Ten grassroots community groups in Qualicum Beach have banded together with one goal: they want town council to seriously listen to their constituents.
The groups released an open letter addressed to the current members of council requesting they open up communication with town citizens.
The organizations included in the letter include Qualicum Woods Residents’ Association; West Ridge Neighbours; Arrowsmith Parks and Land Use Council; Oceanside For Safe Technology (O4ST); Communities Protecting Our Coasts; Qualicum Beach Residents’ Association; Friends of the Qualicum Beach Forest; Arrowsmith Naturalists; and Arrowsmith GroundWater Alliance; and Concerned Citizens Opposed to the Telus Cell Tower in QB.
“The most important thing about community is you have to listen, to actually listen,” said spokesperson Doug MacKay-Dunn. “Don’t just pretend to be listening.”
Since COVID-19 broke out last year, the group wrote there has been a significant loss of opportunities for citizens to have their voices heard and has accused council of operating in a “Zoom cocoon.”
“The whole process of communication is to listen, co-operate, work together and then collaborate,” said MacKay-Dunn. “It’s to look for a win-win. And if you knew the problem through that lens, you usually come up with a solution that’s pretty good for, not everybody, but for most people.”
The provincial government has called for local governments to undertake best efforts to provide space for the public to attend open meetings and facilities that enable the public to hear or watch and hear meetings if the meeting is held electronically.
“Is council doing best practice? I would argue it’s not,” said MacKay-Dunn, a former councillor in North Vancouver and current president of the QBRA. “They can do more. Council has the responsibility to reach out to their community and listen to them. Not dictate to them, but listen and be prepared to change their opinion based on facts and the concerns of their community. People have to believe that their opinion is being respected.”
The group cited instances where it believes council has ignored the concerns of residents, including unanswered letters from citizens; council voting contrary to what the group says is the majority of the community input; and the number of in-camera meetings.
The group calls for council to return the town’s “high standard of public engagement,” a meaningful response to their letters along with a meeting with council to discuss concerns; and to follow the collective longterm vision as reflected in the Official Community Plan.
The group would like to eventually see council expand its membership from four to seven.
Currently, Qualicum Beach council has only two councillors – Teunis Westbroek and Scott Harrison – along with Mayor Brian Wiese attending, as Coun. Robert Filmer has been on medical leave. Former Coun. Adam Walker resigned to assume his job as the new MLA for Parksville-Qualicum.
“That’s a bare quorum,” said MacKay-Dunn. “You have to ask the question, do the three people represent the wishes of the community? When Walker was on it and Filmer, they were always expressing maybe a different view based on what they hear from the committee. Their voices are gone.”
In 2014, the citizens of Qualicum Beach had the opportunity to expand the composition of council from four members to six (plus the mayor). It was included on the ballot during the 2014 municipal elections and the vote was 3,090 against expansion and 1,304 in favour.
“There are people that feel, a seven-member council, and I haven’t made up my mind yet on that but that’s what I have been hearing from folks, would give more opportunity for opinions and other parts of the community to be heard,” said MacKay-Dunn, who pointed out the town is an eclectic mix of neighbourhoods that often feature different opinions.
“You have to take all those points of views on the table to make the right decisions.”
Town officials did not immediately return a request for comment.