An overwhelming majority of directors defeated a motion to consider an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy via the”minor process” to enable 3L Developments 740-house community near Stotan Falls. But this is still an early round in the 11-year saga
NOTE: this story was updated July 26 to report that 3L Development has decided to proceed with its request for an amendment to the RGS despite the CVRD board deciding it would only do so via the standard amendment process, and to correct the vote total as 7-3 against.
Common sense prevailed at the Comox Valley Regional District board meeting yesterday, July 24, as directors voted 7-3 to reject considering a proposed amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy via an expedited process.
Only Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula, Courtenay Councillor Mano Theos and Comox Councillor Ken Grant voted in favor. The vote required a two-thirds majority for passage, so it failed overwhelmingly.
The CVRD did, however, vote unanimously to initiate the amendment process, which 3L Developments requested as a first step in a long process to build a 740-house new community near Stotan Falls.
3L spokesperson Kabel Atwall has said repeatedly that the company would only proceed via the minor amendment process, but it announced on July 25 that it would continue with its application via the standard process, which involves consultations with neighboring regional districts as well as local governments and the public.
3L said after the meeting it would make an announcement this morning, July 25.
The two votes yesterday, were narrowly focused on whether to consider amending the RGS at all, and, if so, whether it qualified as a minor or standard process by the rules the directors themselves have written into the bylaw.
It was not a vote on the merits of the proposed development, known as Riverwood.
That point seemed to escape directors Larry Jangula and Mano Theos who argued in favor of going the minor process based on a shortage of available building lots, job creation and 3L Developments offer to donate land for a public park surrounding the popular Stotan Falls swimming area.
“Think of the jobs and housing we’ll lose if we shoot this down,” Jangula said.
Area B Director Rod Nichol, who voted against the minor process, set Jangula straight.
“We’re not here to shoot it down,” Nichol said. “We’re deciding to go minor or standard.”
Grant at least kept his comments in support of the minor process on topic.
But it wasn’t only Jangula and Theos who didn’t understand the question before the board, all seven of the pro-development speakers also argued based on housing shortages and a desire for a public park, not whether the 3L application met the minor process criteria.
Only long-time Comox Valley realtor Dale McCartney even mentioned the minor versus standard amendment process question. He dismissed the standard process because he said the decision should be made solely within the Comox Valley.
How we got here
3L Developments first proposed a new, self-contained community on 550 acres between the Browns and Puntledge rivers in 2007. The CVRD rejected it while developing its Regional Growth Strategy, but was later told by the BC Supreme Court to give the proposal a fuller consideration.
Because the Riverwood community isn’t included in the Regional Growth Strategy, 3L applied to have the RGS amended.
The CVRD is the only regional district in the province to allow developers or other private parties to apply for RGS amendments. In all other regional districts, only another government entity can apply to amend the RGS.
The CVRD passed first reading of its own amendment to the RGS at yesterday’s meeting to change that element of its growth bylaw, which will bring the Comox Valley in line with the rest of British Columbia.
At two previous Committee of the Whole meetings, which are not full-board meetings, a majority of directors first rejected recommending the minor process on July 10, then voted in favor of recommending it to the full board at a second meeting on July 17.
Yesterday was the first time the full board had considered the amendment issue.
Courtenay Councillor Bob Wells, Nichol and Area A Director Bruce Jolliffe changed their votes from pro-minor on July 17 to against it yesterday and swung the majority toward a standard process.
Wells, Nichol and Jolliffe probably heard from constituents aghast at how they could ignore clearly written criteria for a minor process, none of which the 3L Development proposal meets.
Their votes also rankled Mayor Jangula, who told radio station 98.9 The Goat, that he found it “amazing” the directors would change their vote due to “I think, the psychological pressure of all the opposed people.”
Jangula reportedly said he didn’t consider that good leadership. By “that,” he seemed to refer to listening to other points of view.
Record number of delegations
At the top of yesterday’s meeting, the board agreed to hear more than its usual number of delegations, including several that had applied to speak after the deadline.
Seven of those spoke in favor of the minor process by way of supporting the Riverwood development, and the five who were opposed stayed mostly on topic.
Diana Schroeder, a 10-year Valley resident asked for clarification of the issues before the board. She asked if the question was whether to allow the development or to accept the park land. She was told no, the question is about the process.
