Saanich’s CAO says council spends too much time going through the motions

Saanich’s chief administrative officer (CAO) chided council for wasting time by presenting resolutions unannounced without staff input.

“This has happened repeatedly over the last two years, and we end up in this situation, where we spend 45 minutes having a debate and a discussion about the fine wording of these things, when this should happen in five minutes,” said Paul Thorkelsson. “I would really call on council, if you want to bring these things forward…please let us know.”

With resolution deadlines for various municipal organizations known well in advance, staff can then work with councillors to avoid what has been happening repeatedly, said Thorkelsson.

Mayor Richard Atwell described this commentary as “very fair.”

“We have heard you, and we strive to do better,” he said.

At issue was a resolution from Saanich to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) asking the FCM to request the Government of Canada sign and ratify the United Nations’ Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons.

Saanich council had first asked staff to send the resolution to FCM last September, but Saanich has since heard that the form of the resolution was not in line with FCM’s format.

The FCM also asked for additional background information, which supports the rationale for the resolution and clarifies how the “resolution focuses on an issue that that is a direct responsibility of Canadian municipalities and falls within the jurisdiction of the federal government.”

This response prompted Coun. Fred Haynes (who initiated the original resolution) to present a revised, longer resolution, which Saanich would place in the time capsule part of the community’s Canada 150 celebrations.

Haynes appealed to this aspect in his appeal for support.

“Just image when our children’s children open that time capsule, and they see their parents and grandparents’ names on the resolution that went to FCM this year, and could march us down that long and difficult journey of negotiations towards a nuclear free world,” he said.

But his colleagues did not see this argument in voting against the new resolution. Coun. Judy Brownoff said Saanich would be served by updating the original resolution with the additional information. Saanich has already submitted a resolution, she said.

Haynes responded by saying that the new resolution emerged in consultation with FCM staff, thereby enhancing its chances of getting onto the FCM floor.

Other members of council, meanwhile, used the moment to question whether Saanich should even be in the business of dealing with this issue.

Coun. Leif Wergeland said plenty of global issues deserve attention, but his primary concern lies with the residents of Saanich, and Coun. Susan Brice said nobody on council opposes measures to curtail nuclear disarmament.

Mayor Richard Atwell said Saanich has already done quite a bit when it comes to raising awareness in questioning whether a FCM resolution would make any news or difference at all.

“We have already done a lot in this regard, given that we don’t have a lot of say over this,” he said. “It’s up for debate whether this is really withing the jurisdiction of FCM.”

Haynes disagreed. Let FCM decide whether this is an appropriate issue, he said. “It’s certainly not going to go forward if we don’t put in the mail and send it to them. All it takes is for enough people to raise their hands like that, and we could have a national debate about nuclear disarmament amongst our colleagues at FCM in September.”

Following additional debate, council eventually defeated the motion 7-2 with Coun. Colin Plant joining Haynes in support. This then left council grappling with formulating a response to FCM, prompting additional discussion over wording that eventually led to Thorkelsson’s public reprimand of council.

Council then voted to send the issue to staff for review.

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