Monthly Archives: April 2018

Promises and Deliveries

*Actual proofs of my handout, delivered to ~1000 Sechelt homes as part of my canvas campaign fall 2014

 

I want to reflect a little on what I campaigned on, and what has come to fruition out of that.

I haven’t achieved everything I set out to, of course – it has been a challenging term – but,  I’ve also achieved things that weren’t part of the original plan. I was a brash and inexperienced candidate in 2014, and that was certainly reflected in some of my promises then.

However, I made some key assertions that still stand today.  To me they represent a fair delivery on my key messages.

Learning the business of government

The single most common question I faced in the 2014 campaign was: why do you want to be on Council? Why are you doing this?

I answered this question 100 times a day and my response was always the same: we need the next generation to step up and start learning the business of government.

I’d been to various community meetings and seen with clarity that my generation was almost totally unrepresented.  It was a change that I could affect as an individual, simply by being there and engaging.

Knowing that governance is a specialized skill set that is vital to the smooth functioning of society, I set out to learn this business the best I could. After 4 years on the job, and with multiple advancements and accolades from my peers, I feel I have adequately learned this skill set.

I’m a journeyman of local government now, however, not a master by any stretch.

Working with Sechelt’s Council

The second most common question I was asked was: who do you want to be mayor?  Who do you want to work with on council?

My response was: it’s not up to me to pick the mayor and council.  That’s up to Sechelt, and I am prepared to work with whatever mayor and council was chosen, to the very best of my ability.

I have lived up to that.

There have been challenging times for this council, no question.  But, we have consistently maintained our working relationship and not let our differences devolve into something unworkable.

I would like to thank this mayor and council for working with me as well.  They’ve supported me to learn my role and engage the system, when they could have attempted to stifle and control my input. I think all members of this council will agree that we’ve maintained a level of respect and fairness for each other.

I’m proud of that accomplishment and worked hard to achieve it along with my colleagues.

The 4 points

All of my campaign materials featured 4 key points: Fiscal Responsibility, Green Values, Transparency, Fresh Perspective.

Here’s how I think I fared with each of these:

  • Fiscal Responsibility

This is the area I’ve achieved the most in.  It is a misnomer to think that fiscal responsibility can simply be equated with low taxes.  It is a combination of measures taken together to implement overall corporate financial health.  I have written at length about my work regarding the structural deficit, but the highlights are that Sechelt now has adequate DCC’s to fund growth related infrastructure and a financial sustainability plan – including an asset renewal fund.  There is still more work to be done shifting our operations towards greater efficiency, however, the bulk of the work of pushing Sechelt towards better financial stability has already been completed.

 

  • Green Values

I inherited a plethora of planning documents and bylaws, all of which speak to sustainability as a core intent.  It has been relatively easy to speak to these documents to implement change.  A revival of the existing Tree Protection Bylaw has restricted large-scale logging operations within the district.  It is now commonplace to see a tree protection plan associated with every major, new development.  I have written in other places about my external work related to oil spill response in the Salish Sea, which has been very successful.  Sechelt World Oceans Day is another initiative that will work to bring a cultural focus back to the preservation of Sechelt’s waterfront.

 

  • Transparency

The work of this council has been done in a fully transparent manner and that’s been with my expressed support.  On a day-today basis I have sought to provide clear rational on my views of all key council decisions.  I make a regular statement at the adoption of every budget, as well as at 2nd or 3rd reading of every major development application.  In these ways my views are recorded in a permanent way for reference and discussion by those who may be impacted.  I may have missed a few opportunities, but for the most part, my views are regularly recorded on the DOS Youtube channel here.  Another aspect of my transparency commitment was communicating through my blog.  I have admitted that my blog has been spottier than I would have liked.  I found it very challenging to write my blog mid-term as we were ‘neck deep’ in our most difficult period as a council.  I struggled to communicate anything of this that the wider community would have been interested in.  In retrospect, I could have done better in this regard.

 

  • Fresh Perspective

When I came to Sechelt Council it was common practice to perform accounting magic, and ‘add back’ amortisation of our capital assets within the capital budget to reach a net-zero position at the end of the day.  We were thus recording falsely balanced budgets, without understanding the clear consequences inherent in that.  I refused this way of doing business outright, and consequently, staff and council’s understanding of this key issue has evolved.  My other main contribution has been to help re-focus our administration on the many key planning documents that already exist and have been agreed upon.  In both cases these issues were low-hanging fruit, and a new perspective provided the catalyst for significant change in these areas.

 

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I wanted to touch on Youth Engagement, because it was an area many in the community were looking to me to improve.  This is admittedly the weakest area of my delivery, as I have no specific initiatives to report.  As well, there is no visual change at town hall meetings regarding demographic composition.

I have spent a fair amount of time discussing my work with my cohort.  They’ve also watched me go through this process and are making their own conclusions about what that means for them.  Altogether, my work in this area has only been in passing, and I would have liked to be able to deliver more in this area.

 

-Noel

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My window onto the creation of a government….

