Oak Bay opts for an advisory commission

Council votes 4-3 in favour of forming advisory commission as opposed to committee

Municipal staff will craft a bylaw to create a new advisory commission after a marathon Oak Bay committee meeting of council Monday night.

In a narrow 4-3 vote, and after nearly two hours of discussion, council opted for a commission primarily based on a perception of transparency.

“There doesn’t seem to be significant differences,” said Coun. Kevin Murdoch, who eventually made the motion to have a bylaw crafted.

The makeup and purpose of the commission will be written in, he added while noting the multiple speakers in the overflowing council chambers who spoke to the perception that a commission would provide more transparency. If a commission gets the work done and the perception is better, that’s a better balance, he said.

Coun. Michelle Kirby countered that a “more nimble and adaptable” committee could be altered to suit council’s future needs.

The conversation came as a result of a staff report that came out of the March 16 committee of the whole meeting. It fleshed out the mandate of the advisory group, what two advisory bodies would look like and offered revised terms of reference for a proposed advisory planning committee reflecting input from the previous meeting.

“I thought committee would suit us given we don’t know where we’re going,” Kirby said.

A handful of residents who spoke had other views, outlining arguments that legally council must opt for a commission, while staff countered with a municipal solicitor’s opinion they could select either path.

It quickly became a battle between the Local Government Act and Community Charter provincial legislations, with the public who attended vocal in their perception that a commission’s specificity provides more transparency.

An advisory planning commission may be established by bylaw, as set out in section 898 of the Local Government Act which outlines the composition and mandate of a commission.

It requires a bylaw to establish a commission to advise council on land use, community planning or proposed bylaws and permits referred to it by council. The establishing bylaw must outline member composition and appointment process; and procedures governing conduct and referral of matters to the advisory planning commission. At least two-thirds of the members of an advisory planning commission must be residents. A council member cannot be on the commission but may attend a meeting in a resource capacity.

The members of an advisory planning commission must serve without remuneration, but may be paid reasonable and necessary expenses that arise directly out of the performance of their duties. The legislation specifies minutes be kept and on request made available to the public.

Coun. Hazel Braithwaite came to a conclusion similar to Murdoch. “With the amount of public here to speak to this, maybe the commission is the way to go,” she said.

Braithwaite pointed out she’d want any member of council who sat on a committee to not vote in that capacity anyway, acting only in a “resource capacity”.

“I don’t have a burning, table-thumping view of which way we should go on this,” said Mayor Nils Jensen.

He added that a committee has worked successfully in the past, citing examples such as the advisory group during the recent official community plan review as well as the active transportation and environmental committees that also contributed to the OCP review. His main concern was that a commission would leave those two now-defunct committees’ values out of the loop as the commission is limited to land use issues.

For a brief moment the active transportation and environment committees earned consideration, voiced by Coun. Eric Zhelka.

“Let’s revive them,” he said, in response to concerns that those issues would need to be “shoehorned in” as land use issues to meet a commission criteria.

Kirby, a proponent of those committees, defended the need to roll their activities into the larger body, allowing for better staff support for items such as minute-taking and disbursement.

“We don’t have an unlimited budget,” said Kirby.

Jensen, Kirby and Croft opposed the motion to start the advisory planning commission bylaw process. Murdoch suggested a few wording alterations should be considered as the process moves forward.

Decisions at committee are recommendations made to council for further consideration. Council meets Monday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m. in chambers, 2167 Oak Bay Ave.