Council Matters for May 6, 2020

Council met for about four hours during our Regular Council meeting on May 6, 2020.

The meeting began with a summary of North Cowichan’s 2019 audited financial statements. The auditors shared that they were able to successfully perform all of their audit tasks, despite the challenging time of the pandemic. These statements were prepared by staff in accordance with Canadian public sector accounting standards for local governments. The audit firm, Grant Thornton, was appointed by Council and is responsible for expressing an opinion on whether the consolidated financial statements fairly represent the financial position of the Municipality.  The audit concluded there was fair representation, with no major outstanding issues or concerns.  Council voted unanimously to accept the 2019 audited financial statements.

 Next, we heard from RCMP Inspector Chris Bear, the Officer in Charge of our local RCMP detachment.  He presented both the 2019 fourth quarter and 2020 first-quarter reports for the Duncan-North Cowichan RCMP detachment. In the final quarter of 2019, calls for service were up across the board, and the year, unfortunately, ended with a double-homicide, which took place in Duncan. It is being investigated by the Vancouver Island Major Crimes Unit. Total calls in 2019 were up 1%, at 22,700 files. The first quarter in 2020 saw major flooding in February, requiring sandbagging around the detachment and destruction to surrounding businesses. Inspector Bear shared that COVID-19 has had a significant impact; calls are down 4% which can be attributed to fewer people being out and about, and less traffic on the roads. In early March, the Detachment’s Senior Management Team hosted two community planning sessions as part of community consultation to obtain feedback on where policing efforts should be focused. One was held in Chemainus and the other in Duncan. They are now developing goals based on the feedback that was heard from the community during those two sessions. Inspector Bear ended his presentation by thanking the community for continuing to respect physical distancing practices and taking action to slow COVID-19 in our community.

 At the April 15 Council meeting, Council adopted the Five-Year Financial Plan; however, at this meeting, it was back before us with an amendment. The Five-Year Financial Plan Amendment Bylaw was brought forward to align with the updated RCMP Detachment estimated costs and construction schedule. Council gave the amended bylaw three readings, and also adopted the Five-Year Financial Plan Amendment Bylaw.

 Next on the agenda, we looked at repealing the existing Mutual Aid Agreement Bylaw and replacing it with a new and updated agreement. This is a no-charge reciprocal system of emergency response and assistance available to local Fire Departments throughout the region. The new agreement includes additional fire departments from Malahat to North Oyster and will give us greater access to fire resources, including mobile water, which will increase our firefighting capabilities. Council gave three readings, adopted, and authorized the Mayor and Corporate Officer to sign the updated Cowichan Valley Department Regional Mutual Aid Agreement.

 A large part of our meeting was focused on discussions around whether to proceed with public engagement on some projects that were already underway, or kicking-off before the COVID-19 pandemic halted much of our usual business activities in early March. First, we discussed the Official Community Plan Update Project. Council discussed concerns with going completely digital for this engagement. However, this is a long-term community engagement, and just the first phase is proposed to rely on digital methods of engagement. After much discussion, Council approved the interim digital engagement activities proposed but added an amendment to consult with the OCP Project’s volunteer advisory group and ambassadors before moving ahead with public engagement on the Official Community Plan Update.

 We then considered revisions to the Municipal Forest Reserve (MFR) Engagement Plan that proposed a digital engagement plan for Phase 1, with a return to the original plan for Phase 2 in January 2021. Council expressed the same concerns as the OCP Project, but again heard about possible opportunities from an enhanced digital plan, and were reminded that this, like the OCP Project, is a long term engagement that will resume its in-person components of the plan as soon as feasible. Council also approved the revisions to this plan, directing staff to move forward with digital engagement. 

Next, we considered the revised engagement plans for the Climate Action and Energy Plan Update Project and the Joint Utilities Board Sewage Outfall Relocation Project. Both of these projects were well underway just before the pandemic and had in-person open house events planned to help inform the public and gather feedback. Council agreed that both of these should proceed with their revised digital engagement plans. Residents can look forward to more information and the opportunity to get involved soon.

 In May 2019, the Agricultural Land Commission released an updated bulletin regarding significant changes to regulations regarding cannabis production facilities in the ALR, most notably, that all forms of cannabis production facilities are designated as farm use. The bulletin clarified that local governments would have the ability to regulate or prohibit cannabis production in new structures that are not soil-based. Given these changes, in October 2019, Council directed staff to refer the issue of cannabis production facilities in the ALR to the Cowichan Green Community and the Cowichan Agricultural Society for some input and feedback. At our meeting, Council reviewed the responses received from these stakeholders concerning cannabis production facilities in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). After some debate, Council agreed to direct staff to prepare a report on a policy and/or regulations that would assess non-soil based cannabis production facilities on ALR land on a case-by-case basis.

Our next Regular Council meeting will take place, electronically, on Wednesday, May 20 at 1:30 pm.

Thank you for reading and staying informed!

Al Siebring, Mayor
Municipality of North Cowichan