“Oh,” she said, “because I was confused. All the previous speakers were talking about parks.”
Kabel Atwall, speaking for 3L Developments, not as a delegation, said it’s been 11 years and many confusing missteps, which concerned him because “it’s our side that has to point them out.” He said without an amendment to the RGS, 3L would not offer up land for a Stotan Falls park. He said Riverwood would address the Valley’s housing shortage. He read a letter of support from Central Builders Home Hardware.
Atwall claimed the company will make a $780 million capital investment in Riverwood. If they develop 1,000 lots, that’s an investment of $780,000 per lot before house construction and operating profit.
D. Eliason, who owns a home improvement company, said his family was “pigeon-holed to a lot in Crown Isle” when he moved here because there wasn’t anything else available. If Riverwood was available, he would have preferred it. He praised the parkland offer and asked the board to expedite the process.
Greg Hart, the managing broker of Royal LePage, said the Valley has had a critical shortage of houses on the market since 2016.
“If you want to talk affordable housing, we to talk about supply,” he said. “Because local people can’t afford them”
Hart said the Valley “needs product on the market.”
Dale McCartney said there was no such thing as urban sprawl in the Comox Valley.
Ken and Gladys Schmidt, who live near the Riverwood site, says the Stotan Falls area is a parking nightmare now, with garbage strewn around and toilet paper hanging from trees. A developed park with parking lots and sanitation would improve that.
N. Strussi, who described himself as a sportsman, offered directors a tour of the area he has roamed since he was a kid. He wondered why we have to have so much bureaucracy.
P. Walker, a retired airline pilot, complained about how the CVRD handled his own small land development project south of the Trent River. He called 3L founder David Dutcyvich “a visionary” who is handing the CVRD a complete package. He urged the board to fast track the proposal before there’s a “ferris wheel” on the property.
L. Wilson has lived in the area for 45 years and called herself an avid hunter and outdoors person. She said a park near Stotan Falls would provide sanctuary for wildlife, such as deer, that are being driven into cities by diminishing habitat.
“People love to see deer in their yards,” she said.
Diana Schroeder was the first of several speakers to address the issue before the board. She said there was no “wiggle room” in the criteria for a minor amendment to the RGS. To consider the 3L proposal via the minor process “mocks the intent of the Regional Growth Strategy.”
She raised questions about water, fire protection, public transit, compatibility with Courtenay’s Urban Forest Strategy, and other topics.
“These are questions that can only be answered by the standard amendment process,” she said. “And it should take time. The 3L proposal will change the Comox Valley forever.”
D. Bostock suggested the rural Official Community Plan offers other means of preserving land for a park at Stotan Falls. She called the Browns River watershed critical, and, with the Puntledge, provides a natural urban containment, which preserves the rural character surrounding our cities. She disputed 3L’s claims of job creation, saying they can only transfer density from other existing settlement areas, which would then lose construction jobs.
Grant Gordon said the old north Island regional district was divided into two, creating the CVRD, because Courtenay, Comox and Campbell River didn’t like north Island directors interfering with their planning. He said the compromise was the Regional Growth Strategy to sustain our rural areas. He said all the pro-3L speakers were out of order because they didn’t address the issues at hand, and he claimed the municipal directors have too much power over Area A, B and C directors.
Lisa Christianson said she opposes developments that skirt proper procedures for expediency. Since Riverwood would have a major impact on the Valley, she said there’s no way it should qualify for a minor process. She questioned a concern of some directors to get the amendment process completed by the Oct. 20 municipal elections. She was confident that new directors will be competent to deal with the issue.
Wendy Morin, who has lived her entire 55 years in the Valley, said while she’s sympathetic to the affordable housing argument, she said it’s “unfathomable” that the 3L application could fit the minor process criteria. She noted the staff report that said the current settlement areas are not close to capacity and she worried about issues such as water consumption and the city’s Urban Forest Strategy.
The CVRD will immediately notify neighboring regional districts in Nanaimo, Powell River and Strancona of an upcoming RGS amendment proposal for their comment.
CVRD staff will begin working on a consultation plan and time frame for the board to review at its August meeting.