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One problem I have had writing from the voice of government is how to relate something that might be  remotely interesting to read.  Much of what we do is far too boring, albeit, entirely necessary towards the smooth functioning of our society.

Rarely does a story of political action live up to anything of wider interest.  Truthfully, it takes a lot of art behind the scenes to create any ‘political moments’ at all, let alone interesting ones.

By some amazing luck, I actually have had a few moments that are worth writing about.

Here’s one that I think is…

 

AVICC 2015…

 

In April of 2015 I was freshly elected, bright eyed and idealistic.  I was looking to make an impact in the political milieu after my promising electoral start in fall of 2014.

The Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) Convention provided that first opportunity to meet my provincial counterparts and leave an impression.

The Wednesday before the conference, disaster struck English Bay in the form of the Marathassa Oil spill, capturing headlines and provoking public outrage.

The stage was set for action, and I jumped to it right away.  I researched and wrote an emergency resolution on the way over to Courtenay on the ferry and shared it with my Council via email looking for input.

We convened that evening, by then we had our CAO in support, and a workable draft.  Council enacted an emergency meeting at a local restaurant and unanimously supported including this wording as an emergency resolution for AVICC:

Whereas the oil spill event of April 8, 2015 into English Bay and the Salish Sea, demonstrated a clear lack of capacity to respond to oil spill events in British Columbia;

And, Whereas the long-term viability and economies of BC coastal communities are dependent, in part, upon the protection and preservation of the local marine environment;

Therefore, Be It Resolved that the AVICC request that the Province of British
Columbia order an independent audit of the current state of oil spill preparedness in BC.

As soon as the conference began, I hit the ground running, looking for support from potential allies.  I found them everywhere I looked.  Apparently, we had touched a nerve.

I walked outside to a protest rally being lead by City of Victoria Councillors and Elizabeth May.  Victoria Councillor Ben Isitt thrust the microphone in my hand and told me to get on stage to go promote my resolution….it all became a blur, because of course I wasn’t at all prepared to give a speech.

Only in hindsight was it clear: the moment had arrived.

 

Enter John Horgan….

 

The next night I attended a Young Elected Officials caucus before the traditional conference banquet.

While we waited for our rides to the banquet hall, out walked newly minted NDP leader John Horgan with his assistant.  Seeing that we were headed to the same place, he offered a ride, and I graciously accepted.

Once in the car, I jokingly broke the news to him that I was a former Provincial Council member for the chiding BC Green Party, and that it might be a tense ride.

I had lots I wanted to talk about with John, and it was my one shot to make my pitch.

I had already grown tired of the perennial partisan bludgeoning between the Green and Orange.  I thought things could be done differently, and much more effectively.

I made the case that I think we all want the same thing: a better BC government for the citizens.  A shared love for BC could unite the parties in cooperation, and ought to be the focus of both our parties’ leadership.

He took the long route, and our talk continued.

It was a very energized exchange, and we concluded feeling like something had been accomplished.  We walked into that banquet hall together as what felt like friends.  I introduced him to our Council and walked around introducing him to others.

 

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At his delegate address, John assumed the stage to deliver his first impression as NDP leader to the AVICC membership.  Already in campaign mode, it was an election speech made by a veteran political leader.

I stood by the wall, near the stage and watched.  I was stunned when midway he pointed to me and stated: “I’m with Noel, this isn’t about flag-waving to me, this is about the people of BC and the Province we call home.”  We need to do better was his underlying message, and it clearly resonated.

He finished to thunderous applause, and I walked away feeling like we had climbed a mountain.

 

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At UBCM 2016 I sought to further implore the leaders of the BC Green and NDP to work together in the best interests of BC.

In the context of the 2017 general election, with evident public disappointment in the BC Liberals, I felt this was too good an opportunity for BC to pass up.

I arranged a meeting with John in his office at the legislature to restate my case.

Additionally, I spoke with Andrew Weaver and his campaign chair at a BCGP function regarding this potential.

In both cases I was rejected outright.  After 2 years of difficult work in the legislature, mistrust and criticism of the other held sway.

Nevertheless, I made sure to drive home my point: cooperation was likely to lead to government.

 

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The rest, as they say is history.

The electoral result of 2017 set the stage for cooperation like it never had before.

I wasn’t any part of the eventual agreement that got signed, but of course, I remained overjoyed at the outcome.

In 2017, I managed to meet John again at a UBCM banquet.  This time I waited in a long line of well wishers to see our new Premier face to face.  I was unexpectedly quite emotional.

What Weaver and Horgan did by cooperating truly satisfied me to my core.  It got me to believe in our public institutions again.  It proved that we don’t have to live in a partisan bloodbath if we don’t want to.

They can’t be congratulated enough for what they did.

We do in fact need to work together, not just in politics, but in all aspects of our lives.  Above all, we need that reflected in our political leadership.

When I approached John and shook his hand, he turned to the gathered mayors and ministers and said:

“This is Noel from Sechelt! He and I came up with the idea for a coalition government together two years ago in a car ride at AVICC!”

