The chair of the committee tasked with reviewing Saanich’s governance said he had hoped for more feedback. File Photo

Saanich governance review fails to capture public’s interest

The chair of the committee tasked with reviewing governance told council Monday that public participation was not as high as expected.

John Schmuck, chair of the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee (GRCAC), said it has been hard to get public attention for the issue, adding he had hoped for more, based on the public engagement that other issues like the Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw had generated.

“Local government affects you when you walk out of the door,” he said, citing a list of items such as infrastructure and policing among others. “It’s the closest level of government to your day-to-day life.”

The District of Saanich commissioned the review after 88 per cent of voters during the last municipal election in November 2014 agreed with the following statement: “Do you support council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the region?”

The review formally launched in February of this year and unfolded in several forums. Online consultations for the GRCAC started March 1 and concluded June 15 after the committee had extended its time frame for a couple of weeks. During this process, citizens could take survey, participate in a poll, engage with other citizens in a discussion forum and submit written submissions through an email.

The committee also organized various types of face-to-face meetings. They included coffee chats, focus groups and community meetings. They included among others two workshops and two town halls between April and May.

Overall, the committee received 372 responses, if the number of filled out surveys (250) and the number of residents who participated in public engagement sessions are added up, said Schmuck. That figure, he said, does not include the emails that the committee received.

So what accounted for the low turnout? Schmuck acknowledged that the issue might not grab the most attention. He also suggested that the governance review was competing against other demands for public input.

Several councillors, however, praised the effort. Coun. Fred Haynes, citing the competitive selection process to serve on the committee, praised the quality of its membership and its uniqueness in leading an important process. He also added that public interest in the governance review was actually significantly higher than the process for Saanich’s budget deliberations.

Mayor Richard Atwell also praised the uniqueness of the public consultant process, predicting that it will be worth the risk.

Schmuck said the committee plans to submit its final report by the end of October, so about one year before the next municipal election. This should give councillors sufficient to deal with its content, which will include non-binding recommendations, said Schmuck.

Input gathered during the process has been diverse, said Schmuck. “It’s has been all over the place, but there have some common things,” he said.

With four-and-a-half months left in the project, the review has spent about 76 per cent or $130,000 of its budget, according to district staff. That figure includes $50,000 to initiate the project.

Schmuck said the bulk of the remaining funds will be go towards the consultants who have been with the project from the start.

“They will be helping us to write the final project,” he said.

Schmuck said the committee fully expects the allocated budget. “We are not going to be spending it frivolously,” he said.