The City of Courtenay may recommend a third bridge as part of its 2018 transportation master plan, but Project Watershed will oppose any crossing of the Courtenay River south of 17th Street
A battle is brewing over how to improve the flow of traffic through Courtenay and across the Courtenay River without destroying established businesses and key portions of the K’omoks estuary.
The fight could pit the city against Project Watershed, K’omoks First Nations, business owners at the Courtenay Airpark and others over a proposed third crossing at 21st St., which would close the airpark, destroy portions of the estuary and have devastating effects on the Kus-kus-sum restoration.
The city is developing a much-needed transportation master plan that will guide City Councils over the next 20 years on where to invest in new infrastructure and how to meet the transportation needs of a growing population.
The plan is long overdue, and the failure of the city to develop such a plan in the past has limited the city’s options today to meet future transportation requirements.
Mayor Larry Jangula and some council members have downplayed a consultant’s report that recommends the 21st St. crossing as simply “a concept.” But Project Watershed and airpark business owners worry that a ho-hum attitude could result in the “concept” being enshrined in the master plan.
In a strong letter to the mayor and council, Project Watershed has said it will oppose any third crossing of the Courtenay River south of 17th St.
“This route, which would go through wetlands, across agricultural lands and creeks in order to hook up with Comox Road and then eventually Macdonald Road, is ill advised in the extreme,” wrote Project Watershed Chair Paul Horgen.
“The permanent damage that would be done to sensitive ecological areas, including Hollyhock Marsh, Glen Urquhart and Mallard Creeks, as well as Dike Slough by such a project, is unacceptable. This additional crossing would also affect those that enjoy the recreational opportunities afforded by the Courtenay Airpark Lagoon trails, Horgen said in his letter.
Horgen said the city should appreciate the sensitive habitat values of the area and the importance of conserving key eco-assets.
The city is a full partner with the nonprofit and K’omoks First Nation in the restoration of the old Fields Sawmill site, known as Kus-kus-sum.
In response, Mayor Jangula seemed to indicate there was no cause for alarm.
“I understand your concerns. This was simply a report on transportation plans with suggestions on where to place a third crossing,” Jangula wrote. “The City has no plans at this time to build another bridge. The idea is conceptual.”
That provided little comfort for Project Watershed.
“Thanks for your early response Mayor Jangula. Our deep concern is that this non-viable and ill-informed Option B crossing, being a conceptual report or not, will continue to persist in future planning documents, as these things have been shown to do in the past,” Horgen responded. “Our preference would be to see it removed entirely from this process.”
How was the recommendations developed?
According to a fact sheet published by city staff, the City has explored several alternative crossings of the Courtenay River beyond the 5th Street and 17th Street bridges since 2005.
Public feedback has indicated that growth pressures on the crossings, downtown and northeast areas, as well specifically Ryan Road and Highway 19A Bypass were areas of concern.
But most of the city’s options for a third crossing have been eliminated by a “combination of previous decisions and studies along with technical review in 2018 … due to impacts and/or changes to localized conditions (including 3rd Street, 6th Street, 8th Street, 11th Street, 13th Street, 19th Street, and 20th Street).”
That left crossing alternatives at 21st Street and 29th Street, but “preliminary investigations and stakeholder meetings resulted in eliminating 29th Street from further review largely based on the reduced traffic diversion that would be expected, as well as the significant costs and high environmental impacts.”
That last statement is ironic according to Project Watershed Technical Director Dan Bowen.
“Project Watershed has worked hard to secure the old sawmill site to restore the shoreline of the Courtenay River. The option B flies in the face of all the city’s support of the Kus Kus Sum,” Bowen has said. “The wetland salt marsh ecosystem must be kept as a unit for connectivity of plant species and fish channels.”
Morris Perry, a spokesperson for the Courtenay Airpark, says the community benefits from the facility and supports it. He points to a May 2015 poll by the Comox Valley Record in which 93.7 percent of respondents said the Airpark should stay.
“Lots of votes here and, yes, lots of retired air force families that love the airpark and the green space it provides,” Perry wrote in a comment on Decafnation. “Oh yes, and no cost to the taxpayer as its 100 percent maintained by volunteers and of course all the jobs it provides working on aircraft from companies all over North America, not just Harbour Air.”
Courtenay city staff will present final recommendations for the transportation master plan in the fall. The current council will consider the plan, including any changes they want before final adoption.
