New CAO getting feel for Saanich

Paul Thorkelsson is learning the ropes at the district

The chance to come to Saanich was one new Chief Administrative Officer Paul Thorkelsson couldn’t resist.

Thorkelsson started on Jan. 4 and has made his way through most of the laundry list of ongoing Saanich items left from departed interim CAO Andy Laidlaw.

If the public is hoping for a major repeal of the Environmental Development Permit Area from staff, they’ll need to present a strong case to council. The 50-year-old has seen similar EDPA bylaws with the Regional District of Nanaimo, where he’s been since 2002 as a general manager before becoming the deputy CAO and then CAO.

“Rarely, did the [environmentally sensitive areas] cause any controversy that I can recall,” he said. “Garry oaks aren’t specific to Saanich, most Island communities take a high interest in their protection.”

A master architect by trade, Thorkelsson left Edmonton for the rockyscape of Creston, where he served a term on city council. From there he made it to the greenscape of the Island, where he’s been for over a decade.

Thorkelsson’s family is partway through transitioning here. His eldest child, a son, is at the University of Victoria. His daughter is finishing high school in Nanaimo. The long term plan is to relocate here permanently.

For now, it’s a lot of listening and learning as he attempts to navigate the riddle that is the District of Saanich, its staff, mayor, council and residents.

Disagreements such as the current for-and-against argument for increased parking at the Glendenning Road entrance to Mount Douglas Park are the type of unavoidable interfaces to be expected here, he said.

“Saanich is a dream job in terms of its size, and its unique construction of urban and rural development,” Thorkelsson said. “It raises challenges and opportunities. I don’t think you could make up a place with a higher balance of urban and rural that’s developed like this.”

In other words, let this be a reminder there can’t be a perfect solution for everything.

One of the items Thorkelsson’s left to deal with is from the Saanich spyware scandal created by an administration that is somewhat still in place, including director of corporate services Laura Ciarnello.

Thorkelsson said he’s heard from staff that there is progress on the recommendations from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham 2015 report on Saanich’s potentially criminal installation of spyware on the mayor’s and other computers.

Council’s direction was to fill the recommendations of the report.

“Staff are working through the recommendations and once they’re met, Saanich will hire a freedom of information and privacy officer,” Thorkelsson said. “We’ve been in touch with the commissioner’s office regarding progress.”

Thorkelsson will attend his second Saanich council when it resumes on Monday, Jan. 25.


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