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North Saanich councillor says ballot box will settle OCP review controversy

But not all on district council agree with Murray Weisenberger’s contentions
North Saanich Coun. Murray Weisenberger, seen here being sworn into office in 2014, said the best way to resolve the controversial official community plan review is to have all residents resolve the issue with their votes in the 2022 civic election. (Black Press Media file photo)

A North Saanich councillor not running for re-election in 2022 says the ballot box will be the best way to settle the district’s controversial review of the Official Community Plan.

Coun. Murray Weisenberger made the argument during the Dec. 6 council meeting, while he and his colleagues debated the future of the review.

Coun. Patricia Pearson had earlier suggested skipping the next scheduled round of engagement and going directly to the OCP draft stage, adding that document would then be subject to input and revisions.

Pointing out that process would not be completed before the next election, Weisenberger raised the idea of turning the OCP into a ballot question – not a referendum – for the 2022 civic election.

Later he told Black Press Media that council continues to hear from the “same 60 suspects” whose critical opinion of the review process has become repetitive.

“I don’t think that they necessarily represent the majority opinion,” he said, noting that making the OCP review a ballot question would give other residents a chance to be heard. “We are elected to make decisions in the best interest of the district and the people, and I take that responsibility seriously. As a long-time Green, I hear the hypocrisy of people who say ‘oh, we love agriculture.’ They don’t want agriculture. They want a pastoral setting to drive through.”

Residents of North Saanich, one of the richest Canadian communities by net worth, are split around their own interests, Weisenberger said.

“Those who want to keep us in 1983, look at what is happening at the Amazon site,” he said. North Saanich has a responsibility to provide good governance and that includes housing for those working on the Peninsula, he added. “When you are in a care home and you need your diaper changed or whatever, are you expecting people to drive from Langford or take public transit for an hour-and-a-half to service you? Where are those people going to live? Who is responsible for these decisions? We are!”

READ MORE: Key OCP decisions pushed into 2022 by North Saanich council

Coun. Jack McClintock strongly opposes turning the OCP review into an election issue.

“If we are going to present something to the public, it has to be the absolute best that can be done – not something that we are going to cobble together and then just roll the dice,” he said. “With greater community involvement, we will have a very, very good OCP that the community will go for.”

Residents do not want the OCP process stopped, he said, “they just want better engagement,” noting that people want to be able to speak openly to council and district staff and express their own vision, rather than have some other vision presented to them.

Addressing Weisenberger’s contention that review opponents represent a loud minority, McClintock said they represent a cross section of the community. “It’s not isolated or exclusive to a particular group, although there are groups that have assembled.”

Concerns about housing, he added, must be balanced with community’s vision for itself, rather than a vision presented by the consultant.

For his part, Mayor Geoff Orr said the OCP review is already becoming an election issue.

“We are less than a year out from the election and this has raised the topic of elected officials and the philosophies around these topics, so it is already on the radar.” That said, he prefers not to think about the issue in terms of electoral politics.

“It will be what it will be as we go forward,” Orr said. “We need to make the best decision we can make now to advance this initiative, which is important.” If council feels the financial investment and the work that can accomplished by next summer is worthwhile and effective, he added, “that is how we should look at it.”

Orr didn’t want to predict how big of an issue the OCP would be by election time. “If we are having this conversation in June and we are still unresolved, this dialogue is quite different.”

RELATED STORY: Familiar critics accuse North Saanich of ignoring public concerns about density

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