However, future council members will decide to proceed with specific recommendations in the plan and fund them through the annual budgeting process.
FURTHER READING: City bridge proposal would harm airpark, Kus-kus-sum; Project Watershed, K’omoks First Nations to restore sawmill site
CVRD directors overlook their Regional Growth Strategy to expedite an application by 3L Developments to amend the RGS that would enable a 740-house project on the Browns and Puntlege rivers near Stotan Falls
BREAKING: In another surprising twist to the 3L Developments proposal for Stotan Falls, the July 17 Committee of the Whole vote that defeated a motion to consider the issue via the minor amendment process has been overturned. The motion has now passed on a 5-3 simple majority, and it will be recommended to the entire Comox Valley Regional District board later this month that the 3L application for an amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy be considered by the minor amendment process. When the full board votes, however, a two-thirds majority will be required.
Here is a statement from the CVRD legislative services team:
“In preparing the minutes for yesterday’s (July 17) Committee of the Whole meeting, Regional District staff considered the issue of whether the Committee’s vote on the process for proceeding with the amendment to the RGS proposed by 3L Development required a two-thirds majority or a simple majority vote for the Committee to recommend to the Board that it proceed as a minor amendment. Having reviewed the Regional District’s Procedure Bylaw, the RGS, and the applicable statutes, staff are of the view that there is an arguable issue as to the required vote. In the circumstances, and as the RGS makes clear that the determination of whether an amendment is a minor amendment must be made by the Board, staff have concluded that it is fair and reasonable to resolve the issue in favour of the applicant and have prepared the Minutes to reflect that the motion to proceed with the amendment as a minor amendment was carried on a simple majority vote of 5 to 3. By doing so, the matter will properly be on the agenda for the upcoming Board meeting and the Board will be in a position to fulfill its duty to determine, if the amendment is initiated, on a two-thirds majority basis whether the amendment will proceed as a minor amendment or, in default, as a standard amendment”
The original story follows …
Editor’s note: this article was amended July 23 to provide context for a quote by David Dutcyvich
For Comox Valley Regional District directors Bob Wells and Rod Nichol, expediency justifies circumventing a requirement of the board’s own Regional Growth Strategy.
Wells and Nichol were two of five directors to vote July 17 in favor of considering a proposal by 3L Developments to change the RGS as a minor amendment, rather than through the standard amendment process.
The two directors joined Larry Jangula, Ken Grant and Bruce Jolliffe to support a motion to proceed via the minor amendment process.
Erik Eriksson, Curtis Scoville and Barbara Price voted against the motion.
It was the second time for directors to vote on the issue. On July 10, they defeated the motion with only Grant and Jangula supporting it.
But the board had voted at that time after hearing incorrect information that a future unanimous vote in the minor amendment process would be required for the proposal to pass first reading. In fact, only a majority vote would be required at first reading.
So when the board’s Committee of the Whole reconvened a week later, on July 17, and voted again after discussing the corrected information and another hour of debate on the matter.
What’s surprising about the vote is that the CVRD’s Regional Growth Strategy clearly states the criteria that a proposed amendment must meet in order to be considered through the minor amendment process.
Area B Director Nichol asked CVRD staff to display section 5.2.3(a) of the RGS, which refers to the “criteria under which a proposed amendment to the RGS may be considered a minor amendment:”
It can be minor, if it is not regionally significant, contributes to the goals and objectives of the RGS, contributes to achieving the general principles in the RGS, and is not directly related to enabling a specific proposed development.
Nichol then went through each criterion and explained why, in his opinion, the 3L proposal did not meet any of them. But he voted in favor anyway.
Wells expressed similar difficulty with the criteria.
After the meeting Wells told Decafnation that he voted in favor of the minor amendment process anyway because he was satisfied the board “could still get a fulsome and meaningful” review of the 3L proposal “equivalent to the standard amendment” process.
Wells said his concern was the timeline for responses from other governments required under the standard amendment process, which “from my experience can be significant, and it seemed very unclear there would be any benefit.”
Nichol said the board has “inherited an issue that should have been decided a long time ago.”
“Yes, it did not meet all the requirements, but I firmly believe we can come up with a decision that conforms with the wishes of the people.”
