One of the big tests of a municipal council is its ability to face the demands of a large, organized group that’s bound in a common cause – and after listening to many valid concerns, to ultimately say no.
Though they may have lost some of their political lustre in the process, the councils in both Gibsons and Sechelt passed the test this week in a pair of extremely difficult decisions.
Tuesday night in Gibsons, council voted 4-1 to proceed with the supportive housing project on the old RCMP property on School Road. The proposal has been highly divisive and the public has raised legitimate issues – the flawed top-down site-selection process, the proximity to Gibsons Elementary School, the opposition of the majority of homeowners in the immediate neighbourhood.
But council went ahead despite all this in order to serve what they saw as the greater public good. The risks of losing the federal land, the provincial funding and the window of opportunity were just too high given the severity of the need.
The next night in Sechelt, council had to wrestle with a motion on the Davis Bay wharf by the local community association. Driven by concerns over illegal harvesting and escalating conflicts with crabbers and fishermen, residents are urging council to impose a ban on those activities.
Mayor Darnelda Siegers brought clarity to the issue by explaining that the province owns the wharf and the district simply leases and maintains it; that it’s always been designated as a working pier for fishing and mooring boats (not recreational use); and that grant funding for improvements in 2014 was largely allocated on that basis. Even before the mayor all but shot the idea down, some councillors had signalled their unwillingness to consider supporting a ban, at least at this time. It would be like going from “zero to 60,” Coun. Brenda Rowe said.
In the end, there was no talk of asking the province to change permitted uses. Instead, council agreed to set up a site visit with the community association president and look at options and incremental solutions that will make the popular wharf available to everyone.
These were not easy decisions. Each council had one member strongly backing the residents’ position. It would have no doubt been safer politically to capitulate. Focused leadership from the mayors, however, and a rational approach by the majority of councillors won the day.
After only a year in office, both councils have demonstrated maturity and toughness – rare qualities at any level of government.