CRD commission authority more than ‘advisory’

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By ROBIN WILLIAMS

I would be the first to admit I was never a stellar academic. However, I do remember one particular lecture in 1979 given during my term at Simon Fraser University. The course was constitutional law presented by professor Edwin McWhinney, constitutional advisor to the Canadian government and later MP for Vancouver Quadra.

The topic was the constitutional definition of the terms “advise and advice,” which are often incorrectly assumed to mean “advisory.” The terms in fact refer to a formal, usually binding, instruction given by one constitutional officer of state to another. The term has its derivation from the fact parliament could not address the monarch in a direct or offensive manner so they would give advice as their instructions. Today the term forms the basis for the establishment of legislative authority under an executive power structure.

The best example of the use of the term is in the Constitution Act of 1867, part of the Canadian Constitution. It states, “There will be a council to aid and advise in the governance of Canada.” This forms the constitutional basis for the federal cabinet, which is the actual government of this country.

When I was first appointed to the Salt Spring Island Transportation Commission, I was surprised to find the word “advise” in the establishment bylaw, denoting legislative authority. Despite this the CRD administration was constantly referring to the commission as “advisory,” primarily as a method of controlling authority. Since then I have constantly reminded the CRD that the SSITC is not advisory but has at the very least administrative if not legislative authority over this island’s transit and transportation affairs. This authority has been unanimously supported by the CRD Board in the four years I have been SSITC chair.

The staff, however, are another matter. Most recently, members of the SSITC received a most intimidating legal letter once again attempting to strip the SSITC of its authority and place it under administrative control. The letter incorrectly states, “The SSITC has no delegated decision-making authority.”

I should point out not all commissions have equal power and this particularly applies to the Parks and Recreation Commission. Until 2007 PARC was clearly established as having administrative authority. This changed after the release of a $20,000 management consultant’s report looking into the “tennis facility project.” The tennis facility was an aborted attempt by PARC to replace a seasonal enclosure on a  Portlock Park tennis court with a more permanent structure that resulted in a significant loss of public funds.

What is surprising is what the report found regarding PARC. “The Commission did not appear to understand its oversight role of the PARC Manager position.” The report went on to recommend “The Commission seek to clarify its role in management oversight of the PARC Manager position under its delegated authority. The Commission should clarify its involvement in management versus governance activities; this may be done though a Board development training process.” In short the report called for PARC to get some support.

What actually happened was the opposite. A split developed between the then CRD director and commission members, resulting three resignations. A final decision was made to strip PARC of its administrative authority and turn it into an “advisory” body. Staff accountability was transferred from Salt Spring to the CRD Victoria administration. Since that time, the CRD administration has simply assumed all Salt Spring Island commissions are advisory, and treated them as such.

If anything has to change regarding CRD governance it needs to be the re-establishment of on-island management oversight of the services we pay for. The CRD on Salt Spring currently has 12 commissions, one steering committee for the Ganges harbour walk, and one library board. Ironically, the most effective of the entire bunch is the library board, which is the least reliant on CRD administration and most reliant on community volunteers.

The 2008 decision regarding PARC needs to be reversed and all commissions should receive the training and support the 2007 KPMG report called for. Most importantly, this needs to be dealt with at the board level and not be subject to the interference of CRD senior staff.

In the meantime, the SSITC intends to continue to support the concept of a community-driven bus shelter competition and while happy to work with the CRD administration, understands exactly who is in charge when it comes to transportation and transit issues.

The writer is chair of the Salt Spring Island Transportation Commission.

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