September 3 GPC Summary & Observations

I expected that it would be a short meeting this morning, and I was correct (video here) but what still managed to surprise me was how Council spent their time during this committee meeting. As usual, the meeting started (agenda here) with Mayor Helps presenting her suggestions for the consent agenda (items to be passed but not discussed) and Councillor Isitt pulling most of them off.

Which is good because, why put something on the agenda if it isn’t meant to be discussed? Regarding the consent agenda and undiscussed acceptance of costs for sending councillors to UBCM, I couldn’t help noticing how different the costs are for each member of city council  attending this event(largely because of differences mostly in travel & accommodation). For instance if we look at the two requests approved today:

Ben Isitt = $1911.73 (form here)

Jeremy Loveday = $2365.86 (form here)

And the 3 requests approved last GPC (agenda here)

Mayor Helps = $1971.25 (form here)

Marianne Alto = $1104.25 (form here)

Chris Coleman = $2619.00 (form here)

New Service – Parking Ambassador Program Update

Helps had proposed that this short report go on the consent agenda but Isitt pulled it off because he wanted to make sure, that current employees were being accommodated. As noted in this TC article quote from the Commissionaire rep for current parking enforcement workers, they’re excited about the new in-house city service because it’ll mean that their workers will make more money working directly for the city than as private contractors.

May 2015 City News Release is here for more info.

One additional thing I had been wondering about, was where is the FOI release of the original business case for moving the service in house? I seem to remember that something like this happened. Turns out you can find these from the City’s Documents section but not their FOI section like one would expect. Here are the two reports:

March 26 Closed GPC Report

April 9 Closed GPC Report

So we’ll have to see how this unfolds.

Pandora 900 Block Pilot Boulevard Garden Program

This was the first public time the city’s new Parks and Recreation director came to the GPC table. Fun fact about him, is that I know a bunch of people in the city are unhappy for how he comes from a Recreation but  not a parks background. I also found it interesting this morning how Mr. Soulliere introduced and praised a city staffer by the name of Alia Johnson, who has apparently been at the city for a year now and specializes in community gardens etc.

Would have been nice to have had her at the GPC table back when Council (lead by Loveday) came up with the idea of $36,000 for communities groups for garden coordinators because, judging by the trouble my community association has had with figuring out the best way to use this money, I’m sure the dedicated staffer may have had some things to say back in the Spring when the relative value of these monies was first being brainstormed by Council.

Anyhow, the project on hand today (staff report here) is a joint project with Our Place,  Lifecyles and the Greater Victoria Placemaking Group and it is all the result of efforts by Mayor Helps and her “informal” Pandora Taskforce who got together in response to issues earlier this year on the Pandora Block (something about carts). Committee was being asked to consider granting a 1 year license of occupation to the gardeners for this site (proposal layout here). Only real questioning on the issue this morning, was from Isitt who wanted to make sure that the right of homeless folks to congregate wasn’t being impacted by these new gardens.

Helps seemed to take some offence to this, and made clear to emphasize in her response that “those homeless people you talk about” have been involved in this project since the start.

Here is the powerpoint presentation that was shown.

Relocation of Michigan Street Community Garden

Same staff stayed at the table for this item, which is the summary of City and community efforts to relocate a longstanding James Bay community garden behind the legislature that was displaced by the Capital Park development (staff report here). Committee were being asked to authorize the proposal and a 3 year License of occupation for a new garden to be located on edge of MacDonald Park  along Niagara Street. Here is the garden proposal from LifeCycles who will also be operating this site, and here is the proposed garden design. And if you check out correspondence from the James Bay Neighbourhood Association, you’ll find some expectations for how the new site will be used.

Only real questions of note from this morning, were from Isitt and he simply wondered why two separate approval processes had to be undergone for two James Bay Gardens, namely this one and one apparently recently approved for Montreal Street. He also wanted to see the city to do more to standardize their garden approval process as well as make it easier for community gardeners to secure insurance and what not. Which makes sense. Perhaps this is something the dedicated community garden focused city staffer can figure out. More info on city community gardens available here.

Here is the powerpoint that was shown this morning.

Socially Responsible Investments and Pension Funds

Today was the latest in city efforts to become more socially responsible in their investments without necessarily understanding what this all means. As noted in the staff report, because the City deals in accordance with the Municipal Finance Authority who was created by the province to ensure that municipalities got a better financial deal, options for socially responsible investments are limited. The whole thing was intriguing to observe.

The most interesting part though, was trying to reconcile the staff report with the motion recently passed by Council (with Young opposed) at the July 23rd Council meeting (see pages 11-12 in minutes) which was:

  1. Request that the Mayor write to the Premier of British Columbia and the Minister of Finance, requesting that the provincial government introduce amendments to the Municipal Finance Authority Act to provide local governments with the autonomy to pursue socially responsible investments and climate action in financial decision-making;
  2. Request a report from each of the Municipal Pension Plan and the Municipal Finance Authority detailing the percentage and dollar amount of investments currently held in fossil fuel-related companies or investment products, and options for divesting those assets over the next five, ten and fifteen years;
  3. Requests that the Mayor write to the Board of Directors of the Municipal Finance Authority and the BC Investment Management Corporation requesting that these organizations divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewable sources of energy, employment and income, in order to give effect to the climate action objectives of the Province of British Columbia and local governments including the City of Victoria.

