Disbandment of environment committee debated in Nanaimo e-town hall

NANAIMO – Residents had wide-ranging comments and questions during an e-town hall meeting on city council's strategic priorities.

Council’s decision to disband its environmental committee was up for debate at an e-town hall meeting Monday.

Nanaimo politicians held the e-town hall to get public feedback on its strategic update and top priorities for the next two and a half years.

Residents, who could weigh in by phone, web form, social media or in person during the forum, had wide-ranging questions and comments on agriculture, the status of the Departure Bay walkway, and elimination of the Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability, whose members will be reassigned to other seats in a committee restructuring.

June Ross, resident, called the move a “very bad mistake,” after pointing out the strategic update has an area called environmental responsibility and yet under governance renewal and the new committee structure it removed the environmental committee. Resident Matthew O’Donnell said it makes sense to have the view of environment in every committee, but to also have a stand-alone environmental committee.

Coun. Diane Brennan, former member of the environmental committee, believes a stand-alone committee is required and said when you take one person and plunk them in a committee where the specific focus is not the environment, their weight to make changes and hold the city’s feet to the fire is reduced.

Coun. Jim Kipp said council is starting to embed the view of environment and social planning in other committees “that didn’t even care that environment was on it.”

“We are not just blanking out, closing down the environment; we are embedding it in every part of the operation,” he said.

Kipp also said why he supports the idea “of spreading the environment, getting them out of one little caucus where they speak to the converted every day… ’cause they are all very environmentally sensitive, now they are going to speak to people with a different mentality or a different sort of cultural design.”

Ross disagreed with the comment about embedding.

“You’re diluting a committee that was operating very well and instead of taking that committee and using them with the other departments what you’ve done is diminished their voice,” she said.

Councillors also discussed the Departure Bay walkway and agriculture.

Mayor Bill McKay talked about a need to look seriously at the issue of food consumed and grown on the Island and ensure there’s proper taxation regimes that make farming profitable, services like water are provided at a rate farmers can afford, and there’s a place to market crops.

No politician talked about the Departure Bay walkway happening quickly. Coun. Wendy Pratt said it would be wonderful to see the walkway go to Departure Bay and the Snuneymuxw lands on the other side, but she also said it’s an expensive venture and they need to figure out where it fits into budgeting and priorities.

“I do believe there will be work done in the future, when it will be done, what part will be done, that will depend on where we focus our priorities,” she said.