We chatted for about 10 minutes until he was pulled away to another function.  I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm.  I felt like hugging him, and I think I might have (see my firm grip on the Premier pictured above).

I know the part I played in all this was small, but it’s something that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life.

My window onto the creation of a government.

Noel

Achievements

 

IMG_2023I don’t ever forget that I was elected with the most votes in Sechelt history.  It’s something that I think about every week as I do my Council work.  That show of support has made me work harder than I ever have before.

Looking back over the last 3.5 years, I’m reflecting upon this legacy of work and I’m unabashedly proud of it.

In that time frame I have put in on average 10-20 hours a week of Council work, as well as 30-45 hours of paid work in residential construction.  I’ve provided for my family, as well as been able to do important work for the community.  I’ve worked on 10 houses to completion, and still managed to be a partner, a father, a Councillor, and have some fun along the way.

I live for my work, and because of that, this gruelling schedule hasn’t fatigued me in the slightest.  In fact, I’m ending this term much more experienced and dedicated than I was in 2014.

Here’s a little of what has been accomplished since that time:

 

Finances

I’ve said it many times throughout my term that Sechelt is facing some very tough choices financially in the coming years.  That continues to be the case, as I’ve written and spoke about in detail.

We simply haven’t spent enough on the upkeep or replacement of our capital assets.  A cornerstone of good financial planning is recouping the depreciation on your critical infrastructure (in our case: roads, pipes and buildings), to spend on future replacements or maintenance.

Sechelt, along with many, many other municipalities, has not put aside anything to replace aging infrastructure.  In our case this depreciation represents around 25% of the annual budget, so it’s a massive amount that goes unfunded each year.

Starting this year, we’re going to begin correcting this structural imbalance.

We’ve started a capital renewal reserve which will be the focus of regular funding increases gradually over the next 20 years until the underlying situation is fully corrected.

 

Infrastructure

Development Cost Charges (DCCs) are, in a nutshell, what it costs to service a lot with municipal services, e.g. roads, parks, pipes, garbage collection, sewer etc.  As new lots are created through development, that service fee is then charged at the time of subdivision.

For years Sechelt had DCCs that didn’t reflect the true costs to the municipality of providing infrastructure for growth.  We have asked our staff to make sure we are adequately charging for what it actually costs taxpayers for these services.

We’ve since changed our DCCs to reflect this and have added $40 million in capital funding over the next 25 years.  That’s over 6 pages of planned community projects, listed here (scroll down to the last 6 pages).

Additionally, these funds can be used to partner Federally and Provincially, and further multiply that funding for community projects, potentially up to $100 million total.

This is watershed change for our community that will be felt over the next 20 years.

 

Planning

I have spent much more time on planning than any other file during my term as Councillor.  This is reflected in the decision by the Mayor to appoint me to Chair of the Planning and Development Committee last year.

In our term we have been dealing with an unprecedented construction boom in Sechelt.  We have around 2000 units proposed, that could add 1/3 to our population, and change the face of Sechelt forever.

I’m very thankful that we have such thorough and well drafted core planning documents to guide us through this, such as the OCP and Sechelt Vision.

Take some time yourself to look through Sechelt’s plan for a sustainable and livable future.  It was put together by our most prominent community minded citizens, and still presents the clearest agreed upon view of our community will.

We take that very seriously as a Council and are working to reflect this will on behalf of the community.

 

External

Sechelt shares many interests with its partners in the SCRD, by far the most crucial being water.

I am proud to have written the resolution that assigned our representatives the pointed task of securing an expanded supply to meet Sechelt’s growing needs of potable water.

Currently the SCRD board remains deadlocked on this issue, despite the clear leadership and political will shown by Sechelt Council.  We will need the public’s dedicated support to remove this deadlock in the years ahead.

I have also been working to reflect Sechelt’s interests to partnering governments at a higher level at every opportunity that has presented itself.

I consider that we have many important Federal issues due to our proximity and dependence upon the ocean, which is their jurisdiction, but also embodies many interests of Sechelt residents.

We’ve been very successful at raising oil spill awareness on behalf of our citizens.  In 2015, I personally drafted and backstopped the AVICC emergency resolution to the English Bay Oil Spill to its eventual unanimous support by that body.

Then in 2016, in the wake of the Nathan Stewart Tug spill near Bella Bella, Sechelt Council asked Western Marine Resources Corporation to present their current spill response capacity to AVICC members at our AGM.  The result was a thorough rebuke of current response capacity and a unified voice calling for greater response measures on behalf of coastal municipalities.

In 2017 the Canadian Federal Government launched their Oceans Protection Plan seeking to improve spill protections.

In 2018 the BC Provincial government launched their process for enhanced spill protection as a further response.

 

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This is a small sampling of my political adventures on Sechelt Council to date, and I’ll be writing more in the coming months.

I will also be sure to include a thorough treatment of our challenges and missed opportunities.

I wholeheartedly thank the people of Sechelt for their continued support.

 

Noel