Saanich Confusion Despite Clear Policy

There are two items that fall under section I of the May 7th Council Agenda – Reports from Members of Council – that worry me. They are both Notices of Motion, which mean they are a request from individual councillors for future action. These notices include:

OPTIONS TO REGULATE SHORT TERM RENTALS IN SAANICH from Councillor Plant. This is essentially a request for a report on regulating AirBnB in Saanich.

POLICY FRAMEWORK FOR ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES AND PROGRAMS from Councillor Brice. Compared to the notice from Plant, this is a slightly more detailed request for the allocation of a specific amount of money ($250,000 from the Council Strategic Initiatives reserve) to fund a unanimously supported decision that was made via Council motion on November 6, 2017.

Where the rationale for Plant’s motion seems clear (unlicensed rental schemes are bad as per the common administrative narrative), I had to do more research on the motion from Brice. My need for more research, is in line with my post from the other day, wherein I argued, that understanding Council actions requires significant insider knowledge. Knowledge, which is not always immediately clear to the public.

Here is the Agenda for the November 6, 2017 Council meeting in question. It included minutes from a Special Committee of the Whole meeting that had been held on October 28, which had been held to discuss the Independent Review of the former Environment Development Permit Area (EDPA). Here was the agenda where the purpose of the meeting is defined as:

Council to receive public input further to the Independent Review of the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) Report from Diamond Head Consulting Ltd. dated June 21, 2017.

You can then look at the minutes from November 6 (pages 9-12) to see the discussion that occurred around the Council table. First, the formal motion from Council to begin rescinding the EPDA was passed (after it was originally crafted at the same October 28 meeting) and this additional motion, as referred to by Susan Brice in her notice of motion, was also passed.

MOVED by Councillor Plant and Seconded by Councillor Haynes: “That staff bring Council a report, with options, as soon as possible on the potential of developing a Saanich program which includes the topics of Climate Adaptation, a Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, and Stewardship Program to serve as a policy framework for other Saanich environmental policies and programs, and a new Environmental Development Permit Area be considered part of this program; and that the Diamond Head report recommendations be considered as a component of this report.”

So what do we have up for discussion on Monday? We have requests from Councillors Plant and Brice that Saanich Council commit to two significant initiatives. One request implies the need for a new business licensing scheme (see Saanich Business Licensing requirements here) and one request speaks to the possible creation of a  whole new environmental program of undefined proportions.

This worries me.

It worries me because these two large requests for new action, are literally on the same agenda that Council is adopting their 2018-2022 Financial Plan (see item F3). This is to say, that the time for identifying two new major initiatives is prior to the adoption of a Financial Plan, as noted in this schedule:

June – August = Departmental Work Plans
August = Council adopts Budget Guidelines
August – October = Departmental Financial Plans
October – December = Draft Financial Plan is prepared
January = Senior Management Review
February – April = Public Budget Meetings
May = Final Financial Plan and bylaws adopted

If you look at the minutes for the Special April 10 Committee of the Whole meeting where the 2018-2022 Financial Plan was reviewed by Saanich Council, not only was there no discussion about business licensing (as possibly related to the Notice of Motion from Plant this Monday) there was also an explicit discussion point that:

  • No formal motion or notice of motion has been made regarding the Environmental Development Permit Area project.

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So why the disconnect and what is my point?

My point, is that the whole purpose of the annual Financial Plan (see Saanich Budget info here), is to identify and set out how you are going to fund your initiatives for the year and neither a formal response to the rescinding of the EPDA nor a decision to pursue regulating AirBnBs was included.

But so how, in this context in the Financial Plan created?

The Saanich Financial Plan is considered in relation to the Council  Strategic Plan and Official Community Plan. If we look at the current version of this strategic plan, we see that it was last updated in June 2017 (link here) and if you take a look through this document, you will see the same initiatives that we saw in the Financial plan. This is because Saanich is a professional government organization and it operates based on documented goals and objectives. The purpose of things like the Strategic Plan and OCP are to get everyone around the Council table on the same page and ensure some focus to Saanich operations.
Because without this focus, there is no strategy for spending the annual budget of 181 million dollars as identified in the 2018-2022 Financial Plan. And without a strategy, there is no way for us in the public to keep track of and hold Saanich Council accountable. Official strategy documents like the OCP, Strategic Plan and Financial plan, allow us in the public to say, “hey you said you would do this, and you did not”. Likewise, these same documents also provide some protection to Council and staff by allowing them to say “hey we said we were going to do this, and if you did not want us to, you should have let us know”.
But this does not always happen and we end up in situations like Monday where we either rely on councillors to remember what motions were passed previously (Brice) or we have opportunistically energetic councillors (Plant) who try to get entirely new initiatives going instead. Meanwhile, any of us in the public struggles to understand what is going on and why.
Does this seem like a sustainable process to you?
Here is a snapshot of the 2018-2022 Financial plan for reference.
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Government in a Modern Age

My dad was a bureaucrat and I aspired to be one as well. This led my pursing a Masters in Public Administration because I too, wanted to serve the common good. Then, at about the same time I graduated, my dad’s career ended in a way that was different than how he anticipated. Nevertheless, I persisted and have continued to pursue jobs that were of interest to me.

Most recently, I had been working in the private sector for a company that sells software to municipalities across North America. I loved the work.

Now I am free again and I am deciding how to fill my plate.

At the bottom of it all, I am still drawn to government.

How best to manage government data in a modern age is what appeals to me most. It is what gets my brain firing on all cylinders and it is where I hope to make a lasting contribution. So to that end, expect to see this website come alive again as I begin to work out my plan.

Thank you for reading!