A local prominent farmer, who also served as mayor of Central Saanich, criticizes the municipality’s decision to disband its agricultural advisory committee. Jack Mar, who served as mayor of Central Saanich from 2005 to 2011, said the decision to disband the committee confirms in his mind that the majority of current Central Saanich councillors are only “paying lip-service” to agricultural issues.
“They don’t have a clue about agriculture,” said Mar. “They don’t support agriculture, period. That is why they are doing it.”
Mar made those comments after Central Saanich council earlier this month adopted a new bylaw consolidating various committees, a process that had started in the spring and in the summer of 2019. According to Mar, Central Saanich originally struck the committee in 1993.
Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor, disagrees with Mar’s interpretation.
“The District remains focused on agricultural activity,” he said. “It is a huge part of what we do here in Central Saanich. Sixty per cent of our land is agricultural. A number of programs are out there to support agricultural activity.”
Instead of having a stand-alone committee dealing with agriculture, Central Saanich will now draw on the expertise of the Peninsula and Area Agricultural Commission (PAAC), a larger regional body, whose membership includes the municipality, and if necessary, strike temporary select committees to deal with specific agricultural issues, said Windsor.
“I want to be clear,” said Windsor. “Neither the Central Saanich agricultural committee, nor PAAC actually have any decision making power.
They have also been envisioned as bodies that do reference work. We are looking to them for essentially opinions on matters that are ultimately decisions of council. No authority has been delegated.”
Windsor said council decided to disband the committee because a lot of overlap exists between it and PAAC in predicting a “net benefit” to the community, while acknowledging that the optics might not be favourable.
“In some cases, even the same people were sitting on the same committee,” said Windsor. “So you kind of wonder, ‘does the same person need to go over same thing twice?’”
He also argued that Central Saanich stands to benefit from the expertise of PAAC, noting that agricultural issues, such as the environment, cut across municipal boundaries.
When asked whether Central Saanich alerted PAAC to the fact it would be disbanding its own committee, Windsor said he was not sure, but questioned the suggestion that Central Saanich was dumping its own work on PAAC.
“I’m not sure there is a huge additional work load for PAAC,” he said, pointing to the overlap between the two bodies. “We are of course a member of that commission already. … We support it financially.” If there were an adjustment in workload, PAAC would likely inform Central Saanich, he added.
This said, Windsor acknowledged council did not necessarily consult with the agricultural community before disbanding the committee.
“That is a worthwhile question,” he said. “I believe this was a decision mostly of council.”