The consulting firm hired to help review and draft a new official community plan for the District of North Saanich has terminated its contract over concerns the firm had lost the confidence of mayor and council.
In a letter appearing on the March 13 council meeting agenda but dated Feb. 20, Modus Planning, Design and Engagement Inc. principal Robert Barrs said the contract will be terminated with immediate effect, giving five bulletpoint reasons for the decision.
Barrs started by writing “there appears to be a deep sense of distrust” about the firm’s impartiality and suitability for the task, specifying that belief had been expressed by Mayor Peter Jones, certain unnamed members of council, and the newly minted Mayor’s OCP Advisory Committee.
The makeup of that committee featured in Barrs’ second point, as he wrote it is “populated with council members and individuals who have been highly critical of the process and of Modus and appear to represent a one-sided perspective in the community.”
Barrs also wrote the scope and direction for drafting the new OCP seemed to have changed beyond the firm’s ability to reconcile council direction with the “breadth” of engagement results the firm collected, and there was an apparent “misalignment” of values on how public engagement should be conducted.
The final point in Barrs’ letter was the firm’s professional integrity is “tied to the process we designed and to those who engaged in good faith with the activities we coordinated and facilitated.”
“Given the above, it seems clear that we have lost the confidence of council and the Mayor’s OCP Advisory Committee and, therefore, it is no longer tenable for us to continue as the district’s planning consultant,” wrote Barrs. “This is a deeply regrettable situation as many people have worked extremely hard and diligently to design and execute an OCP planning process that was fair, open, transparent, equitable and reflected a wide range of different perspectives.”
The Peninsula News Review spoke with Jones and asked him to respond to Modus’ letter, but he said he was unable to do so at this time as he and council had not yet been briefed on the letter by CAO Tim Tanton and the district’s legal team. That briefing was scheduled to be given at Monday’s (March 13) council meeting, but as that meeting ran over time, it is now expected to be given at an early April council meeting.
Despite losing Modus as a consultant in the process – which was paused by the new council shortly after the municipal election and after the draft plan was completed over concerns with the public consultation process, and restarted earlier this year with a new process – Jones said he does not expect there to be any impact on staff and committee producing a final draft for council.
The goal remains to have that final draft presented to council in the fall, but Jones said he has no plans to rush the process, to ensure it is done properly.