The President of the Sidney Community Association wonders if the municipality takes public participation seriously in its Official Community Plan (OCP) review.
Dennis Carlsen expressed this sentiment in a recent letter to the municipality following council’s rejection of a council motion. Terri O’Keeffe will remove language from the 2022 Strategic Plan that calls for public engagement in all key municipal initiatives, as well as collaboration with neighboring local governments.
Com. Peter Wainwright, who opposed the motion with Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith and Couns. Sara Duncan, Scott Garnett and Chad Rintoul said they heard a lot of comments about the lack of meaningful public engagement during the Beacon Wharf consultations, and don’t want to send a signal that engagement is no longer a priority.
“I wish he stayed there,” Wainwright said.
McNeil-Smith added that engagement remains strong.
“We have very important engagement processes happening later this year with the official community plan, the climate action plan, with the economic development strategy and I would support it remaining in the document,” he said.
Carlsen’s letter picks up on this discussion. He echoed the need to keep community engagement as a priority given the big initiatives ahead and the “spillover” from the Beacon Wharf replacement talks.
“I would also like to point out that giving the public barely a month to comment on OCP’s draft calls into question whether community engagement is truly a strategic priority,” he wrote.
In advocating for change, O’Keeffe said staff are already paying attention to collaboration and community engagement, noting that those ideas are value statements about operations rather than strategy.
“It should be part of our normal operating procedures,” she said. “If we leave that in there, how does that provide guidance to staff? We have already given them this direction.
Only Com. Barbara Fallot joined O’Keeffe in supporting the withdrawal.
In an emailed statement, Chief Administrative Officer Randy Humble said community engagement remains a priority in Sidney’s strategic plan, adding that the municipality will contact residents on a range of projects, including OCP, at during the first semester of 2022.
“The (municipality) is trying to find a balance between involving community members in decision-making and ensuring that we use the public’s time wisely,” Humble said. “We ask for feedback when feedback can make a meaningful difference and we avoid duplication where possible on engagement processes.”
The Council will ultimately determine how the public will participate in OCP’s draft review, he added, a process that is expected to take place in March and possibly early April.
Engagement tools may include open houses, virtual unless COVID restrictions permit an in-person event, and an online review tool.
“We recognize that the strength of an OCP lies in the range and number of voices that help shape it, and this has been reflected in the degree of consultation that has taken place on the project over the past two years. “, said Humble.
Over 1,600 interactions around OCP were recorded in 2020-2021 as the municipality heard from the general public, local First Nations and stakeholders through an open house, virtual workshops, meetings, surveys and other forms of engagement.
Official Community PlanSaanich PeninsulaSidney