From time to time when there are important issues in Sooke, we will allow longer “opinion” pieces to run to encourage healthy debate. The opinions expressed are those of the writer not those of this newspaper.
When Mayor Evans, Councillors Beech, Bennett, Dumont and Tait, endorsed the Wastewater Franchise Agreement Bylaw at the May 9 meeting, they violated their oath of office, the Community Charter, the public trust, the democratic process, and the ideals of procedural fairness. It is an oft-repeated theme in Sooke council chambers.
Councillors Berger and Haldane are to be commended for failing to follow the leaderless herd.
One need only consider the term ‘Franchise Agreement’ to understand how serious are the ramifications of the approving votes.
The Community Charter, 22(1), states: A council may by bylaw adopted with the approval of the electors, enter into an agreement that grants an exclusive or limited franchise for the provision of one or more of the following in accordance with the agreement: a)a public transportation system; b) water through a water supply system; c) sewage disposal through an sewage system; d) gas, electrical or other energy supply system.
The key phrase is ‘for the provision.’ Mayor Evans and CAO Parliament assured everyone that the district is not in contravention of the Charter. Mayor Evans assured us with every breath that our solicitor authored the Charter, so he should know. Yes, he should!
Consider if you will, this sentence from the Staff Report of May 9, from Corporate Officer Sprinkling to the CAO: “The effect of Council entering into an agreement… would be to agree that the Contractor is providing, on behalf of the District, sewage collection and disposal through the District owned sewage system under the franchise agreement for a term of 21 years.”
When asked if she believed EPCOR is providing the sewer service, Mayor Evans replied “O & M” (operating and maintenance).Does that satisfy the Community Charter requirement of ‘provision of service’? Does EPCOR in fact provide sewage disposal through a sewage system? Or does EPCOR simply service the system which is provided by the District of Sooke?
Dr. Robert Bish, Professor Emeritus, University of Victoria, formerly a Professor of Public Administration and Economics, co-authored with Eric Clemens, Local Government in British Columbia, published in 2008, by the UBCM.
On page 87, of this document there is a section on franchising which states: “Franchises are awards of service monopolies.The producing organization finances its production through user charges to customers and there is no direct payment from the local government, which may still regulate rates and other aspects of the activity.” The producing organization here would be EPCOR.
Langford has a legal sewer franchise agreement with Corix/Westshore Water Services in which Corix will design, build and own all new installations, collect user fees and pay franchise fees to Langford for the privilege. Sooke’s proposed agreement with EPCORdoes not meet the level of a legal franchise agreement.
Our mayor and four councillors, along with select staff seem to view this as the deal of a lifetime. They are selling us an agreement where we pay for design, build, maintenance, operation, management, asset replacement, rehabilitation, capital projects, abnormal circumstances, and to prove our unending generosity grant EPCOR license to use and occupy the system including all personal property and property interest for the purpose of performance of the “Service by the Contractor.”
In a perfect world, EPCOR, as franchisee, would pay franchise fees to the District of Sooke, as Corix does to Langford. However, this is not a franchise agreement, it is simply an extension of the existing Maintenance and Operation contract, which if allowed to proceed will cost us dearly.
Mayor Evans told the May 9 meeting that EPCOR doesn’t want another five-year agreement, verifying a comment made to me by an EPCOR representative in April. Perhaps if she would stop acting as an agent for EPCOR and represent the taxpayers of Sooke, she would remember that a previous attempt to pass a 22-year agreement with EPCOR was turned down by her taxpayers. What part of ‘No’ does she not understand.
Is EPCOR’s position the reason for the hard and fast approach to the public approval process, or are there secrets yet to be uncovered?