Erin McCracken: Council for spectators afterall

Without fail, every Friday at 2 p.m. Esquimalt resident Lorne Argyle heads over to Esquimalt municipal hall to pick up what cannot be considered light reading.

Still, he diligently spends the weekend wading through the township’s hefty agenda package to prepare himself for the council or committee-of-the-whole meeting scheduled for the following Monday night at 7 p.m.

There are a couple of other regular council watchers in attendance, but sometimes Argyle and fellow long-time resident Muriel Dunn are the only observers sitting amongst the empty chairs in council chambers.

Esquimalt is not the lone municipality in the region to face such sorry public attendance – unless, as Argyle puts it, a “hot-button issue” brings people out.

Within the span of about a month, council chambers have recently enjoyed standing-room-only attendance after neighbours arrived en masse to implore council to change course on an issue until more public feedback is sought.

The problem is, people often wait until the last minute to try and put a screeching halt to the political process – definitely within their rights, but the timing stinks.

As Argyle noted following an especially crowded council meeting, imagine the money spent in staff wages for, in some cases, years spent working through some of the bigger issues, only to have residents plead for a rethink at the last minute.

Council soaks up the discussion and not just because it’s an election year. I suspect council feels better when the community weighs in on topics, giving them more confidence to vote yea or nay.

The challenge is getting people to come out early in the process.

Why do people wait until the 11th hour when council is about to vote on a matter? Why do they only organize themselves when their street, property value or scenic view, among other things, are potentially impacted?

It’s frustrating when some residents complain about the lack of public consultation. Occasionally they’re right. But often they’ve missed out on countless golden opportunities that were repeatedly advertised.

Is it that people are turned off about sitting through what they think will be a complex and tedious political process? Are they too busy?

I have to admit, while I am an Esquimalt homeowner, I probably would never have started sitting in on council meetings if it weren’t for my line of work.

After all, life is a juggling act these days.

Argyle, Dunn and council recognize that life tends to keep residents preoccupied.

But I recently felt for Dunn when she strode to the microphone in council chambers to implore an unusually large crush of residents to stay after their issue had been resolved, and learn about other matters affecting the township.

They listened politely, but when a five-minute recess was called most went back to their lives, leaving the process to the regular council watchers once again.

Council meetings actually might surprise you.

They’re far juicier than gossiping with your neighbour over the fence, or chatting with other parents at the playground. They’re brimming with issues shaping your neighbourhood and, just as important, your larger community.

As I’ve discovered, once you start going, council meetings quickly grow on you, and you begin feeling more connected to the place in which you live.

All it takes is making that first step.

Chances are, there’s a seat available.

Erin McCracken is a reporter with the Victoria News.

emccracken@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Two volunteers work to sieve a sample of sand and ocean water through a filter, capturing any potential microplastics. (Courtesy of Ocean Diagnostics)
Victoria startup making waves in microplastics research

New products from Ocean Diagnostics will make research faster, more affordable

Chef Trevor Randle leads a June 21 online cooking featuring recipes – beef zesty lettuce wraps, blueberry strudel and blueberry spritzer. (Courtesy We Heart Local BC)
Free online cooking course explores B.C. blueberries and beef

Chef Trevor Randle calls them the province’s most flavourful foods

Willows Beach in Oak Bay. (Black Press Media file photo)
Seven days of sun set to shine on Greater Victoria

Special weather statement warns of higher than usual temperatures

Island Savings kick-starts the Equipped to Heal campaign with $120,000. (Courtesy Victoria Hospitals Foundation)
Latest Victoria Hospitals Foundation campaign targets $1M for mental health

Goal is to outfit new 19-bed unit at Eric Martin Pavilion

Google Maps shows significant traffic backups after a crash reported shortly before noon on Father’s Day, June 20. (Google Maps)
Father’s Day crash in Saanich closes lane of McKenzie Avenue

Police say there were injuries, traffic impacted

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Most Read