Directors meeting. There’s a window of opportunity, sometimes only a day, other times stretching into weeks, months or even years, when citizens will first learn about an issue, yet still have time to provide input to the directors before they vote on it.

Since most of the real work of governance takes place in committee meetings, it’s critical for citizens to get a look at committee agendas before the committee members meet to thrash out their “recommendations” to the formal Board of Directors. Why the quotes? Because by the time a committee makes specific recommendations, that’s quite often word-for-word (and dollar-for-dollar) what the directors will eventually approve as official policy.

Holding government accountable isn’t a particularly sexy topic, so I congratulate you if you’ve stayed with me this far. Now we come to the heart of the matter: the do-it-yourself citizen’s guide to keeping track of our local public servants. Here’s how to do it online:  go to the PRRD website home page, click on Meetings, then click on Agendas, then open and read each .pdf agenda package (warning: these are typically large files, requiring a high-speed internet connection). Beware also that the agenda package for a given committee is usually posted about 24 hours before the meeting, so if something important shows up, you may have to act fast to be heard in a meaningful way.

Each agenda package usually begins with Minutes from the previous meeting, so if you want to read about new stuff, scroll down and pick out anything that mentions “Texada” or that might affect Texada Island. By doing this each month, I feel that I’m much better informed as a citizen, and I am even able to occasionally give meaningful input before decisions that affect me are made.

A politician listens to Texadans’ concerns

By Tom Read

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You’ve heard of centralized vs. decentralized government? Well, perhaps it’s time to consider “inverted” government! In this governance model, the grass roots (that’s us) resides on top, using direct local democracy to make most of the decisions that affect our lives, while the provincial legislature and its bureaucrats are shrunk and limited in scope to a few concerns best shared across a wider geographic area. This is one possible context for a future Commonwealth of Texada Island.*

Nicolas Simons, provincial Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the Sunshine Coast, including Texada Island, toured our island today, meeting with various groups of locals to hear what’s on their minds. I attended one such listening session, and here’s my paraphrasing of what some islanders had to say, in no particular order:

  • Why did the Ministry of Forests (MoF) spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on fixing up the road to Cook Bay, which very few local people use, especially when MoF neglects maintenance on roads that local residents depend on every day?
  • Our island’s local improvement districts are being deliberately prevented from receiving matching grants for upgrading our water systems. The province seems to feel that regional districts will take over our improvement districts, but the RD isn’t interested unless we first spend lots of money upgrading our water systems. That’s a classic “catch-22,” and it’s extremely frustrating!
  • Texada’s local businesses could greatly benefit from a direct ferry run between Blubber Bay and Little River (on Vancouver Island near Courtenay/Comox). Of course, that might also result in losing our locally-based ferry crew, so it’s a trade-off that would need to be considered very carefully.
  • Much opposition exists to “jackboot legislation” by the provincial government, which is trying to take away our civil right to freedom of speech by prohibiting placement of certain signs on private property.
  • Why weren’t we consulted about the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) before it became law? Our cost of living is high enough already!
  • The provincial meat regulations that make it illegal for me to sell a chicken to my neighbor need to be changed so that “farm gate” meat sales are specifically condoned so long as basic common-sense standards are met. In trying to apply large-scale meat processing laws to all areas, the provincial government is forcing people in small rural communities to stop selling and buying locally produced meat or to do so illegally.
  • Why is it that if I get my water from a well, and then add a second structure on my property that also gets water from that same well, I’m now considered by the provincial government to be a formal “community water system” that must comply with the same regulations as would apply to water systems that serve hundreds of people?
  • We’ve seen a steady loss of local jobs in forestry and mining over the last few years, so we’d like to know what’s the hold-up on provincial approval of Lehigh’s proposed new quarry for Davie Bay?
  • We supposedly live in a democracy, but our system of government looks a lot more like a “partyocracy,” where decisions are made solely by a few members of the cabinet of whatever party happens to be in power. Might it not work better to see this reversed, so that the power to make decisions is strongest at the local level, and weakest at the provincial and federal levels. That would be real democracy.

Nicolas and his assistant, Maggie Hathaway, listened and both took notes. He says that he’ll get back to us with some answers. He also mentioned that he’s in the process of setting up a constituency newsletter/website/blog.  Nicolas’ party is not in power, but he keeps trying to keep the pressure on those who do make the decisions. No wonder so many of us feel distant from our “senior levels of government” (i.e. provincial and federal). As always, however, I’m sure that Texadans will find a way to carry on, regardless of what the politicos in Victoria decide for us.

* Commonwealth of Texada Island.

Local, local government

By Tom Read

Public meetings can be visually dull, so instead here’s a photo I took years ago showing the industrial scene at Blubber Bay, which in this case can serve as a rather loose, rocky (ahem!) analogy for how efficiently the PRRD directors ran through their agenda last night at Gillies Bay. Besides, I forgot to bring my camera to the meeting.

Public meetings can be visually dull, so instead here’s a photo I took years ago showing the industrial scene at Blubber Bay, which in this case can serve as a rather loose, rocky (ahem!) analogy for how efficiently the PRRD directors ran through their agenda last night at Gillies Bay. Besides, I forgot to bring my camera to the meeting.

Not a typo, the title of this piece means that Texada Island’s main local government body, the Powell River Regional District Board of Directors, actually convened in all its glory on Texada yesterday for its monthly Directors’ meeting. This made it a physically local, local government for the first time in anyone’s memory, according to a few longtime Texadans I spoke to. Usually, the directors gather in Powell River, not especially accessible for Texadans who want to keep an eye on the local politicians.

The Texada local government tour came about mainly through efforts of our own Electoral Area Director, Dave Murphy. Dave got to show off our island’s impressive range of public and community facilities to his political colleagues, driving everyone around in the Texada Island Inn’s 13-passenger van. The assembled dignitaries then dined at the Tree Frog Bistro.  And then everyone got down to business at the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay.

The meeting started a few minutes after 7:00 pm, with probably around 80 to 90 people in the audience. That’s an extraordinary level of attendance for a local government meeting on an island summer evening, in my experience. Why so much interest? Answer: most likely, Lehigh’s proposed South Texada Quarry at Davie Bay, virtually the only controversial item on the night’s agenda. That item drew speakers pro and con for about 20 minutes, while the directors silently listened.

No fireworks erupted, no discussion ensued, no decision occurred. That’s set for next month in Powell River, of course (fireworks optional). No, in Gillies Bay last night the meeting rather lacked entertainment value after each side had had its say, because Chairman Colin Palmer (representing Electoral Area C, “south of town”) closed the meeting to further public comment so the Board could get on with its business. Indeed, from that point on, the directors moved swiftly through their agenda like limestone dropping from a conveyor onto a barge.

Thus, much of the audience departed shortly after public comments ended. It was, after all, a pleasant summer evening.

But those of us who stayed got to applaud as several distinguished islanders received much-deserved public recognition for their decades of volunteer efforts. We witnessed the founding of the Texada Island Heritage Commission, a new public service on our island that emerged through the efforts of the Texada Heritage Society. Plus, we got a subtle lesson in local government: all the real work happens in committees; the monthly directors’ meeting merely ratifies decisions made earlier in the process. The whole thing lasted only about an hour and twenty minutes.

Finally, the directors, their two staffers and a lone newspaper reporter all adjourned to the Texada Island Inn’s pub in Van Anda for a bit of libation and conversation before heading back to Powell River, the true seat of Texada’s not-so-local, local government.


Post facto

May 2018
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