Victoria residents and their city council must stand up to the arrogant tactics of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. The authority, which controls much of the land and facilities around the Inner Harbour, is in danger of becoming what one city councillor called a “self-perpetuating clique.”
Both council and the harbour authority have public meetings today, and voters who care about accountability should make their voices heard.
The authority, which owns and manages former federal properties around the harbour, is a not-for-profit society founded in 2002 by the City of Victoria, the Township of Esquimalt, the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, and the Provincial Capital Commission. It later added the Victoria/Esquimalt Harbour Society, Tourism Victoria, the Chamber of Commerce and the Capital Regional District as members.
Each member has one or more representatives on the authority’s board, along with some directors at large.
Last year, city council unanimously chose Coun. Shellie Gudgeon to replace Coun. Pam Madoff in 2013 as its representative on the board. The board wrote back last month saying Gudgeon doesn’t have the skills and experience it is looking for, and the city should send over another name. The board wants someone with experience in tourism, cruise ships, transportation, marinas and First Nations.
To call that demand “outrageous,” as Coun. Lisa Helps did, falls far short of the mark. The authority’s board needs to be taken out to the woodshed.
The authority, which owns Ogden Point, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Inner Harbour Causeway/Ship Point and the waterfront along Wharf Street to the Johnson Street Bridge, is an unelected body. The Esquimalt and Victoria councils are elected bodies, accountable to the voters.
In 2012, the authority’s board changed its bylaws to give itself the power to accept only nominees it approves, but that change clearly undermines the intent of the original memorandum of understanding, which stated that member agencies would “appoint” representatives to the board.
The goal of creating local authorities was to turn over federal lands and port operations to local control. That didn’t mean giving the land to a local club with no accountability. If Victoria’s appointee can be rejected, so can those of Esquimalt and the CRD, which means all the voters of the region have a stake in this issue.
Certainly, the board has to look after the business of managing the harbour, but serving the goals of the harbour authority is not the directors’ only responsibility. One purpose of representation from each member agency is to ensure those members’ interests are considered.
In fact, the first stated purpose in the society’s constitution is “to promote and develop the Victoria and Esquimalt harbours to meet local, Esquimalt Nation, Songhees Nation, municipal, provincial and federal interests and priorities.” For Victoria’s priorities to be served, it must have a representative who speaks fearlessly for council on the authority, and is not beholden to the majority of the board.
The authority controls lands that are an essential part of Victoria’s identity. The board members are dedicated and work hard, but in their zeal to make the most of the harbour, they are riding roughshod over the principles of public accountability. By insisting on only directors who have particular skills, experience and attitudes, the board risks becoming what Coun. Ben Isitt calls a “self-perpetuating clique” that hears no dissenting voices and ignores the interests of voters and councils.
If the authority does not answer to its members, to whom does it answer? The board appears to believe it answers only to itself. That has to change, and Victoria council can start the change by insisting that the board must accept Gudgeon and must reverse its unacceptable bylaw.
© Copyright 2013