Councillors accused of collusion on regional board

City representatives take exception to the claim

The Strathcona Regional District board spent nearly an hour Wednesday discussing whether to make changes that would reduce the number of Campbell River directors on its board.

In the end, the only decision made was to get more information from staff.

The discussion was prompted by Sayward Mayor and Director John MacDonald, who wanted the board to consider increasing the voting unit, the system which determines the number of directors and the voting entitlement for all the communities within the regional district.

As Campbell River holds the greatest population of all the regions, it has the most directors sitting on the board – five – and, in a weighted vote situation, Campbell River holds 67 per cent of the weighted vote which is used typically on motions related to finances. The system recognizes that areas that pay more into a service have a greater say.

Because of that system, last month a motion was defeated after four Campbell River directors voted opposed even though nine directors were in favour.

MacDonald said that’s not fair.

“I believe it is an unfair advantage to the directors sitting around the table when nine can vote for something and with a weighted vote, four can outvote the nine,” MacDonald said.

His suggestion to make things more equitable was to change the voting unit from the current 1,500 to 2,500.

That would mean that each of the regional district’s communities would get one vote on the board of directors for every 2,500 people that live within that region.

While Campbell River would still have the majority, it would mean the number of Campbell River directors would be reduced to three and directors would hold 56 per cent of the vote, or 13 votes. Campbell River currently has 22 votes out of 33 on the board under the existing points system. MacDonald said while he doesn’t wish to see anyone leave the board, he does want to see a more equitable weighted vote structure.

“This low voting unit gives the City of Campbell River directors unfair influence on weighted votes, this being influenced by Campbell River holding caucus on occasion prior to the SRD (Strathcona Regional District) board meeting, and coming in without an open mind in regards to the item, and have already made a decision on the item, without listening to debate, and staff comments,” MacDonald said.

Director Ron Kerr, also a Campbell River city councillor, disagreed with that comment.

“We don’t hold caucus, rarely have I sat down and talked with Campbell River directors on regional district issues, because I come in with an open mind and if you look at my voting record, I’ve voted on both sides,” Kerr said. “I can understand where this may be coming from but I take issue with that. That does not happen.”

Campbell River Mayor and Director Andy Adams also took exception.

“The Campbell River directors that are councillors do have discussions about some of the items that are on the agenda of the Strathcona Regional District but at no time is there direction, at no time is there collusion,” Adams said. “Each director is coming to this meeting as a director of the SRD but there are times when there are items of interest and there is discussion.”

Adams also said that if the voting unit were increased, it would mean inequities would still remain.

“It’s representation by population. With the proposed change, the City of Campbell River has 60 plus per cent of the population but then is only getting 53 or 56 per cent of the vote,” Adams said. “The amount we’re putting in (in property taxes) versus how much we’re able to participate is inequitable.”

Area D Director Brenda Leigh noted that it also goes the other way, that some of the communities in the regional district have less than 1,500 people (Sayward, Tahsis and Zeballos) but still get one vote – the same amount of votes as a region with more than 1,333 people, such as Electoral Area A.

Leigh said changing the voting unit wouldn’t make it any more fair.

“I don’t really think it’s going to change anything,” Leigh said. “I think we need to work with what we’ve got and we need to work better with what we’ve got. If Campbell River lost a member I might lose one of my favourites and then I’d have an even rougher time.”

Campbell River Director Charlie Cornfield agreed that looking around the table, the system is “far from being equitable or equal, but we do it anyway” and said the bigger issue is how changing the voting unit would affect numbers at the Comox Strathcona Solid Waste board and the regional Hospital Board. Directors from both the Strathcona Regional District and the Comox Valley sit on both of those boards, and currently the Strathcona directors outnumber the Comox Valley directors by two, however, a weighted voting system is also in play.

MacDonald, after listening to the discussion, changed his motion – which was approved by the board – to have staff come back with a report on how a change to the voting system would impact representation on the solid waste and hospital boards.