“I’ll guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.”
That was the sentiment from Area D Director Brenda Leigh after a difference of opinion between Leigh and the Strathcona Regional District’s chief administrative officer over petitions couldn’t be resolved.
Leigh wasn’t happy that a policy, drafted by regional district staff for the board of directors to review and consider at the Sept. 20 board meeting, didn’t include a requirement that all petitions received by the board must contain the full address of each petitioner.
Leigh said such a requirement is mandated by the province’s Community Charter.
Chief Administrative Officer Dave Leitch said that according to his interpretation, the Charter, when it talks about petitions requiring addresses, really means those that are binding and have taxation implications, not the kind the regional district is aiming to police.
“I believe the petition we’re talking about is when a group sends in a group petition, with 100 or 200 names on it,” said Leitch, adding the Local Government Act only addresses binding petitions. “A petition saying, ‘hey, we want dog control on Quadra Island’, they don’t really care about that.”
It was a community petition from a group of Area D residents concerning Hagel Park that prompted the board to ask for a petition policy in the first place. A few directors questioned the legitimacy of the petition because it appeared to them that many of the signatures were written in the same script.
The policy that regional district staff drafted states that petitions must contain original signatures, a cover letter or memo identifying a principal signatory with the contact information for that person, and that petitioners must sign his or her own name on the petition. The policy does not allow for electronic petitions to be presented to the board.
Campbell River Director Andy Adams said he had a problem with that last part.
“As we catch up to the social media age, I really think we gotta get with the times and consider things like mobile apps and text messaging that have electronic signatures attached to their responses,” Adams said. “I would rather see it go back to staff to take a look at the modern day media tools that most people are using these days and how that can be incorporated.”
Leigh agreed on sending the policy back to staff but insisted it go back in order to have staff include that petitions should include full addresses.
“Petitions are brought in to influence politicians to vote a certain way and if politicians don’t have the civic address of the people submitting the petitions, we have no reason to believe that they’re legitimate, they could be from Timbuktu,” Leigh said. “If we’re going to be making decisions about taxation, based on petitions submitted to us, then I want civic addresses just as we require addresses in correspondence.”
Leitch tried to tell Leigh that the regional district is already required to ask for full addresses on any petition that would influence a decision affecting taxation, as per the Local Government Act.
“We would do this because if we did a petition for taxation authority or what have you, this is outlined for us, we must do this,” Leitch said. “The petitions we’re talking about are non-binding petitions.”
That’s when Leigh said she figured she and Leitch would have to “agree to disagree because there’s no delineation of one kind of petition versus another in the Community Charter so what I think would be best to do is refer to our corporate officer to seek legal opinion and that would solve matter.”
Tahsis Director Jude Schooner agreed it would be more productive to take the policy off the board table for the time being.
“We’re going around in circles here and yes, I think it definitely needs to be referred back to staff,” she said.
The rest of the board agreed and voted to refer the policy back to staff to look into the point raised by Leigh as well as Adams regarding accepting petitions via social media.
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