North Cowichan, as a community of communities, has some particular communication challenges. We are smaller parts of a greater whole -- neighbours who share one thing: North Cowichan is our home.
Local politics -- schools, zoning, council elections -- hit us all where we live and have a vested interest. Yet many folks report feeling unheard, feeling their input is not valued. Council can go a long way towards inviting and keeping citizen engagement, by putting as much emphasis on listening as on telling.
The idea of registered Local Community Associations being informed about potential development and zoning applications in their area, at an early stage of the process, is one good way to improve communication. Seeking input at the outset saves time and builds goodwill. Developers, after all, want to build projects that residents support, and residents -- who are footing the bills for municipal plans through their taxes -- want a say in how their dollars are spent. Done right, this won't take more time.
A regular "Council's Corner" column in local papers and online, written in a conversational style, would do much to inform citizens, bring them along, or catch the disconnect between council and residents. It could also build a sense of community. A user-friendly website would help people access North Cowichan's services and staff, and learn about pending plans.
Building relationships with stakeholders is critical. If we had maintained a respectful relationship with our neighbours, the Halalt First Nation, ensuring early and thorough consultation on the Chemainus Wells Project, we might have saved thousands of dollars in legal fees -- and Chemainus might have clean water right now, instead of a brand-new pumping facility that stands unused. If that consultation had taken place and didn't result in an agreement, we could have saved $6 million in taxpayer dollars.
Communicating with all stakeholders, and having everyone on board before moving ahead, is critical. How much money went into the Cliffs over Maple Bay, relying on the Joint Utilities Board's sewage lagoons to irrigate the golf course, when the long-term lease on JUB was only signed in the last few weeks?
Dealing with communication gone wrong -- as with the two issues aforementioned -- wastes time and money. Time and money that should be spent building 'real economic health', with affordable housing and liveable-wage jobs (increasing the business tax base) so young adults and families can make their lives here.
If there's anywhere in Canada that a forward-thinking business would want to locate, it's North Cowichan. But as municipal staff will admit, North Cowichan has a reputation for not being "open for business." The new Official Community Plan, and the business incentives for green industry, have us poised to become a resilient community that supports a wide variety of enterprises and people. We need to get on with it.
We already spend too much time dealing with disgruntled folks in endless meetings and hearings after the fact. And we've spent more than half a million dollars in the last three years on lawsuits. We can spend less time and money, and spend it better, if we work proactively at listening early and getting the majority of folks on board.
For the last 15 years, I've been teaching people to communicate with one another more effectively. From all walks of life and many cultures, they confirm that one of our most important needs as human beings is respectful communication. Everyone needs to feel important and that they have a voice. Feeling heard is crucial for building an inclusive community.
As an independent candidate I am not beholden to any ideology or partisan group. I don't think partisanship belongs at the local level. We need to elect councils that are working for the betterment of the whole community. Moving back and forth, from right to left just covers the same old worn ground. I want us to work together to move forward, creating an aware, involved and resilient community that shares ideas openly and works collaboratively to make our future strong.