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CRD plan to borrow $85M for housing approved after challenge falls short

Alternative-approval process needed 33,191 voters to block plan, but only 1,859 submitted forms
Michael MacKenzie, Vancouver Island University’s Jarislowsky chair in Trust and Political Leadership. VIA VIU

The Capital Regional District is going ahead with a plan to borrow $85 million to assemble land, line up housing partnerships and increase the supply of affordable homes.

It used the alternative-approval process to win the OK. That process required at least 10 per cent of electors — in this case 33,191 — to kill the ­borrowing plan. Electors had to fill out a form and submit it to the district if they were against the idea.

By the close of voting, 1,859 forms were submitted.

All elector forms have been counted and verified, the district said in a Friday statement.

The district’s board meets Wednesday to consider the bylaw to authorize borrowing.

A report on the process will be included in the board agenda. It will provide an overview of the process, the responses received, and next steps.

Some individuals and groups, such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, do not like the use of alternative-approval processes, saying they get in the way of informing the public. Some see the process as cumbersome for electors.

Nanaimo is facing a rockier road because it is running an alternative-approval process for the second time. It wants to ­borrow $48.5-million to pay for the first phase of ­upgrading Nanaimo’s public works ­facilities and other services.

Some voters dislike the ­alternative-approval process saying it is not democratic in the way that a referendum is, with scrutineers and ballots.

They argue it is difficult to ensure all voters will be informed about the process and want the City of Nanaimo to scrap the process.

When an alternative-approval process is launched, response forms are supposed to be available on the first day a notice is issued. In Nanaimo, forms were not available for eight days after the process started last month. Council has asked for legal advice.

Nanaimo ran an alternative-approval process for the same funding plan last fall but scrapped the results when a problem with public notification came to light.

Nanaimo council is holding a special meeting Monday to ­figure out where it stands and what to do next.

An in-camera meeting at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre will run from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. followed by an open meeting beginning at 4 p.m, at which the public is welcome.

Citizens were allowed to request to speak by contacting city hall by late Friday afternoon. Notices went on the city’s website, public notice board and social media.

Michael MacKenzie, Vancouver Island University’s Jarislowsky chair in Trust and Political Leadership, said that the name alternative-approval process is confusing.

“It seems to suggest we’ve approved something if but it’s actually the opposite, right?

Rather than being an approval process, it is actually a disapproval process, MacKenzie said.

These types of voting systems used to be called counter petitions, he said.

“When an AAP fails, it means that fewer than 10 per cent of the electorate were actively opposed.” Those people took the time to fill out the form and submit it.

But, “It doesn’t tell us anything about the views of the silent majority.”

Some may support the policy, others might be unaware that the process was going on or decided not to fill out the form, MacKenzie said.

Despite the name, MacKenzie said the process is a good one. He does not agree with those who think it is unfair.

This procedure assumes that the government has the legitimacy to act and that’s why we elected them, he said.

“We want them to be empowered to do things that they think are important for us.”

An AAP is meant to be an extraordinary check to block government actions in instances where reasonably large ­numbers of people may strongly ­disapprove.

“It’s designed to be difficult to meet this threshold but that’s exactly appropriate.”

The threshold in Nanaimo for the current AAP to fail would require opposition from about 7,800 electors, he said.

Getting that number of voters to submit a form opposing the borrowing plan is a “very high bar.”

The reason for setting a high bar is “because the stopping of a legitimately elected government from doing its ordinary business is extraordinary. And it should require this kind of very active, conscientious and effortful opposition.”

The alternative-approval process is not designed to give a small number of people the power to stop government from acting, he said.

If a proposal fails, it means that there is actually quite a lot of opposition in a community.

As for Nanaimo, it’s possible that the municipality would be able to continue with its process, now underway, by starting the clock again on its 30-day timeline for public response.

If it decided to stage the alternative-approval process for a third time, it might be embarrassing but past errors can be rectified, MacKenzie said.

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