The people spoke and the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority listened. After enduring a storm of anger from residents, the authority’s board voted Friday to reverse an earlier decision and accept Coun. Shellie Gudgeon as the City of Victoria’s representative on the board.
It’s a controversy that should never have happened.
The board includes representatives of the authority’s member agencies, including the city, the Township of Esquimalt and others. When it was established in 2002, the memorandum of agreement specified that each agency would “appoint” its representative to the board. But in 2012, the board changed its bylaws to give itself the power to accept or reject “nominees.”
The board initially rejected Gudgeon because she didn’t have the experience it was looking for. The unelected board’s presumption in rejecting the choice made by the elected council showed it had lost sight of its place in the political landscape.
The authority manages the harbour lands on behalf of the citizens of Greater Victoria, and it must be accountable to them. It must be willing to hear dissenting voices in its deliberations. Instead, it appears to want only people who think alike.
The public outrage reached a crescendo at the board’s meeting on Thursday night. The next day, the board met in camera and emerged to say it would welcome Gudgeon into the fold.
It’s not clear if the board has learned a lesson. We expect those board members who hold elective office — including Gudgeon, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins and View Royal Mayor Graham Hill — to be strong voices for public accountability and to remind their colleagues when they are running off the democratic rails.
In the meantime, the board could demonstrate its goodwill by swiftly reversing the bylaw change and making it clear that member agencies can appoint any representative they choose.
© Copyright 2013