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CVRD Senior Staff Hire Lawyer To Impede Independent Cowichan Bay Director Lori Iannidinardo

Peter Rusland’s story on the Bamberton LNG contoversy was originally published in the South Cowichan Echo.

Peter Rusland

Unanimous opposition by Cowichan’s regional directors to Steelhead LNG’s proposed floating facility off Bamberton is causing plenty of private legal ripples.Those waves could see directors change their minds at their March 9 board meeting.

And debate around this regional ruling could address fears of libel chill here and elsewhere.

At issue is the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Feb. 10 unanimous decision based on Cowichan Bay Director Lori Iannidinardo’s resolution, seconded by Duncan Director Sharon Jackson.

CVRD Director - Lori Iannidinardo

CVRD Director – Lori Iannidinardo

It reads: “That the CVRD advise Steelhead LNG that the CVRD is opposed to any LNG facility being located at Bamberton, or anywhere else in the regional district.”

The motion passed after board debate surrounding possible ecological damage, public safety risks, climate change, and other regions passing similar resolutions.

CVRD’s environmental services manager, Kate Miller, is not believed to have been publicly involved in the LNG resolution debate.

But debate and the vote was heard by other CVRD brass paid to detect any potential legal fallout about board resolutions.

Duncan Councillor and CVRD Alternate Director Sharon Jackson

Duncan Councillor Sharon Jackson

No cautions were voiced publicly Feb. 10 by CVRD executives, including CAO Brian Carruthers.
However, reports from various private meetings after that decision, made to protect Cowichan from possible harm, tell a different story.

The Echo obtained a private legal option sent Feb. 17 to Carruthers, and planning and development general manager Ross Blackwell, by CVRD lawyer Peter Johnson.

It basically cautions the CVRD against being seen to have made decisions in advance of Steelhead’s land-rezoning application, that has yet to be made.

CVRD Lawyer Peter Johnson

CVRD Lawyer Peter Johnson

Johnson suggests a board statement confirming Steelhead’s pending application “will be given due consideration, in accordance with the board’s development approval procedures and the requirements of the Local Government Act, would be beneficial and should provided early in the process.”

Johnson notes since the CVRD expects Steelhead’s rezoning application, directors “should avoid statements of opposition to the application that suggest thy have made a final decision before having considered the application on its merits.”

Carruthers told the Echo “… Neither Ross Blackwell nor I have met with Steelhead LNG and I can’t speak to whether Steelhead has met with other staff.”
“… CVRD staff meet with individuals and companies on a daily basis to discuss various application processes.”

CVRD CAO Brian Carruthers

CVRD CAO Brian Carruthers

Johnson cites case law showing elected officials can hold and express opinions about community issues.
“However, when the board’s legislative decision-making functions are engaged, board members must be careful to avoid statements that are suggestive of having a closed mind.”
Iannidinardo may have overstepped that line when commenting to a radio station about the board’s anti-LNG ruling.

Iannidinardo got a legal opinion Feb. 24 from her lawyer, Jack Woodward.

“I feel angry, disappointed, and sad,” she said.
“I absolutely believe I’ve done nothing wrong. I always remain open-minded on everything.”

Jack Woodward QC

Jack Woodward QC

Woodward explains fairness by elected folks “goes without saying.”
And Woodward argues with Johnson’s view, saying “an ameliorating statement” to Steelhead from the board is unnecessary.

Pulling from the same case law Johnson cites, Woodward states “politicians like yourself (Iannidinardo) are protected by the courts in having the freedom to make political decisions and represent the people who elected them.”
Furthermore, legal rules against bias are “partially relaxed for politicians who are entitled, even encouraged, to express their views robustly in the public forum.

“Some degree of pre-judgement is inherent in the role of a councillor.”
Woodward notes Steelhead had made no formal application, and may or may not.

CVRD Chair Jon Lefebure

CVRD Chair Jon Lefebure

If they do, directors must basically keep open minds, despite their Feb. 10 resolution opposing LNG here.
“The resolution you passed is an expression of your views as an elected politician. You can’t be muzzled. Be fearless.

“If Steelhead makes an application to the board, you must review the application on its own merits and express no bias against Steelhead,” Woodward advises Iannidinardo.

Richard Hughes, a former Cobble Hill director, was blunt in his suspicions.

Richard 'Hub' Hughes

Richard Hughes

“There is a great deal of effort and expense going into CAO Brian Carruthers and board chairman Jon Lefebure’s freak out over the board’s unanimous motion opposing LNG facilities proposed at Bamberton, or anywhere else in the CVRD.

