Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Comment: Acrimony is hobbling Victoria council

I am troubled by many things, but I am especially troubled by the polarization and acrimony that characterizes council meetings.
Polarization and acrimony are rampant among the new Victoria city council, and the members must find a way to work together co-operatively to solve seroious problems facing the city, Coun. Marg Gardiner writes. TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by a Victoria council member.

As a recently elected member of Victoria city council, I am compelled to make public my deep disappointment in this council.

I am troubled by many things, but I am especially troubled by the polarization and acrimony that characterizes council meetings. By failing to work constructively together, we are, to put the matter simply, failing the city.

It is clear from Coun. Stephen Hammond’s “A personal appeal to David Eby: Please help Victoria,” (March 14) that there is a divide amongst councillors on important challenges facing our city. This is primarily a failure of council and we all bear some responsibility, and we must all work toward a resolution.

We have fallen into the same dysfunction of the previous council, well documented by the MNP’s City of Victoria Governance Review report of July 18, 2022. The previous council deferred this report to the current council.

Our council was elected five months ago and has not yet addressed the recommendations in the MNP governance report.

Failure to do so has created shortcomings — debate on important issues is routinely cut off; perspectives and input from some at the table have been selectively considered while contrary voices are ignored.

Proposed ethical guidelines are missing and ethical lapses are all too common. Council is floundering.

Let me take one issue — public safety — to make my point.

For me, a key challenge facing this council is public safety. Council has a duty to protect the residents and businesses of Victoria and to provide a safe and secure environment in this city. The public is clear on the need to provide a safe city and to support VicPD.

Three reports completed in the past year provide us with guidance on how to govern and the priorities of the people we have been elected to serve:

1. MNP 2022 City of Victoria Governance Review: “Overwhelmingly, 82 per cent of online survey respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that council ensures that the City is focused on the right things … 81 per cent of survey respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that council ensures the City addresses citizen priorities.”

2) VicPD 2022 Community Survey: 82 per cent of respondents to the survey expressed overall satisfaction with VicPD services.

3) 2023 Victoria Public Engagement Summary — Draft Budget/Core Services and Programs: Overall, public safety was identified as the most important core service followed by transportation, and parks and recreation.

Three important narratives are embedded in these reports:

• distrust of the past council (which continues to this day);

• a high level of confidence in our police force;

• a disconnect between the priorities of the public and several motions put forward by this council.

What has council done? It has returned VicPD’s budget to the VicPD board with a suggested $1.7-million reduction. Council has downplayed the importance of safe streets to our residents in different ways.

During recent council discussions of public safety with the police chief, a councillor suggested that police should tell the public less about crime and provide fewer warnings to the public of dangerous situations, because police bulletins might increase the perception of unsafe streets.

While professing to be concerned about public safety, council has ventured forth on “bold initiatives,” charging headlong into an ideological agenda.

The majority of councillors think we should set aside sound principles of management and decision-making to make way for accelerated actions. Some councillors speak of bold actions and accelerated programs without planning, expert input or, and this is the most egregious failing, without listening to the public.

We must go back to basics. As Victoria councillors we bring differing priorities to the table. We bring passion, impatience and agendas.

However, we are failing badly — failing to work co-operatively and professionally together and thereby failing to address the pressing priorities of this city.

Let’s make public service our priority. Let’s commit to working productively together to make Victoria a better place.

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: