SRD directors stick to their guns while under fire

Strathcona Regional District directors who say they want a fair, unbiased public hearing for a marina project stood their ground

Strathcona Regional District directors who say they want a fair, unbiased public hearing for a marina project stood their ground last Thursday despite pleas from Cortes Island residents and the Cortes regional director urging the board to hold the meeting in the applicant’s community.

The board has been inundated with letters and a petition condemning electoral district directors for electing to hold a public hearing into the Klahoose First Nation’s marina project for Squirrel Cove at the Gorge Hall, and not in Klahoose territory.

The Klahoose had offered to host the public hearing at its multi-purpose centre but the board instead decided to go with the Gorge Hall on July 24 at 1 p.m. in response to letters from people who expressed that they would feel uncomfortable speaking freely at a hearing hosted by the project applicant.

Conrad Dombrowski spoke to directors at the regional board meeting Thursday afternoon to relay some of the Cortes residents’ concerns.

“It’s somewhat disrespectful, and potentially insulting some have said, to reject the Klahoose’s offer of hospitality and has the potential of damaging the relationship Cortes Islanders have worked for several years to build with Klahoose,” Dombrowski said.

He also questioned part of the rationale behind choosing the Gorge, which was to find what some directors deemed a neutral location to hold the public meeting – a place where everyone could speak their mind without feeling inhibited.

“It seems like some outside and even inside, special interest groups were able to influence two area directors that don’t represent Cortes and overrule our area director,” Dombrowski said. “The way I see it, is it’s a missed opportunity. We had an opportunity to show our regional government is able to work professionally and function well with First Nations. It’s an opportunity I hope we can get back.”

But that didn’t happen the way Dombrowski hoped.

Area A Director Gerald Whalley, who said it makes the regional district look biased to hold the public hearing for a re-zoning in the applicant’s community, and Area D Director Brenda Leigh, who agreed the matter was one of fairness and openness, stood firm on their position of holding the public hearing in a neutral location.

Whalley said he believed the petition and letters to the board criticizing the decision to hold the meeting at the Gorge Hall were based on erroneous information – that the board was breaking precedent. Whalley said there is no precedent as to where public hearings are held and in the past, hearings on Cortes have been held in locations outside of the affected area.

Leigh said it’s a matter of good governance.

“It’s very important to me that this hearing be conducted fairly and we can make decisions without the pressures directors have faced over this issue,” Leigh said. “Whoever wants to express interest in that proposal, we have to be fair and unbiased – we have to go in unbiased. I won’t be pushed around like this. I want it to stay in a place that is unbiased.”

But Cortes Director Noba Anderson put an amendment on the table to hold the meeting at the Klahoose multi-purpose centre instead of the Gorge Hall.

“I simply want to say that this is seen as symbolic, but it is a whole lot more than that,” Anderson said. “As a child of the province, and as a child of Canada, we need to move to reconciliation with our neighbours.”

But Leigh and Whalley did not change their vote and with directors split 2-2 – with Anderson and Quadra Director Jim Abram in favour of holding the meeting at Klahoose – Anderson’s motion was defeated and the public hearing will remain at the Gorge Hall.

“This is about conducting a public hearing according to the Local Government Act – in a fair manner,” Leigh said. “No disrespect to the Klahoose.”

Leigh also took exception to a letter to the board from a Cortes resident that said he was offended “at the blatant racism of (the) decision to hold the meeting at the Gorge Hall rather than at Klahoose to consider their application for a marina.”

Leigh said she was hurt by the accusation.

“I take huge offence to that – my whole family is multi-cultural,” Leigh said. “I’m totally offended that the mere placing of a public hearing is an expression of racism. That hurts me a lot. I’m not a racist, I’m not against Klahoose but I want this hearing done fairly.”

Tahsis Director Jude Schooner also said she was offended being lumped in as a racist along with the rest of the board when she did not have a vote on the matter, nor did the other municipal directors.

“I would like electoral area directors to show more respect in the future,” Schooner said. “I don’t like to be painted with a brush that calls me a racist.”