Plan debated, debunked

Regional District of Nanaimo strategic plan gets mixed reviews

Utopian, impractical, even delusional.

These were some of the words used by Regional District directors to describe the first draft of the RDN’s 2013-2015 strategic plan.

However, after some revisions by district staff, they voted at Tuesday night’s committee of the whole meeting to give it preliminary approval — but not without much discussion.

At the meeting, district general manager Paul Thorkelson detailed a number of concerns expressed by board members about the plan, which was hatched at a planning session in April.

At the top of the list of concerns was the need to include a call for austerity in the plan.

“Considering the persistent economic uncertainty lingering since 2007 and 208, directors remain especially concerned about taxation rates, and particularly about increases to taxation over the current term,” Thorkelson said. “The suggested response has been to emphasize austerity in this strategic plan.”

However, Thorkelson noted the term has come to mean more than just prudent spending, which could pose a problem.

“It has come to mean more than simply extreme plainness or self-imposed minimalism,” he said. “Due to economic conditions in Europe and the United States, austerity measures have come to refer to a specific suite of policy measures that pair deep cuts to services with increases in taxation.”

That, he suggested, was quite different from the message directors had hoped to get out to the public.

“However, there is a strong underlying sentiment, so we changed the wording from being fiscally responsible to showing fiscal restraint,” he said. “That may sound like a small thing, but it ensures directors will think of this during the budget process.”

Other issues with the plan included a concern that the vision statement was utopian, impractical and even delusional.

“This was a minority view, but one worth addressing,” Thorkelson said. “It’s a legacy of successive boards of directors and it includes issues outside local government authority.”

Although Thorkelson said the document was altered, it remains visionary in its final draft.

“Boards have expressed as the legacy they wish to leave to future generations over the long term a region where the air remains clean and water is available to residents and businesses, where communities are diverse and where a thriving economy provides meaningful employment that attracts and retains families and young professionals, among other things.” he said, noting staff did their best to address some of the issues without overhauling the vision.

Another concern involved action areas, which directors had said hadn’t necessarily been delivered on and were too vague.

Again, Thorkelson said staff did their best to take the concerns into account in the final draft.

“Historically, the action areas were the meat and potatoes of the strategic plan,” he said. “They hold staff to account in terms of what they are required to do. We edited and thinned it out the best we can  but they are there and they are important.”

Overall, he said, staff shortened the content of the document by more than 1,000 words.

That didn’t satisfy Coombs-Errington director Julian Fell however.

“I found in certain areas it didn’t agree with what my area wants,” he said. “I would like to see this looked at by directors line by line to discuss what suits us and what doesn’t. If we can’t have agreement on something, maybe it shouldn’t be there, instead of forcing one area’s opinion over another.”

When it came time for a vote, Fell was alone in his opposition. The measure has to be ratified by the RDN board at the next regular meeting.







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