The newly formed Cowichan Communities Coalition told North Cowichan’s council that democratic procedures are “not the best” in the municipality.
Speaking as a delegation at council’s meeting on May 16, CCC members Marilyn Palmer and Bernie Jones said many residents of the municipality feel “left out and undervalued” when major decisions are being made that impact them.
“We’ve had discussions about ways to move things forward in a more collaborative fashion with the municipality,” said Palmer, who is also president of the Quamichan Lake Neighbourhood Association.
“We want to share ideas and find solutions so that we can have a more participatory democracy in the municipality. We also want to act as a resource to staff and elected officials.”
Faced with similar frustrations around local planning issues, seven community associations in the Valley formed the CCC earlier this month.
So far, the CCC consists of the Chemainus Residents Association, Cowichan Valley Naturalists, One Cowichan, Quamichan Lake Neighbourhood Association, Quamichan Watershed Stewardship Society, Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association and the Somenos Marsh Society.
Jones, a member of the Chemainus Residents Association, said one of the coalition’s goals is to participate more fully in municipal elections by working towards establishing sets of agreed upon questions to be asked of the candidates at public forums during the upcoming election campaign.
“Another goal of the coalition is to ensure that the concerns of neighbourhoods that are to be impacted by development are put first over the developers,” he said.
“Having citizens more involved in decision making and providing more avenues to do so is a goal shared by members of the CCC. It’s a matter of us all working together to shape our communities in the way we want to shape them.”
Coun. Al Siebring said he agrees that neighbourhoods are the backbone of any community, but the CCC should bear in mind that council members are bound to make decisions in the best interests of the municipality as a whole.
Coun. Joyce Behnsen reminded the CCC that developers, builders and contractors are neighbours and citizens as well.
“We must keep a level of respect and inclusiveness towards them as well and keep them in the loop,” she said.
Coun. Tom Walker lauded the CCC and its mandate, but asked the delegation to explain in what way they see democracy not working at its best in North Cowichan.
Jones said one example is many open houses set up by the municipality to provide information on development proposals in North Cowichan.
He said at many of these meetings, the public just see things on the wall and there’s no interaction with anyone to ask questions or offer suggestions
“There was a workshop held years ago about development around the old Chemainus school which had maps laid out on tables along with lots of information and people with expertise to answer questions,” Jones said.
“People from the community and from the municipality came up with some goals for the development project, and we’d like to see more of that.”