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Even At the Local Level, Representative, Democratic Government Requires Hard Work To Understand.

Don Maroc

Don Maroc

Even at the local level, representative, democratic government requires hard work to understand. Every once in a while it pays to have a good conversation about how it works, or doesn’t, and why?

A good example occurred at a recent town hall meeting in Mill Bay, that’s Electoral Area A of the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD), to discuss aspects of building a liquid natural gas exporting facility at the site of the former Bamberton cement plant on the shore of Saanich Inlet.

The industrial plant to liquefy the natural gas is to be housed in a kilometre long floating ship-like structure. A project of this magnitude attracts a lot of attention from residents of Mill Bay and Shawnigan Lake. In the process of the meeting the residents expressed opinions for and against allowing such a facility.

saanich inlet

Proposed LNG Facility to be located in Saanich Inlet

Wanting to make sure everyone understood the rules of the game Ross Blackwell,  General Manager of the CVRD Planning and Development Department, is reported to have, “made it very clear to all of us that the CVRD had to take a completely neutral position and could not be seen to be for or against for fear of being sued. So basically we the public are on our own. One wonders why we have elections!”

A problem arises because the Mill Bay Area Director Kerry Davis took Blackwell’s comments to include himself and the fourteen other elected members of the CVRD Board.

Members of the public were not all comfortable with Blackwell’s explanation of local government’s legal procedures and sought the advice of a former Cobble Hill CVRD Director Richard Hughes, who currently runs a popular and informative Internet Blog Cowichan Conversations.



Hughes, who has the social characteristics of a cranky pit bull, spent nine years as a member of the CVRD Board. He reached out on Facebook to get Davis back on track.

“Politicians have not only a right but an obligation to speak up and oppose outrageous plans like this. You don’t just sit back and let slick frontmen from Steelhead [LNG] frame the play. I’m damned if I know where you get your advice from but it’s worth far less than you paid for it.”

Mill Bay-Malahat CVRD Director Kerry Davis

Kerry Davis- CVRD Director Mill Bay Malahat

Davis, in his first term on the CVRD Board, fired back, “Due to many legal precedents, the CVRD must remain neutral, especially on matters that are likely to involve an application.

The Board and Directors, are also similarly limited because we must keep an open mind until the final vote for such an application.”

Still learning his way around the CVRD maze, Director Davis cautiously and accurately repeated what Blackwell told the public meeting.

Later Blackwell recalled the Mill Bay meeting, “was casual (chatty) and ranging.”

Perhaps backing away from the rather absolute nature of his remarks the Planning Manager claimed the meeting had a conversational format. He explains that the “CVRD has been approached by Steelhead LNG with a view to submitting a development application.”

Sir HWhile Blackwell concedes that the elected directors may have personal views while remaining willing to consider any and all new information in a fair and unbiased manner.

That is a significant modification of his statement at the Mill Bay meeting that the CVRD had to take a completely neutral position and could not be seen to be for or against for fear of being sued.

An exception to that statement is that after a public hearing has been held for a rezoning application the elected directors must forego listening to any more argument for or against that specific application.

CVRD Offices

CVRD Corporate Offices

As too often happens in our regional district’s new corporate style governing senior staff tends to make their interpretations of legal procedures suppress the authority of the elected board, and the voters who elected them, and enhance their own responsibilities.

In this specific case Manager Blackwell has either misinterpreted the rules or was misunderstood.

CVRD Director Kerry Davis’s cautious naivete will hopefully bring this issue to a full conversation among the fifteen members at a public meeting of the CVRD Board.


10 comments to Even At the Local Level, Representative, Democratic Government Requires Hard Work To Understand.

  • Paul Williams

    We need to bypass both CVRD Directors and senior staff with more direct democracy on this and a myriad of other issues.

    The Swiss electorate vote by referendum up to a dozen times a year on everything from Minarets to minimum wage. They were the only country in the world whose citizens actually voted by referendum to join the UN.

    In Switzerland,direct democracy keeps both the politicians and bureaucrats in line. They also have one of the lowest debt to GDP ratio’s in the world and still have great public transit , schools and hospitals.

  • rick jorgenson

    Hi Dara,

    There will always be differences of opinion in the electorate. Look, this isnt federal politics where MP’s feel torn between representing their constituents or towing the party line with the PM. This is regional government – the Directors should echo or at the very least listen to the varied opinions from the electorate. LNG’s proposal, when it officially comes before the Board, should not be prejudged. It is my experience however that Directors are already well informed well before the application comes to the Board. This is where our democratic process kicks in – to have an unelected staff member dictate or front load how the public or Directors should respond is out of order.

    • Dara Quast

      Rick I do not know who you are but the fictional narrative that you are advancing here certainly does not come close to the reality that many of us have to endure here in the Cowichan Valley.

      First of all proponents are not the electorate they are PROPONENTS. They should be treated as such.

      Second, I do not know what Board you are dealing with that has these well informed Directors populating it but it is not this CVRD Board.

      Third, the staff are continuously steering, manipulating and intimidating our ill-informed Directors with their fear tactics and intimidation. This can be seen from the CAO down.

      Lastly, this can be remedied in a timely fashion if our Directors could just find the fortitude to assert their authority, learn their jobs and educate themselves about the issues. A less expedient solution will just have to wait for the next civic election and the hope that the citizens of the Cowichan Valley will cast their votes with more care.

      Henry Wallace, vice-president under F.D.R., defined a fascist as, “those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion.”

    • Of course Steelhead’s LNG proposal should be pre-judged, criticized, denounced, called out, exposed, ridiculed. That is what politicians do, or should do in circumstances such as this.

