Voiceless in Victoria

Honourable Anne Kang
Minister of Municipal Affairs
Province of British Columbia
Room 236 Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC, V8X 1X4
MUNI.Minister@gov.bc.ca M

April 1, 2024

Dear Minister Kang

I am writing to you for help.

I am deeply concerned about the erosion of the democratic process in Victoria, BC and some of the recent actions taken by those who manage the city. Over the past several months, city officials have limited residents’ ability to participate in, and provide feedback on city matters, including our Official Community Plan (OCP); a key document used to shape our city. I would write directly to Council however, historically, most have not responded, with some having autoresponders saying they have too many emails to reply or that their job is part-time, and they don’t have time.

I considered sharing my concerns at a Council meeting, however there’s negligible opportunity to speak. Council recently restricted residents’ opportunity to 6 people per meeting and from 5 minutes to 3 minutes each. I am sure that you can appreciate, that even the most experienced of speakers would find conveying an idea in 3-mintues challenging. Further, we are a city of 92,000 residents. Last year there were 20 Council meetings each with six 3-minute public speak slots. This translates into 0.13% of residents being heard. With speaking slots only 3 minutes, we have been reduced to a total of 360 minutes of total public input per year.

I was hoping to find a way to bring a complaint forward regarding those Councillors who voted for these anti-democratic changes, however Council implemented a new process whereby members of the public may no longer bring complaints forward. If you have a complaint it must go through the Mayor, another Councillor or staff. I am sure I don’t need to point out the obvious problems with that process.

I am turning to you, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, as I understand you have the power to make positive change in our community through your role. I am turning to you not just because of what I see as the erosion of democracy at the municipal level as outlined above, but also because I feel council has insulated themselves from being held to account by the public and I have no oneI can turn to but you regarding the following:

1. Council voted themselves a 25% increase in remuneration absent independent justification and public input.

On March 14, 2024 the City of Victoria Mayor and Council received a report on remuneration. The report was for information purposes only; it had no recommendations. Further, the previous review of remuneration conducted as part of the Governance Review concluded the current remuneration was competitive and no adjustment was recommended.

The publicly documented motion was to simply receive the report. One of the Councillors moved to receive the report and amend the motion to include a 25% increase in remuneration. Although the Mayor advised they felt it was “inadvisable to provide such a detailed motion without notice” and that “some of the references in the preamble (amended motion) are inconclusive and subject to interpretation particularly the last line of the background piece, I cannot technically find this out of order, although I would strongly suggest that the better route would be to provide this as a notice of motion to allow council and the public to be able to absorb the content given its detail.”

The Councillor moved the motion regardless. The amendment was seconded and was later passed by five of the Councillors.

2.  Predetermined Official Community Plan (OCP) Engagement Outcomes

I have reviewed the City of Victoria 10-Year Official Community Plan Update survey. The OCP is a key document guiding the city as it moves forward and the survey is one of the only way’s residents are able to provide input. This is problematic for 2 reasons:

First, the survey excludes many residents from participating in shaping the vision of their community – something that is their democratic right.

a) One must know the survey exists to have a voice.

b) One must have access to an email account. Approximately 20% of seniors in Canada do not use the internet.

c)  One must be literate to participate. Forty-nine percent of Canadians cannot read or write above level two (a minimum level three is required to live and participate to a full degree in the modern world.

Second, in my humble opinion, the survey does not ask for input, but rather it asks one to agree with the options presented. As an example, Question 1 offers the choice between six-storey buildings in all residential areas or six-storey buildings in some areas, with four-storey building everywhere else. It suggests that this is a “requirement.”

Knowing that there will no longer be public hearings on new construction that are in line with the OCP as per Provincial policy, it seems that resident engagement is vital at this stage. The survey does not make it possible for municipal residents to participate in the development of their local community.

3. Exclusion of people with disabilities for the OCP

I often shake my head and ask, “What year is it again?” when I see what I can only describe as blatant ableism. The final page of the OCP survey requests demographic information including age, gender identity, ethnicity, languages spoken, level of education and income it does not ask residents to self-identify if they have a disability. It is as though people with disabilities don’t exist.

Further, and what is particularly disturbing, is that the City asks residents on more than one occasion to rank responses where there are specific responses related to people with disabilities. To my knowledge, we have a Human Rights Code and Charter of Rights that ranks us as equal. 

I consider these three matters very serious. I no longer have trust in the municipal process or the Act that is meant to guide our cities. I or kindly ask that you step-in and provide the City of Victoria Mayor and Council with guidance. It seems they have lost their way.

Respectfully

Susan Simmons
info@susansimmons.ca
Victoria, BC

CC: Honourable Sheila Malcolmson
Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction
Province of British Columbia
SDPR.Minister@gov.bc.ca

CC: Honourable David Eby
Premier and President of the Executive Council
Province of British Columbia
david.eby.MLA@leg.bc.ca

CC: Honourable Kevin Falcon
MLA, Vancouver-Quilchena
kevin.falcon.MLA@leg.bc.ca

CC: Honourable John Rustad
MLA Nechako Lakes
john.rustad.MLA@leg.bc.ca


3 thoughts on “Voiceless in Victoria

  1. I totally agree Susan. As a Victorian taxpayer, I have written to my Council Representative Jeremy Caradonna numerous times with no response. I is unconscionable that Susan Kim has not been censured or resigned for praising the martyrs on October 7th and denying the rapes. This caused an international upheaval and embarrassment for my city and government. Now, in addition she wants a 25% pay increase with an e bike built in. This is unconscionable, irresponsible and repugnant behavior for anyone representing the people of Victoria. Now that Council’s work hours have been reduced , they are out of line giving themselves a 25% pay increase , ignoring a commissioned report and any public input.

  2. I am really interested in the reply to Susan’s thoughtful and intelligent letter to the Minister, and or any response from our City Council cueing the Mayor.

  3. Excellent letter on all fronts. Did you consider sending a copy to the President of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) as well (or perhaps writing a specific letter to her asking if the the UBCM has any standards regarding public consultation)?

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