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Should local government advisory committee members be paid?

A call for the SCRD to pay accessibility advisory committee members $150 per meeting failed but one for research on a new advisory committee's compensation policy was supported.

When the regional accessibility advisory committee convenes its first meeting, some will be paid for their time and others will not. The call for community volunteers for this body closed Sept. 8 and committee appointments are to be considered shortly.

A proposal that the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) provide a $150 per meeting stipend to those serving on that committee who are not being compensated by the group they represent was voted down on Sept. 14.

The new group’s terms of reference state it is to have five to 11 voting members, who are to develop a plan to identify, remove, and prevent barriers for public interaction with local government. Those appointed are to reflect “the diversity of persons in British Columbia." At least half are to be persons with disabilities or representatives of groups that provide support to that population sector. A minimum of one member is to be an Indigenous person. Liaisons from the Sunshine Coast Regional District board, as well as Sechelt and Gibsons councils, along with a minimum of four local government staff to support the committee are to be appointed.

Issues of equity

While those from local government and potentially those representing support groups receive compensation for their duties, which will now include work on this initiative, others on the committee will not. SCRD Area E director Donna McMahon pointed out that creates inequity and exacerbates accessibility issues. She brought the motion forward and noted that the cities of Toronto and Vancouver are paying members of some advisory committees.

“I support the spirit but it’s hard to support the specifics at this time," was committee chair and Sechelt director Alton Toth's comment. The motion failed, with only McMahon and Area B director Justine Gabias voting in favour.

Gibsons director Silas White said he had concerns with “following very large municipalities with different financial realities. We can’t afford to do something like this."

Accessibility Plan  'a total download'

White also called the accessibility plan requirement, which the province created through the passage of the Accessible British Columbia Act in 2021 “a total download on local government." Because of that, White said he was “not keen on jumping on more costs." In expressing his “frustrations” he said he was hopeful that a Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention (Sept. 18-22) resolution that includes an ask for the province to provide funding for local governments to do this work will be supported.

New compensation policy recommended

A recommendation that staff research a new compensation policy for advisory committees that meet during business hours was supported. It is slated to be voted on at the Sept. 28 board meeting. That work, if approved, is to focus on making advisory committees “more diverse, inclusive and representative of the residents of the Sunshine Coast."

White noted that the board’s yet-to-be-endorsed strategic plan contains a section on community interaction and recognizing committees. He said he wanted to wait for that work to be completed and voted in opposition to the recommendation.

Sechelt area director Darren Inkster said he supported using alternatives to paying advisory committee members, suggesting their efforts and those of other committee volunteer be recognized through events. McMahon’s response was that while events are positives they don’t defray the real costs, such as time away from paid employment, travel and child care that community members serving on advisory committees often face and that discourages some from putting their names forward for those roles.

“Offering tea to people working three jobs at minimum wage doesn’t cut the mustard,” she said.