      The key is that the Directors must keep an open mind and consider any new information that is presented. However that in no way relieves them from full participation now in spite of efforts to convince them otherwise.

      Steelhead is going flat out while saying that this is just in the early stages. They are building momentum while many of the Directors embrace the same CVRD do nothing tactic taken with the ‘Contaminated Sites’ in Shawnigan. We can see how that worked out.

      Do you have connections with them? What is behind your thinly veiled scheme to neutralize the Directors’ from standing up and speaking up now?

      You seem to be advocating for the elephant in the room and arming the Directors with peashooters to take down the elephant. The elephant is Steelhead LNG.

      Who is Rick Jorgensen anyway? Do you live here, work here? Are you presently working for the CVRD?. Have you in the past What are your credential and experiences that allow you to make such seemingly insider informed positions.

      Are you tied in with Steelhead LNG? What is your game?

      The notion that our elected officials should not be critical and ring the alarm against this proposed LNG facility that could have disastrous consequences for Southern Vancouver Island and beyond is preposterous.

      They could also speak in support for a 1 kilometre long ship facility to be located just off Bamberton and of pipelines through the Gulf Islands to the mainland, if they saw fit.

      They may even champion ’Super Tankers’ but they should not and must not be gagged.

      Who exactly are the Directors elected to represent?

      You profess to have inner wisdom and insights. OK Batman, take off your mask. It is ‘Show and Tell’ time. Who are you really?

      • rick jorgenson

        Richard and Dara,

        First I would like to say thank-you to Richard for providing this forum and I hope you have a strong following; these issues are important to the electorate.

        The planning manager at the CVRD was not totally wrong in advising the Director to lay low. We dont need another controversy in the Cowichan Valley. There’s already a stain at Shawnigan lake – after all, the Cowichan Valley needs tourism and more controversy can quash the valued tourism dollars that we need.

        Directors need advice from senior staff thats always the case, they are partners and as such they should work together-I see no harm in that!

  • rick jorgenson


    When consultation processes work well they don’t make it to the press or the courts. That is not to say that consultation processes are easy. If you are doing your job you go home, have a hot shower and hit the bed because you are exhausted-you did your job-you avoided a public skirmish- you earned your money as a public servant.

    Many public servants want to avoid the battle mainly because many of them lack the expertise or the will to engage in a meaningful way. The mantra is avoid, quash or defer and keep your name out of the headlines.

    Collaborative processes do work(just not at the CVRD right now) Vancouver bike lanes, sea to sky highway, safe injection sites are some of the examples that were steeped in conflict; Passionate leaders saw these projects to the end. Another example is Port Metro Vancouver’s insistence on industrializing ALR lands with no consultation with the City of Richmond. The Mayor of Richmond and senior staff , show true leadership in their opposition but it hasnt reached the point where we are seeing protests and arrests because Richmond has a sophisticated staff on board.Talks are ongoing.

    The CVRD needs their senior managers to step up. Their solution to problems is to litigate or stay silent. Theres no sophistication. They were hired abruptly to replace a falling regime.

    • Dara Quast

      The problem that I see with your premise Rick is that public servants should never be in a position to be able to make the decision to avoid or engage in any battle. That is the responsibility of our elected officials and theirs alone. Staff are there to provide unbiased information and expertise to our representatives, allowing them to make the decision to engage or avoid on our behalf. We elect representatives not staff.

      The collaborative processes are those that take place with the public. They should not be exercises to circumvent or ignore our already established regulation, legislation or bylaws.

      You state that when the consultation processes work well they do not make it to the press or the courts. If they are not transparent and accessible processes then who is to say if they are working well or not.

  • Hi Dee

    Our policy requires full names for posting.


    Richard Hughes

  • rick jorgenson

    Shawnigan Lake. Most people in BC used to equate this place to pristine waters, an esteemed private school and a relatively quiet peaceful community. Now it is in the news almost every week with protesters, assaults and most recently a drop in land values. Its a hot spot and a place to be avoided.

    The CVRD must see it as an unmanageable issue hoping that litigation would solve the problem. It hasn’t and the problem just wont go away. Now we know why.

    Leadership , true leadership is the ability to engage the community, give them confidence and inform them accordingly. Leaders inspire us.

    The art of negotiation is entrenched in democracy. Multiple diverging views on one issue, in this case LNG. Attempting to quash the voice of politicians and the electorate speaks to an inability to negotiate. Fear of another Shawnigan Lake.

    I can think of many issues that almost turned into a Shawnigan Lake. Politicians and senior staff worked hard with proponents, the community and other stakeholders to reach consensus before a Shawnigan Lake style issue evolved. It was done publicly and professionally. It was democratic.

    I know of many people who have the expertise to walk into a fire fight and alleviate the damage. These people are out there and I wish they were on staff. Instead the CVRD has hired a communications manager to sugar coat the corporate message.

    Sad times indeed.

    • Dara Quast

      Maybe you could give us some examples of the many issues that you can think of that almost turned into a Shawnigan Lake. I can think of many issues that were just as bad as Shawnigan, just as costly and just as disturbing. Eco-Depot cost the taxpayers 1.3 million dollars and a shovel never hit the ground. Balme Ayre is a project that wants to remove 7.5 million tonnes of aggregate (that will need to be replaced with something during reclamation) from agriculturally zoned land, directly over a vulnerable aquifer that services most of Cobble Hill and Cowichan Bay. There was certainly no leadership or reasonable approach taken in the abuses of authority that were imposed on Fisher Road Recycling or the Crematorium in Paldi. I could certainly go on but I am far more interested in hearing your examples of when you think this collaborative process has ever worked.

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