Director Eriksson, who opposed the minor amendment process, said the 3L Developments proposal for 740 houses at Stotan Falls is a significant change to the Regional Growth Strategy.
“I’ve been critical of the RGS in the past,” he said. “But it reflects the aspirations of the public.”
The mayors of each municipality and the electoral area directors signed a protocol on “managing growth in the Comox Valley” in September of 2006. That lead to the development of the RGS, which was adopted in March 2011.
The Regional Growth Strategy is the culmination of considerable public input, negotiation among elected officials and feedback from local government staff through the board’s Technical Advisory and Steering committees.
But five directors, including Wells and Nichol, ignored that work for the sake of moving along consideration of the 3L Developments proposal a little bit quicker.
And 3L Developments has been trying to get CVRD approval for a long time.
It has been 11 years since 3L Development founder Dave Dutcyvich originally proposed to build a self-contained riverfront community on 550 acres between the Browns and Puntledge rivers, north of Courtenay.
His company has offered to donate 260 acres for a public park that includes access to the popular swimming area known as Stotan Falls.
3L spokesman Kabel Atwall said they have grown weary of the delays that have prevented them from going ahead with their project. Atwall said consulting other regional districts, as a standard amendment process requires, could “spin the whole process out of control.”
Dutcyvich also spoke to the board prior to its vote on July 17.
“There’s a lot of money tied up (in the project), and it has to come to an end some time,” he said. “To quote the mayor of Ottawa, ‘I don’t want the red tape, I want the red carpet’.”
CVRD directors will vote again — this time with corrected information on their Regional Growth Strategy minor amendment process — on whether to consider 3L Developments application to amend the RGS as a minor or standard matter. It’s not as confusing as it sounds
When the Comox Valley Regional District voted last week to defeat a motion to consider an amendment proposed by 3L Developments to the Regional Growth Strategy as a “minor” process, it was acting on incorrect information.
The correct information will be presented to the CVRD’s Committee of the Whole (COW) at 4 p.m.Tuesday, July 17, and the directors will vote again on whether the 3L application should be considered a “minor” amendment.
The COW was told at its July 10 meeting that a unanimous vote was required to pass first reading of a minor amendment bylaw. And, if the vote wasn’t unanimous, then the proposed amendment would automatically proceed by the standard process.
The standard process requires more robust consultation with stakeholders and neighboring governments and therefore takes longer. A minor amendment process is streamlined without any required consultations. The board could even decide not to hold a public hearing.
But staff discovered after last week’s vote that a unanimous vote is not required.
FURTHER READING: CAO’s memo to the directors
“While section 437(3) of the Local Government Act [RSBC, c. 1, 2015] does describe such a scenario (unanimous vote), the legislation also defers to the process contained in an RGS where the minor amendment process is defined,” wrote Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson in a memo to the board.
“The Comox Valley RGS in fact defines a minor amendment process and requires that voting on such amendment bylaws would follow normal procedures (meaning a simple majority on first reading is required for approval).” Dyson said.
See minor vs major comparison chart below
The regional district is taking extra care to be precise in its procedures and voting while considering the 3L Developments application. The company has been vocal and litigious in its criticism of the CVRD’s handling of their applications.
3L Developments sued the regional district in 2015 and won an order by the BC Supreme Court, which was later upheld by an appeals court, that the CVRD should have initiated a process to consider an amendment to the RGS, and was directed to do so.
The Committee of the Whole voted last week to initiate an amendment process. It was a unanimous decision.
The COW then voted on a motion by Ken Grant and seconded by Larry Jangula to proceed via the minor amendment (shorter) process. That motion was defeated with only Grant and Jangula voting in favor.
At Tuesday’s meeting (July 17), the COW will vote again whether to proceed via a minor amendment process, after staff clarifies that no unanimous vote is required.
It seems unlikely the resolution will pass given that only Grant and Jangula appear to support the 3L Developments application.
But this time directors will be voting with the correct information, which the CVRD hopes will close any opening for another lawsuit.
3L Development founder Dave Dutcyvich wants to build an entire riverfront community on 550 acres near Stotan Falls, where the Browns and Puntledge rivers converge. It would have 740 homes and a commercial center, and be self-contained with its own water and sewage treatment systems.