Hughes claims Carruthers and Lefebure publicly stated they were seeking a legal opinion.
“The legal opinion has been billed to the citizens of Cowichan. Why did they seek an opinion, and why hasn’t it been made public?”

BC Environment Minister Mary Polak

BC Environment Minister Mary Polak

Carruthers and Lefebure said they could not comment about: what’s said in private meetings; if and why the CVRD may have gotten a legal opinion about the LNG resolution; if they or staff made promises to Steelhead; if Steelhead has threatened legal action; or if environment minister Mary Polak mentioned CVRD’s LNG opposition ruling when she met privately with directors Feb. 12 in Duncan.


17 comments to CVRD Senior Staff Hire Lawyer To Impede Independent Cowichan Bay Director Lori Iannidinardo

  • Morale is low

    This is all so unfortunate. I have worked with some of the long term staff at the CVRD and they do a great job. They are good planners, environmentalists and engineers. they are hard working people. I have met them on site, had coffee with them and recreated with them. I dont want all staff to be coloured with the same brush because of such incredible incompetence coming from their “leaders.”

    A manager is paid to bring staff together and make credible decisions. Unfortunately the opposite is happening. Morale at the CVRD is so low right now. Some staffers are thinking about resigning and moving on, some were laid off abrubtly and some just shake their heads hoping a nother shake-down will occur. These guys are so high on themselves so arrogant.

    • Matt Connelly

      The arrogance, the posturing, the “I have arrived” mentality. Instead of working with people they dictate and we are seeing the results in our communities, evidenced by the comments and opinions posted on this site.

      Directors , please take note.

  • taxpayer 4

    good luck with the foi reguests, read this:

  • Cam stroud

    There are many comments on this site as of late that point to a disgruntled electorate. It happens, Ive seen this before but theres something different here in that we have a staff that seems to want to take full control over the issues. From what I have observed in the past staff are usually outside the political firefight. but here we have staff that seem to be firing the first shots. Its so totally ass backwards that we have unelected people causing us so many problems. One director released a statement that was so obviously penned by staff that it made me want to barge into the CVRD and hand blackwell and caruthers a one way ticket to hicksville, where they would probabably do much better.

    • Dara Quast

      Cam, I understand your reaction but I would like to suggest that you are aiming at the wrong target.

      There is no doubt that Carruthers and Blackwell need to be dealt with but the Director in question is the bigger problem and a perfect example of what is really wrong down on Ingram St.

      Any Director who ALLOWS the staff to dictate his public statements needs to be called to account by the people that he is so obviously not representing.

  • Thank you, Richard and all the writers who bother to put their thoughts and reactions into print to inform our community on what’s going on behind closed doors, in secret, while spending our money, and in this case abusing our region’s interests and democratic values. Blogs like this may be the only place left free of financial interests to discuss the real issues that affect our communities.

  • Dara Quast

    Hold on a second. The Chair and CAO do not feel that they can comment on things that were said in a private meetings, a meetings that should never have been private. A meeting between our Directors and our Minister of Environment and attended by a plethora of civil servants that we pay. Really?

    I want to know if Mary Polak’s real goal was to convince all the Directors to support Steelhead’s plan to bring a floating LNG plant into the Saanich inlet.

    I want to know why the public and media were barred from this meeting that clearly meets the requirements of being open to the public as defined in the Ombudsperson’s Special Report #34 – Open Meetings: Best Practices Guide for Local Governments.

    I want to know why our Directors allowed this meeting to happen and did not demand public access or even bother to inform the people that they represent that this meeting was taking place.

    I want to know why our MLA was not included in the exclusive invite list.

    I want to know which Directors think that we in the public are so ignorant and uninformed that they can meet, in secret, with the Minister that has facilitated so much injustice, crushing financial cost and anxiety within our community and there would be no ramifications to their political positions now and into the future.

    I want to know if any of the Directors actually know why Mary Polak wanted to come and meet in secret at the CVRD.

    I want to know if there are any Directors that are not working solely for the senior management staff at the CVRD.

    I want to know who thought it was a good idea to inform the Directors at this secret meeting that certain players in the CVRD hierarchy had decided to call for a, and I use the term lightly, legal opinion on a unanimously passed motion regarding the Board’s positioning on future LNG projects in the Regional District.

    I want to know a lot of things but I am just a tax paying citizen so this information is not available to me. I am only allowed to pay my taxes and shut-up.

