Some Capital Regional District directors say they are outraged that the province appears willing to force them into binding arbitration to deal with a deadlock over an update for the Regional Growth Strategy.
In a letter just received by the CRD, Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson says she doesn’t want to see the current non-binding mediation process, begun some six months ago, drag out any longer than Nov. 30. Such a tight timeline essentially triggers the need to move to binding arbitration, CRD staff say.
Capital Regional District directors have voted to ask Robinson for an extension to her deadline to allow mediation to resolve outstanding issues with the strategy. Piping municipal water to the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area is the main stumbling block. Many area residents, including their CRD director Mike Hicks, want piped water. But several CRD municipalities are opposed.
Some directors complained about what they saw as heavy-handed intervention by the minister.
“We should all be somewhat outraged that the province has done this,” said View Royal Mayor David Screech.
“They’ve walked into a process that has been going on and we’ve been working through. I think it shows a complete lack of respect for us,” Screech said, adding that issues with the growth strategy aren’t “all about the Juan de Fuca as much as director Hicks may feel that it is.”
“It’s about our entire region. It’s about all the residents. It’s about the quality of life in our region moving forward,” he said.
Several directors noted that the municipalities involved in mediation have spent considerable time and money on the process. “It’s as if the province came out with a chainsaw and clearcut our position off the face of the earth,” said Highlands Mayor Ken Williams.
A move to binding arbitration was welcomed by Hicks, who was so frustrated that he didn’t have a voice in the current mediation process that he appealed to Premier John Horgan — his MLA.
The deadlock over the growth strategy update, which requires unanimous consent, is largely centred around whether CRD water should be piped into parts of Juan de Fuca, an unincorporated area that includes the west coast of Vancouver Island from Otter Point to Port Renfrew, as well as the communities of East Sooke, Malahat and Willis Point.
Seven of the 13 municipalities in the CRD — Saanich, Central Saanich, North Saanich, View Royal, Highlands, Colwood and Esquimalt — were opposed to the strategy. One of the main concerns is that allowing CRD water to be piped to the Juan de Fuca area could lead to urban sprawl.
Under binding arbitration, Hicks would automatically be allowed to be heard. That is not necessarily the case under mediation because as an electoral area, it is not considered a local government, so it doesn’t have status.
Directors passed a separate motion Wednesday urging that the mediator allow Hicks to make a presentation on behalf of his constituents.
Hicks welcomed the intervention by Robinson, saying in an interview he’s “100 per cent confident” that if an arbitrator heard all positions, the decision would come down in favour of Juan de Fuca.
“As far as I’m concerned, the whole system was wrong and it was discriminatory toward … Juan de Fuca,” Hicks said.
The growth strategy deals with development within the CRD, including land use, ecosystem preservation, transportation, economic potential and measures to contain urban sprawl.
It is supposed to be updated every five years. Hicks noted that this five-year update has now taken 10 years and cost in the neighbourhood of $4 million.
CRD staff say the real costs are closer to $1 million, the majority of which has been funded through gas tax grants.