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Comment: B.C. is plagued by dysfunctional municipal councils

Once you start examining the dysfunctional councils around B.C., you quickly conclude it’s best to keep a large supply of eye wash on hand.
Delta council left to right: Rod Binder, Jessie Dosanjh, Jennifer Johal, Alicia Guichon and Dylan Kruger. Dekko U Studio Photography

A commentary by the vice-chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, a non-partisan citizens advocacy group for municipal taxpayers.

When a parent stands by watching children year after year throw sand in each other’s face, what’s the owner of a daycare to do?

The parent, that’s the provincial government, is responsible for dozens of municipalities and sets the playground rules through the dated Community Charter and the Local Government Act.

The owner of the playground, that’s the taxpayer and the voter, sits on the park bench, pays all the bills and expects everyone to behave. The adults watch in disbelief and dismay.

Once you start examining the dysfunctional councils around B.C., you quickly conclude it’s best to keep a large supply of eye wash on hand.

In 2021, we looked at various dysfunctional councils in a commentary entitled “Constant controversy swirling around local councils.”

Lantzville, Sayward, Qualicum Beach, North Saanich, Saanich and Victoria were flagged as dysfunctional. But the poster child for council disharmony went to Nanaimo, which at one point garnered national headlines as “Canada’s most dysfunctional city.” Council discord went on for years but thankfully has stabilized.

Let’s take a look at those considered dysfunctional today.

Ratepayers know all about Langford council, which just approved a punishing property tax hike of 15.6 per cent. During the past 18 months, it has been the epicentre of most controversies (with Victoria coming in a close second).

This latest dust-up had protesters once again waving signs outside city hall.

Delta council staged what some are describing as a “palace coup.”

Councillors voted to remove the mayor as the city’s representative to Metro Vancouver and limited his powers of office.

His removal from the Metro board has implications beyond Delta, as it means a change of leadership for the regional body, which he has chaired since 2022. It’s responsible for billions of taxpayer dollars and major decisions about infrastructure and regional planning.

As well, seven motions appear to limit the power of the mayor to perform certain actions without council approval, including organizing events, sending official correspondence and changing meeting agendas.

Kamloops council has been in a bitter dispute with the mayor since the 2022 municipal election. Following a damning report by a provincially appointed municipal adviser, council has asked the mayor to resign. He refuses.

A report into the matter was critical of the mayor’s behaviour toward council and city staff, saying he has shown “a dismissive and condescending attitude towards constructive criticism or the suggestion of apologies,” and that his treatment of staff may have led to an unsafe work environment.

There have been multiple investigations, a defamation lawsuit filed by the mayor against a councillor and the mayor suspending the city’s acting chief administrative officer in a bid to “change things up.”

Surrey, the second largest municipality, has been fighting with the province over an order to replace the RCMP with the Surrey Police Service.

In one corner is Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, and in the other corner, Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke, in what has become an unseemly personal conflict. The dispute has ended up in court, even though the losers are already known — residents and taxpayers.

The province brought in mandatory codes of conduct this year, which so far hasn’t improved things. That’s probably because councillors might only complain about one another, since the public is conveniently shut out from laying complaints. It’s not considering municipal recall legislation.

So should we look to Alberta where proposed legislation on municipalities would give the provincial cabinet more power over cities and towns? It would give cabinet the power to remove members of council, toss out bylaws, and allow political parties to run in Edmonton and Calgary.

Small villages have their share of long-standing troubles.

Harrison Hot Springs council has been dysfunctional for months and just tried to dissolve the municipality. The province says they cannot move to dissolve since there’s no legislative provisions allowing a council to fire themselves.

Lions Bay has seen three senior staff members and a councillor quit or be fired since the election. The CBC captured the drama in a story about a year ago entitled, “A new mayor, a small town and a giant political upheaval: tensions in Lions Bay, B.C.”

Sayward council is still at odds with each other and the community, leading one councillor to resign. A provincial adviser started working with the village and will report back with recommendations in a few months.

You have to wonder if local politicians know about the job demands before and after taking on the responsibility. As it stands, before and after orientation training is minimal and optional in B.C. So should we make it mandatory as proposed by the Alberta legislation?

On the eve of a provincial election, the province government seems wilfully blind to the scale of dysfunction in local government. There’s no talk yet about rejuvenating municipal affairs and renewing underlying legislation.

Premier David Eby and Minister of Municipal Affairs Anne Kang, civil discourse and order need to return to the sandbox.

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