The CVRD board has decided in the past that the development doesn’t comply with its Regional Growth Strategy.
The CVRD Committee of the Whole voted to consider an application to amend the Regional Growth Strategy in a way that would permit the 3L Development on the Puntledge River near Stotan Falls, but the majority votes down a motion by Ken Grant and Larry Jangula to expedite the process
The Comox Valley Regional District has voted to consider an application to amend its Regional Growth Strategy that would enable a controversial 740-house subdivision north of Courtenay.
But the CVRD board supported a staff recommendation to follow the more robust standard amendment process, rather than the expedited minor amendment process requested by the developer.
3L spokesperson Kabel Atwall said the company was only willing to move forward on the minor amendment process and claimed CVRD staff had promised that it would. That was contradicted by CVRD Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson and Manager of Planning Services Alana Mullaly.
3L Developments has tried for 11 years to develop its 550 acres situated between Browns River to the north and the Puntledge River to the south. The Inland Island Highway borders the property to the west.
It has promised to give the regional district 260 acres of its land for a park that would allow public access to the popular Stotan Falls.
The CVRD has denied 3L’s past requests for development permits because the site doesn’t fit into the CVRD’s Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), which has already identified three areas for growth outside of municipal boundaries, and all of them are far short of reaching capacity.
The existing three “settlement nodes” are Saratoga, Mt. Washington and Union Bay.
FURTHER READING: Road toll sprouts from dispute; RD loses appeal against 3L; Miscommunication in application; Riverwood
The CVRD’s original denial has triggered a series of confrontations that resulted in a lawsuit, which the regional district lost, and Area C Director Edwin Grieve being barred from future CVRD board deliberations about 3L Developments.
Taking a different tact, the developer has recently applied to have the RGS amended to permit the 3L Development, known as Riverwood.
At its July 11 Committee of the Whole meeting, the board deliberated whether to initiate a process to consider amending the RGS for Riverwood, and if it did so, whether the process should be undertaken as a minor or standard amendment.
The board voted unanimously to initiate an amendment review process.
But there was a great deal of confusion about the difference between following the minor and standard amendment process, by the directors as well as the 3L applicants.
In simple terms, a standard amendment process takes longer because it’s more robust, requiring consultations with surrounding municipalities and neighboring regional districts in Strathcona, Powell River and Nanaimo.
A minor amendment process can move along more quickly and relies entirely on CVRD directors and staff to do its own public outreach and due diligence.
Mullaly estimated that a standard amendment process could take around six months longer.
Comox Director Ken Grant made a motion to follow the minor amendment process, and Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula seconded it.
Grant and Jangula were the only directors to vote in favor of the motion, so it was defeated and, by default, the 3L Developments application for an amendment to the RGS will follow the more robust and longer standard process.
Most of the debate centered on the futility of following a minor amendment process because the B.C. provincial government built in a fail-safe to ensure that any amendment to a district’s Regional Growth Strategy would have the full support of the board.
To pass first reading of an RGS amendment, a regional district board must vote unanimously in favor of it. If just one single director votes no, then the process must restart as a standard amendment process.
Grant said that rule was unfair and made the minor amendment process useless.
It’s a flawed process, to be nice about (describing) it,” he said.
Area B Director Rod Nichol wasn’t so nice.
“It’s stupid,” he said.
But other directors saw the wisdom in giving the 3L Development proposal an extensive review, and planner Mullaly reminded the board that this stage is about their vision, “How you see regional growth unfolding in the future.”
Comox Director Barbara Price clarified that the board was not discussing the merits of the 3L application, but the appropriate process to bring those merits to the public’s attention. She was concerned that following the expedited process would set a precedent for future applications.
“The RGS amendment process is new to us and what we do now will affect our future,” she said. “I’m loathe to overturn the advice of our technical and steering committees for the only reason that we get it done before the (Oct. 20 municipal) election.”
Courtenay Director Bob Wells said the longer timeline for the standard review process gives the board and staff time to “fully contemplate the consequences of our decision.”
“The benefits of doing this properly are significantly more valuable than saving six months,” he said. “It’s worth it for the best possible outcome.”
Alternate Area C Director Curtis Scoville said he wished they could turn back the clock and start the standard review process “before all the obstacles that delayed us.”
