Supporters of Woodwynn Farms filled the seats at a Central Saanich council meeting on Monday for a contentious question and answer period.
In November, the provincial Agricultural Land Commission turned down the farm’s application to build temporary housing. Last week, Central Saanich district staff posted ‘no occupancy’ notices on trailers and washroom facilities on the farm after an inspection revealed electrical issues they considered dangerous. Both issues prompted a wide range of public comments.
One speaker asked why council had not “educated themselves” on the issue or taken a tour of the facility. When Coun. Bob Thompson, who was acting chair in the mayor’s absence, replied that the council was familiar the supporter said “so you’re saying you don’t care?”
“Listen, we are doing our best here,” replied Thompson. “We are dealing with a complex issue here. We are here to take questions, and we will answer them where and when we can.” After a follow up, Thompson said “the implication that we are not trying to save lives is not an accurate assessment of members of council.” Other statements from supporters were at times punctuated by applause from the gallery, which Thompson eventually stopped trying to control.
“Well, I think this question does need to be answered and there’s obviously some issues of clarification that some people haven’t understood,” said Coun. Christopher Graham at the meeting. “The Agricultural Land Commission has not approved this proposal. We are not in a position to allow the proposal to go further without the Agricultural Land Commission’s approval. So, this is not something that Council has given any direction or instruction to them. So I really think you’re trying to bark up the wrong tree but I get you’re upset.”
In a follow-up interview, Graham said that “I’m not particularly happy with that technique being used,” referring to the statements made by Woodwynn supporters.
“I’m not really sure what that was supposed to achieve, because council isn’t in a position to do anything in this case.”
Central Saanich mayor Ryan Windsor was not present for this session because he had recused himself. Prior to the meeting, council learned that Windsor had a friend staying in a van on his family’s property, which itself is within the ALR. The parallels to Woodwynn Farms were not lost on the mayor, so he recused himself.
“There’s a similarity in the perception so I have said that as a result of this coming forward, I’m obviously going to comply so that Council can continue to not have to deal with the perception that somebody at the table is conflicted on this matter,” said Windsor in a follow-up interview.
“The statement I made, and I was very emphatic about it [that] night, is that I fully intend to comply with district bylaws as soon as obviously practicable.”
Windsor said he was consulting to see if he would recuse himself permanently from the situation, or if a temporary recusal would be sufficient.
Coun. Graham said that elected officials did not direct district staff to make the inspection which led to the ‘no occupancy’ signage; staff did the inspection independently, which was corroborated by Liz Cornwell, acting Chief Administrative Officer for Central Saanich. Graham said that he has seen previous incidents where trailers have burned down due to electrical fires, and he felt that district staff “had a responsibility to put lives and people’s safety first.”
Richard Leblanc, executive director of the Creating Homefulness Society, did not respond to requests for comment before press deadline.
Council resolved to meet with the board of the Creating Homefulness Society in the new year to discuss ongoing concerns.