As divided council continues to spar, mediation may be the only solution

North Saanich council may seek mediator to resolve communication issues between them, staff

The continental divide in the room was too broad to breach.

In a room almost defined by the personalities that clash within its walls, the councillors and mayor of North Saanich agreed to look into mediation.

“In 19 years [in politics] I’ve never been as frustrated as I have been this term.

“If I didn’t apologize that night, I do,” Coun. Ted Daly said.

He referred to the night of June 4 when, irritated by what he perceived as “stonewalling” and delays by staff, Daly reacted emotionally with strong language. The topic, plans to build a slaughterhouse at Kildonan Farm Fine Foods.

On June 18, Daly noted he wasn’t interested in playing footsie with staff. These comments irked Mayor Alice Finall.

So, at Monday’s committee of the whole meeting, she suggested a vote of censure against Daly.

“I do understand that people become frustrated, but the comments that I objected to were comments that were abusive and without foundation,” she said. “Staff has no ability to respond to comments that are made about them in an open meeting whether founded or unfounded.”

Some residents chastized Daly.

He “was accusatory in his comments which proved to be unfounded.

I expect Coun. Daly to do the honourable thing and retract these statements and apologize to North Saanich staff,” one resident said.

Others supported him.

“Thank you for having spoken up for us on that evening. It was refreshing to hear some straight talk.”

Daly sits with Team North Saanich on one side of that great divide. The four – including councillors Dunstan Browne, Craig Mearns and Conny McBride – often vote together.

Across the chasm are Finall and councillors Elsie McMurphy and Celia Stock.

Daly expressed his frustration comes from councillors’ inability to communicate directly with staff. Those words must go through chief administrative officer Rob Buchan. Only the mayor can communicate directly with staff.

Daly said messages get filtered through the system.

“The suggestion that there is filtered information is untrue,” Finall said.

Mearns countered, “It’s accurate.”

“And the suggestion that you can’t address staff is also inaccurate,” the mayor continued.

“I’m not going to go for that deal,” Mearns muttered.

Browne, the chair of the meeting, interjected as tensions built. “What Coun. Mearns has said is absolutely true. That is the regime that is presently in place in this council.”

“The method by which council addresses staff is a policy that has been established and it is once that has been accepted by this council,” said Finall.

“I never accepted it,” Browne retorted.

“There seems to be a sense of obstructionism here,” McBride said, to which Mearns added, “As long as we get filtered information we can’t make rational decisions.”

Stock didn’t see it that way. “It’s not filtered responses, it’s so we’re not interfering [with staff’s work].”

At McMurphy’s suggestion, Finall withdrew her motion to censure Daly, with the next item on the table being a vote to hire a mediator to iron out how councillors and staff can work together.

(Browne pushed the vote, however, with the four voting against censure. The other three didn’t vote.)

When it came down to deciding on whether to hire a mediator, the vote was unanimously yes.

“I do think we’re at the point where the eight of us getting together informally for a sandwich and beer would result in much spilt beer, so i think it wouldn’t hurt to have a facilitator,” Daly said. “We’ve got some fundamental issues we just don’t agree with here. I’ve never been on a council where I felt as restricted as I do under these conditions.”

Staff were asked to present council with a list of who might fill the role to help bridge the gap, as well as costs.