“But this proposal deserves a robust consultation,” he said. “I encourage 3L to stay with the process.”
PHOTO: Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird at Tarbells on Dunsmuir Avenue
Around the world, the criteria for how to spend public money has shifted toward achieving a community’s social and economic values, in addition to getting the best value. The Village of Cumberland is leading the way for Canada, along with Comox resident Sandra Hamilton
Comox Valley governments spend more than $100 million every year to purchase goods and services. The criteria for deciding from whom to make those purchases has been historically based on the most fiscally responsible option.
But in other parts of the world that way of thinking has shifted toward spending taxpayers’ dollars more strategically. Specifically, to not only get the best value, but to also provide social benefits.
It’s a concept called social procurement, using dollars the government was going to spend anyway to drive social change and economic development.
Canada has lagged the rest of the world in adopting social procurement, but not the Village of Cumberland.
Cumberland is the first Canadian municipality to incorporate a social procurement framework into its purchasing policy.
And it’s the first Canadian government body to receive certification from Buy Social Canada, an organization devoted to “bringing socially driven purchasers and social enterprise suppliers together … to generate social benefits to communities across the country.”
The village can already point to several community improvements directly attributable to social procurement. And Cumberland’s success has reverberated up and down Vancouver Island, across the province and into eastern Canada.
But for Cumberland Financial Officer Michelle Mason the blessings of leading a nation have come with a bit of a burden. Since the Village Council adopted social procurement in November of 2016, she has been inundated with calls from other B.C. and Canadian cities, including Toronto and Vancouver, seeking information about the policy.
“Most often, the first question is: What is this?” she said.
To answer that question, Mason has also travelled widely around the province making presentations about Cumberland’s nation-leading policy as more communities start to realize the benefits of social procurement. She recently addressed the annual convention of the B.C. Government Financial Officers Association.
The importance of Mason’s role in educating other municipalities about social procurement has inspired a group of Island mayors to envision a Social Procurement Hub that would take her work to the next level.
FURTHER READING: Island mayors work together to create Community Benefit Hub
Cumberland leading Canada
While living in Scotland in 2012/2013, Cumberland Councillor Jesse Kelter observed the Scottish government wrestle with the idea of leveraging public spending to create community benefits. She was there with her husband, who had a temporary work assignment, and her children.
She remembers reading the newspapers about the debate and thinking, “this is about building better relationships with our suppliers, making it more than just a business transaction about price,” she said. “It’s about building a better community together.”
Her understanding of how social procurement could work for local government came from a conversation she had at a Christmas party with Sandra Hamilton.
Councillor Jesse Kelter
After Kelter was elected to public office in the fall of 2014, she posed the idea of adding social values into the village’s purchasing policy during the council’s 2015 Future Priorities session.
“It was an easy sell to council,” she remembers. “And staff were very receptive.”
Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird was on board immediately. She had taken a similar idea to an unreceptive council in 2011 .
It took another year and some outside expert help from Comox resident Sandra Hamilton to help draft Canada’s first social procurement framework, but it all came together when the village updated its purchasing policy in November of 2016.
“Sandra played an initial role early in the development of her social consulting business,” Baird said. “And we were fortunate staff was so supportive. It took all of us coming together to make it happen.”
Hamilton, a United Kingdom native now living in Comox, is Canada’s first social MBA and a public sector social procurement consultant working with all three levels of government.
Scotland has since become the world’s first country to make social procurement a law.
What is social procurement?
The Village of Cumberland has a special page on its website devoted to its social procurement policy, where it introduces the concept this way:
“Social procurement leverages the public procurement process for goods and services, to advance positive economic, workforce, and social development outcomes. Social procurement blends financial and social considerations in public sector purchasing ….”
That’s a lot of words, but the rationale is simple: provide social value for the money a government spends. It’s an invitation for suppliers to advance a community’s social and economic goals through the tendering and procurement process.
FURTHER READING: Village of Cumberland’s social procurement website page
Mayor Baird puts it more directly.
“Our major suppliers are not from Cumberland, so our village doesn’t benefit from the volunteering, sponsorships and all the other wonderful community services they donate in their hometowns,” she said. “So what we’re doing is leveraging our spending to receive some of that community benefit.”
How it works in practice
When evaluating bids for a Village of Cumberland contract, staff and elected officials consider the usual criteria of quality, price and environmental issues, but now add a fourth component: social.
