Saanich councillor taking community pulse on new web page

As the municipal election season nears, Saanich Coun. Fred Haynes has launched an online consultation platform in the hope of a better taking of the community’s pulse.

Called Saanich Community Dialogue, the PlaceSpeak page offers an opportunity for non-partisan discussion of Saanich issues, said Haynes, a Saanich mayoralty candidate.

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Currently the page has four discussions running:

• Amalgamation, taxes and services,

• Housing costs and supply,

• Urban green space,

• Traffic, transit and active transportation.

Polls are also part of the platform as Haynes wants to provide a forum for what is top of mind for residents.

The site is designed to be transparent and all data collected will be available to all candidates, Haynes said.

Up for about two weeks, the site has already had more than 1,100 unique views.

Unlike some other platforms, PlaceSpeak is location based. Geo-verification technology connects participants’ digital identity to their physical location.

That means polls can be targeted to specific geographic areas, Haynes said.

“As well as being a protected environment from flaming and trolling, it is saying this is a conversation that everyone can look at and everybody can watch but the votes are based on just Saanich residents,” he said.

“Hence, we can get a more accurate idea of what Saanich residents think about issues.”

Haynes plans to run a variety of rolling polls every four or five days to gauge residents’ opinions on specific issues.

“Other survey tools do not have the ability to limit voting to one time. One registered person gets one vote. What we see with other tools is if you have multiple computers, you can do multiple votes,” he said.

Because of the geo-fencing and because the system only allows a person to vote once on an issue, he sees a role for the platform beyond the election.

“Community groups could use this to do real polling. Saanich supports 16 community associations and we reach out to them for aspects around local area plans, development proposals, sidewalks, greenspace and the environmental development permit area. Wouldn’t this be a useful tool for associations to use.”

PlaceSpeak is based in Vancouver and supported by the National Research Council, said PlaceSpeak manager of communications Mary Leong.

She said the tool is especially useful in looking at issues such as a possible amalgamation of Saanich and Victoria.

“I understand people who live in Victoria have quite different opinions than people who live in the Saanich area. So one of the main things is ensuring that the views you are getting are really reflecting people that live in Saanich and not outside of the area,” she said.

Users are required to verify their identities in conversations.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

• The website is at placespeak.com/en/topic/5975-a-conversation-on-saanich

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