As per the Strategic Plan Implementation Plan attached as Appendix A, that Council:

  1. Refer this item to the next Strategic Plan Quarterly Update on August 20, 2015 and at that time request a report from staff on the implications of adding this Action Item to the strategic plan:
  2. Report on the current distribution of the City of Victoria’s investment portfolio and pension funds, and consistency with objective 5 of the Investment Policy (Socially Responsible Investing), and in particular, to report on the percentage and dollar amount of investments currently held in fossil fuel-related companies, and provide advice on options for increasing Socially Responsible Investing.

Of note is that Mayor Helps remarked how the ironic it was that staff had just gone ahead and done the report required by part two of the strategic plan portion of the motion above (underlined). What I found ironic, was how time was spent this morning with Council crafting a whole new series of committee motions that seemed to read a fair bit like the unaddressed motions above with the inclusion of a new suggestion from Helps to explore feasibility of a new City specific carbon tax of sorts (e.g., a requirement that profits from fossil fuel based investments be put in a green friendly fund instead.)

Coleman, bless his soul, then managed to cap the whole thing off by suggesting that he will be brining a motion forward to request that Council participate in a series of informational workshops to educate them on the various responsibilities, rights and reasons for assorted financial management and other municipally integrated groups such as the MFA. It was the most useful thing I’ve seen him do in Council over the past 8 months. Seriously.

Lessons Learned 2014 Election

The amount of time that this report and issue took up at the GPC table this morning (+1hour) really truly confounded me. Where of course it is totally valid for them to reflect on issues with the November 2014 election, the timing today just seemed odd to me. What then irked me the most was the free flowing discussion that followed on 3 main questions that weren’t listed anywhere in the report. These included:

  1. How can the city improve voter engagement?
  2. How can the city improve voting process?
  3. How can province improve municipal election process?

A tweet that best summarized my response to this whole thing:

Engagementworkshop

Motions that ended up being passed this morning, included staff recommendations as well as a decision to lobby the province to conduct new citizen enumeration efforts (go door to door to track down voters) because Isitt’s effort to have the city do this enumeration in advance of the next election was unsuccessful.

Response to Oil Spill Preparedness

This is a letter from BC Environment Minister Mary Polack and Helps had attempted to have it go through on the Consent Agenda but Isitt pulled it off so that he could make a statement about how the recent cars in the Gorge situation has emphasized the interagency procedural difficulties of responding to water based leakages/spills in federal waters (The Gorge is federal right?).

Where the response in the letter, is hey we already looked at this and in response to the English Bay leak we’ve got the same folks looking at it again (see BC Govt webpage), Helps’ response to Isitt this morning was – don’t worry we’ll be talking about it at UBCM.

To which I say, maybe what Isitt was going for in advance of this, was some clarity on what the situation actually is so that the City’s contribution to the UBCM debate could be better informed. I personally found it amusing in the CTV news coverage of the initial spill from the other day, how they closed with a vague comment on how clean up efforts are hampered by a complex chain of accountability. And yet when Isitt tried to probe such things this morning, he got shut down.

On that note, I was also amused by the contrast shown in the CTV coverage of how quick Helps and Loveday are to jump on opposition to fossil fuel related activities elsehwhere (divestment etc) but when it comes to things like a spill of car parts in the Gorge, their response was pretty much “meh its going happen”.

City of Hamilton & Canada Post

Lead by Isitt the committee decided to provide a $2,500 Grant in Aid (even though I don’t think the city does though anymore) to the City of Hamilton (as per a request) to support their Appeal in Ontario Court to a successful challenge from Canada Post to their new Bylaw to regulate placement of Equipment on roads. Or did he?

Things got procedurally messy when Young shook himself half awake to point out to Helps that the original motion for funding from Isitt was incorrect in how Isitt had phrased it to “support a fight against end of door to door” when the Hamilton ask was for “support to regulate own roadways”. He failed to follow through what should have been a point of order (that Helps should have seen) and things were left up to Madoff who was actually able to rectify the situation by properly tying funding  back to Hamilton’s actual ask.

Lucas also made sure to declare this funding a one time payment.

Closed Business

After two and a bit hours the meeting finally ended and they headed in camera to  get the latest update on the bridge, talk about employee relations, intergovernmental relations and to also discuss a possible new land purchase or or maybe lease for existing land. You never know.  That said, the City is actually far more transparent about their in-camera business than other local municipalities who don’t seem to disclose much at all. Whether that is because they are less likely to meet in-camera then the city, I haven’t done such research yet.

So What Do You Think?

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