Bidders must meet certain social values determined by the Village Council. They include a living wage evaluation and apprenticeship opportunities for residents of the village who are at-risk youth, aboriginal people, women, newcomers to Canada or retiring veterans and people transitioning into new careers.
Community Benefit Clauses (CBCs) valued at between 5 percent to 15 percent of the total contract may also be added. You can read the list of goals that a CBC should address here.
The Sutton lane multi-use path project
When the local J.R. Edgett company won the contract for separating wastewater and stormwater pipes along Dunsmuir Avenue, it discussed possible CBCs with village staff.
At the time, the village was trying to build a BMX bike jump park next to its skate park. Edgett offered to utilize anticipated down time of equipment and labor already onsite for the pipeline project to provide the fill and finish the jump park.
When Edgett was also hired to build a new bike lane for mountain bikers to travel safely from the Cumberland Recreation Institute parking lot down to the main entrance into the MTB trails, they also contributed to the building of trails in the Cumberland Community Forest.
Councillor Kelter and CFO Mason point out that the policy is not prescriptive to suppliers. They are allowed autonomy to be creative about offering a community benefit, but must meet at least two goals to be considered.
“It’s like we say, here are our goals, tell us how you can help us achieve some them without affecting your price,” Mason said. “Vendors know their business better than we do, and they’re creative.”
Mason said sometimes a company needs temporary employees for the job, so they offer to hire qualified Cumberland residents. Or, the company is from Vancouver and they have to rent apartments for their workers, so they get credit for what they’re already doing.
Benefits for community and contractors
Council members and staff worried that fewer vendors would bid on Cumberland projects after the social procurement policy was adopted. It turned out to be a needless worry.
The village’s last tender for its new water supply UV treatment plant attracted eight bidders, considered a healthy number by Operations Manager Rob Crisfield.
The main concern expressed by the construction industry is for consistency in the Request for Proposal process. Adding a social component to the RFP means a five to 10 page document, which can be daunting to suppliers.
The Island Social Procurement Hub would address this issue, and Financial Officier Mason has been working on creating competitive bidding templates to make it easier on vendors.
But Mayor Baird says social procurement policies are really protections for local contractors against globalization.
“All governments are open to global bids when the spendf reaches a certain dollar level,” she said. “But what will a vendor from far away do for our community?”
Baird speculates that social procurement policies have spread so quickly throughout Europe and Australia because it’s a “means of protecting our own workers.”
Before helping Cumberland write its policy, Sandra Hamilton worked as the director of marketing for The Vancouver Sun, and owned and published BC Woman Magazine.
But when she later acted as the business manager for John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, her mind was opened to the potential for social procurement. She was engaged in the Vancouver Olympics effort to include social criteria into its purchasing policies.
“For example, we awarded the floral contract to a company that offered to train inmates at the Women’s Transition Society Prison as florists during their contract period,” Hamilton said. “Half of them are still working as florists today.”
That’s when it clicked for her. Why not add social values into all taxpayer contracts, and align procurement with each government body’s policy objectives?
Hamilton has since earned the nation’s first social MBA and has helped draft both B.C.’s (Cumberland) and Alberta’s (Fort McMurray) first social procurement policies.
FURTHER READING: Sandra Hamilton’s website
She now speaks across the country, and is recognized as one of the nation’s leading social procurement experts. She was Canada’s nominee to speak about social procurement at the World Trade Organization (WTO) symposium in Geneva last February. In March she spoke on the topic at the Canadian Construction Conference in Mexico.
On a local level, Hamilton was the project lead for the FEED initiative through North Island College to get food grown by Comox Valley farmers into local institutions, such as the Comox Valley Hospital.
“Tax dollars drive our economy and shapes out communities,” she said. “But governments are still procuring and buying like they did 30-40 years ago — that’s the change I’m driving for.”
The City of Victoria, Town of Qualicum Beach and City of Campbell River are working together on a pilot project to design and develop a standardized approach to adding social value into infrastructure projects.
The Social Procurement Hub will soon solicit for an employee to travel the province sharing information from Cumberland and other governments and helping municipal governments to establish their own policies.
FURTHER READING: The United Nations global review of sustainable public procurement