A rift between North Saanich Mayor Peter Jones and Coun. Phil DiBattista emerged during a Jan. 16 council meeting over Jones’ OCP committee appointments. (Black Press Media file photo)

A rift between North Saanich Mayor Peter Jones and Coun. Phil DiBattista emerged during a Jan. 16 council meeting over Jones’ OCP committee appointments. (Black Press Media file photo)

‘Not listening’: Council rift emerges as North Saanich mayor excludes councillor from OCP committees

The district is restarting its OCP draft after council voted to press pause last year

A rift between the North Saanich mayor and a councillor came to a head at the Jan. 16 council meeting as discussion turned to official community plan committee appointments.

Near the top of the meeting, Mayor Peter Jones drew attention to the list of appointments made to five new committees and four sub-committees to guide the district’s revived OCP development process. Right from the beginning of Jones’ report, Coun. Phil DiBattista made it clear he took issue with the process.

“Question for the chair, the mayor’s report is always open for questions and comments, so why is it being restricted at this meeting as information only,” asked DiBattista.

Jones responded by pointing out that under Section 141 of the Community Charter, a mayor has the power to unilaterally stand-up committees and make appointments to them. While Jones said he has, and will, consider council feedback on committee appointments, he is under no obligation to follow that advice, unless a formal motion is made and passes.

READ MORE: North Saanich Coun. Brett Smyth accuses Mayor Peter Jones of political posturing over OCP

DiBattista also raised concerns about no information being provided to council or the public about why the residents appointed to the committees had been selected and what their qualifications were, two things he said were disclosed publicly during the previous OCP process, of which he was a part of as a citizen on the advisory working group.

DiBattista then turned the discussion to another of his concerns – that he was the only member of council who had not been appointed to any of the committees, despite the fact several councillors had been appointed to multiple committees, and one sub-committee having a vacant position listed in the report.

Jones countered that the decision to exclude DiBattista – never named directly by either speaker during the meeting, instead referred to as variations of “the one councillor” – was entirely intentional.

“That particular councillor appears to me to be diametrically opposed to where the vast majority of the residents of North Saanich have said they want to go (with the OCP). That councillor I feel is not listening to the public,” said Jones.

Jones said he would have no qualms with appointing DiBattista to other committees in the future, but not any which are directly related to developing the OCP.

Speaking to the Peninsula News Review on Tuesday (Jan. 24), Jones declined to elaborate on his concerns about DiBattista publicly, but said he would divulge that information should DiBattista file a complaint about the appointments.

Also speaking to the Review on Tuesday, DiBattista said the suggestion there was any appeal process for a mayor’s committee appointments under the charter was baseless, as the only options available would be to sue for a legal review of the decision, costing taxpayers greatly, or to attempt to freeze the entire OCP process through a motion which council would be unlikely to support, given previous vote splits on OCP items.

Another issue brought up during the meeting was Jones’ concerns over an internal email DiBattista sent in December to council and staff, which Jones described as “severely criticizing members of council for the way they were acting with regard to the OCP, but more particularly with regard to how they were acting.”

Speaking after the meeting, DiBattista said at no point in the email, which has not been made public, did he criticize anyone by name, and the intent of the email was to remind his fellow new council members of the importance of limiting their role in government to governance, rather than interfering with the day-to-day municipal operations carried out by staff he said he had seen his colleagues doing through constant questions and requests being made directly to staff, rather than through the town’s chief administrative officer per best practice.

North Saanich is in the process of restarting its OCP review after it was put on hold in November 2022 by a 4-3 council vote, just two or three months before the draft report was expected to be completed by Vancouver-based consulting firm MODUS to the tune of $400,000 already spent by the district.

The decision to halt work on the draft was made over concerns not all of the 30 recommendations resulting from public engagement and used to guide the original draft process reflected the desires of residents, especially with regards to densification, due to what Jones described as a flawed public engagement process.

Jones told the Review he believes the simplified process and simplified OCP which he expects to come out of it will end up costing the taxpayer far less than the $400,000 already spent to reach the draft stage under the previous effort. He also said he expects upcoming council meetings will see a motion to rescind the stop-work order on the OCP preparation, which if passed will see the new process begin in earnest.

He said he hopes to have a draft ready in the summer for final public input, and the final OCP adopted in the fall.

READ MORE: Divided North Saanich council approves first of new OCP advisory committees


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