Westward Independent

CVRD Considers Removing Public Input From Committee Meetings

by Westward Independent
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Absurdity of “Safe Spaces” for Elected Officials in the Cowichan Valley.

In the midst of an affordability crisis, the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) has become a focal point of intense public scrutiny over proposed tax hikes and the perceived detachment of elected officials from the hardships of their constituents. As the region grapples with record-breaking inflation and a housing crisis, the irony of officials seeking “safe spaces” from public feedback highlights a troubling disconnect in local governance.

The recent uproar began when the CVRD proposed a daunting 19.33% tax increase, leading to a significant public backlash that saw the board revising the increase down to 16%. This financial strain on residents sparked a broader debate about the nature of public input and the role of elected officials in addressing community concerns. Amid these discussions, some directors expressed a desire to limit public engagement—a move that has not gone unnoticed by the community.

On April 3rd, the CVRD hosted their Governance Committee Meeting, where Patrick Robbins, CVRD Corporate Officer, offered his feedback regarding public input. “I apologize if I’m using pretty strong language…” He noted, “There is this sense of, sometimes those that disagree with you need to debate with you and convince you that you’re wrong.”

Director Acton remarked, “I actually have never had a question period feel valuable,” coupled with her suggestion that “Often the last minute public input can be unfactual, and there’s no way to verify that… It’s not valuable input,” underscore a growing sentiment among some officials to diminish the role of public discourse in governance. Director Istace further emphasized this stance by stating, “I hope our chairs feel confident enough to cut people off immediately if they are speeches or statements,” and suggesting that such interactions should be relegated to emails rather than public forums.

This inclination to restrict public input reaches its zenith with Director Segall’s mention of a “respectful spaces” bylaw that will be coming forward relatively soon… to try to create a safe space where the public can engage with us and we still feel safe within that, not intimidated and frightened, because that’s real.” This notion that elected officials might need protection from the very people they serve paints a bizarre picture—one where dialogues are filtered and sanitized to ensure that only palatable opinions reach the ears of those in power.

The public’s response has been one of resolute opposition. Protests and petitions have become the tools of a beleaguered community pushing back against what they see as fiscal irresponsibility and a lack of empathy from their leaders. The image of residents wielding soggy cardboard signs under pouring rain vividly illustrates the depth of local discontent and the urgent call for more transparent and inclusive governance.

As local officials propose creating buffer zones between themselves and their electorate, the absurdity of needing “safe spaces” from public outcry becomes starkly apparent. This approach not only undermines the democratic process but also alienates the very individuals these officials are supposed to represent. The suggestion that public input should be curtailed to make governance more “manageable” is not only impractical but also antithetical to the principles of open and accountable leadership.

This situation reflects a broader challenge facing many communities today: balancing effective governance with genuine public engagement. As elected officials navigate these turbulent times, they must remember that their primary role is to serve the public interest—not to insulate themselves from it. Embracing public discourse, however contentious, is essential for fostering a governance culture that is both responsive and resilient. The path forward for Cowichan Valley—and indeed for any democratic community—is paved with more dialogue, not less, and with leaders who are prepared to face their constituents, not hide from them. – Staff

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