Councillors debated arts funding and renovations to Saanich police headquarters among other issues during their last meeting

COUNCIL ROUNDUP: Saanich raises concerns about arts funding

Saanich opens council meeting with acknowledgement that recognizes First Nations

New Limits

Financial concerns prompted council to voice its opposition to a regional bylaw for arts services.

Councillors voted 7-1 with Coun. Colin Plant opposed to signal Saanich’s opposition to the Arts and Culture Support Service Establishment Bylaw. Council’s motion also included language that called on the Capital Regional District (CRD) to consider a cap on arts funding. Saanich had made that the same request earlier this year — to no avail.

The question of regional arts funding came back before council after the Inspector of Municipalities had found concerns with previous amendments to the bylaw. This rejection prompted revisions that the CRD Board subsequently approved in October 2017. The new bylaw however cannot come into effect until two-thirds of the nine participating communities including Saanich consent, and Saanich had already been dragging its feet on the bylaw, asking for additional input when it came up in late spring.

Coun. Colin Plant, who chairs the Capital Regional District Arts Committee, Monday moved for approval of the bylaw, but his motion failed to make it on the floor, as the rest of the council expressed concerns about language in the bylaw that could leave Saanich on the hook for more than $6 million towards the service, without its consent.

“I’d be uncomfortable giving anybody the opportunity to have up to $6.6 million without having to come back to council,” said Coun. Fred Haynes. “That is how I see this current recommendation, which we are saying no to. If there were other bylaws that came in front of me, I would be similarly inclined to say we should be looking at caps.”

Councillors also reiterated their call to cap this maximum requisition on a formula based on a five-year average increase of 1.5 per cent over the five-year term.

Plant questioned this direction as a “dangerous precedent” contrary to good governance in wondering why council would dig in its heels on this issue. If Saanich insists on caps for this service, it should also insist on caps for services.

While Coun. Judy Brownoff acknowledged this point, she also added regional caps exist in other areas, in reiterating Saanich’s budget sovereignty.

Saanich, she suggested, will find it difficult to legitimize past and future budget cuts in areas such grants, if it accepts this bylaw without question.

“If we are not looking at how we can control costs, then what are we here for?” she asked.

Plant however is not sure council’s motion will make any difference. “They [other communities] will likely vote for it [the bylaw] again without looking at the specifics,” he said.

He also predicted that the CRD would once ignore Saanich’s request for caps, because it already had so earlier this year.

“Sending the same [message] as you sent the last time will result in the same one [outcome] again.”

Mayor Richard Atwell said it is “entirely appropriate” for Saanich to raise this issue now in raising the prospect of governance changes to protect the financial interests of Saanich, the largest contributor to the CRD.

Saanich’s request for caps is now with the CRD, currently in the midst of budget deliberations. Notably, Sidney plans to pull out of the service, after having rejected the earlier version of the bylaw.

New Opening

Saanich council opened its last meeting with an acknowledgement that recognizes First Nations.

“I would like to start by saying that it is appropriate that we begin by acknowledging that our municipality lies with the traditional territories of the Pauquachin, Lkwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ (Saanich) Peoples,” said Mayor Richard Atwell. He added that he has been in touch with local First Nations to give these words meaning and build productive relationships. “It is very important in this point of time, especially considering that this is the Year of Reconciliation. There is much to be done in this area.”

The initiative to open the meeting with this acknowledgement had come from Couns. Fred Haynes and Dean Murdock.

Council later approved recommendations to initiate formal relationship with the district’s neighbouring First Nations, give staff full authority to implement initiatives that improve relationships with neighbouring First Nations not involving costs, and create a working group that review the recommendations that emerged out of June 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report.

Chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson said the key to building successful government-to-government relations with First Nations is sincerity. “The key piece in this is ensuring that there is a sincerity behind the work that the municipality is doing,” he said. “It is important that any approach to building a relationship genuine, and is seen as being genuine.”

New Digs

With Chief Constable Bob Downie present, council Monday approved $307,577 excluding G.S.T for interior renovations to Saanich Police headquarters on Vernon Avenue.

Plans call for the expansion of the front reception area including millwork and bullet resistant glass partitions and doors, a new front office and executive office area, a new heat pump and exhaust system, and upgraded security equipment.

“It is a lot of money, but there [are] lots of things that come before this council that are a lot of money,” said Richard Mayor Atwell.

Coun. Fred Haynes said he was “comfortable” with the recommendation, because Saanich’s director of finance had reviewed it.

“I have faith in our director of finance,” he said.

Space has been at a premium at the facility for years, if not decades, as a recent report pointed out.

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