    • Marilyn Venturi

      Pretty much sums up how I am feeling. To the best of anyone’s knowledge (notwithstanding any secret or “in camera” meetings that may have taken place) no application has been made by Steelhead, we don’t know for sure if an application will ever be made. It indeed goes without saying that if a rezoning application is submitted, the Board must and will review the application on its own merits and express no bias against Steelhead; however, directors most certainly can and are encouraged to express an opinion that reflects that of the majority of their electorate and indeed have done Steelhead a favour by telling them where they and their constituents stand on LNG. We elected them to do just that. As for the letter from Director Davis (prior to any application being received) about staff’s roll in local government etc., it makes no sense to me particularly because all the cases he referenced upheld that Directors, Aldermen etc. can indeed express an opinion forcefully without having prejudged the matter to be decided to the extent that they are no longer capable of being persuaded. I have no reason to doubt Director Davis’s integrity, but I must admit, I am confused by his stance and his rhetorical question implying that directors should refrain from expressing their opinion. The law is on their side.

      • Dara Quast

        I have a few more question:

        How can the CVRD’s lawyer make suggestions about statements that the Board could make regarding Steelheads “pending” application or note “since the CVRD expects Steelhead’s rezoning application” if, according to Carruthers, “… Neither Ross Blackwell nor I have met with Steelhead LNG and I can’t speak to whether Steelhead has met with other staff.”?

        Who asked for, again I use the term loosely, the legal opinion? According to this article it was sent on Feb. 17th to Carruthers and Blackwell. Does that mean that they asked for it? Why did they ask for it? What did they ask for exactly? If Carruthers and Blackwell have had no communications with Steelhead what makes them think that there is going to be an application? Why did they convey this assumption to the lawyer?

        Did they ask the lawyer to try and find some position that could be exploited and used to manipulate some of our less enlightened/informed Directors?

        Is this the only legal opinion that Carruthers and Blackwell have used our tax dollars to obtain without the consent of the Board? Is this what we want them doing with our money?

        Are there any Directors at the Board, besides Lori Iannidinardo, who have not been drinking the CAO’s Kool-aid? I guess we will all find out soon enough because one thing is sure – there are no secrets at the CVRD.

        • Patrick walls

          An foi on Blackwell’s communication is necessary

          • Dara Quast

            I would like to hope that our ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES start doing their job soon so that the public is not forced to file FOI requests.

            I would like to see them stop going after each other, stop pandering to the staff, stop pursuing their own self-serving agendas and get answers for the people that elected them.

            I would also like world peace, an elimination of poverty, and health for both the people and the planet.

            My money is on world peace happening long before I see any positive behaviour coming out of our current batch of Directors.

            • cam stroud

              Regional Districts are tough to govern; many diverse communities with many diverse electorates. But thats why we have Directors that represent each distinct area. There are some directors that are doing a great job-they are activists, strong, true politicians. These Directors are standing out and I am proud of them. I just wanted to put that out there, just to be balanced.

              I agree with Dara that it is shameful that we have to start asking for FOI requests becasue the information is not forthcoming.

  • Andy Forsythe

    Politicians have the right to express their political views on any given proposal. Thats what we expect from them otherwise we would end up like the United States where lobby groups are known to have a hold on certain politicians (NRA for example).

    The unanimous vote was democracy in action where we witnessed our elected officials mirroring the electorate’s wishes.

    Im not entirely certain why staff would pay thousands of dollars in tax dollars to find a legal opinion that mutes that fantastic unanimous vote.

    Staff have an obligation to stay out of the political realm. This is their obligation to the electorate. They have overstepped their mandate and although the explanations are being thrown from the CVRD to the electorate like confetti, most of us wish they would just stop and stay out of the political dance.

    Like many bloggers have stated, the court of public opinion has ruled them guilty.

  • Kevin Logan

    Carruthers told the Echo “… I can’t speak to whether Steelhead has met with other staff.”

    Excuse me?

    • Fiona nelson

      Sounds like a cover up. If the planning manager admits to the meeting, he’s sinking himself and others. If the foi request reveals any untruths, there’s trouble in the senior ranks.

  • howard woo

    I love this:

    Carruthers and Lefebure said they could not comment about: what’s said in private meetings; if and why the CVRD may have gotten a legal opinion about the LNG resolution; if they or staff made promises to Steelhead; if Steelhead has threatened legal action; or if environment minister Mary Polak mentioned CVRD’s LNG opposition ruling when she met privately with directors Feb. 12 in Duncan.

    Spin spin spin

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