By Catherine Holt, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce cares deeply about the safety of our community. It’s the foundation all citizens rely on to function. At the moment we’re not sure it’s headed in the right direction.
At the recent Victoria Budget Town Hall, the most controversial topic was the police budget. Some asked the City to reduce police officers, while others urged it to hire more. Both sides believe they want the right thing for the citizens of Victoria.
However, the result is we’re now into the second year the police budget is trapped between two municipal decision-makers and the police board. Last year, Esquimalt voted not to provide its share of the increase requested by the police board. And, this year, Victoria is sending the budget back to the board for a revision that the police chief says will actually reduce police resources once inflation, population growth and the EHT are accounted for.
That creates an impasse. When the mayors send the budget back to the police board, they are sending it back to themselves — because they are the co-chairs of the board and they approved it in the first place.
This has unnerving similarities to the regional sewage treatment project, which spent years suspended between municipalities that didn’t want to host sewage treatment facilities and the Capital Regional District, provincial and federal governments, which insisted it was required. At one point, we had the mayor of Esquimalt chairing the CRD when it approved its sewage treatment plan — and the same mayor voting against the CRD plan along with her municipal council.
That happened because a bad governance design by the Province plagues the regional district by allowing local government representatives to play conflicting roles. The impasse was only fixed by the Province stepping in with a separate project board with decision-making authority.
With police board governance, the culprit is Section 25 of the BC Police Act. It forces mayors to chair their municipal police force. No exceptions. Even if a mayor has been convicted of a crime, is married to the police chief or just doesn’t want to find themselves in conflict with their role as mayor, he or she is the chair of the police board. Period.
Civilian oversight of the police is a necessary principle. Obligating mayors to chair the police board is not necessary and leads to the ridiculous situation the police budget is now in.
I know because I was on the Victoria Police Board for a term many years ago and saw this conflicted governance situation firsthand.
If you want a high functioning board, there are a few essential qualities you need in an appointed chair: knowledge of what they will be governing, governance expertise and independence from the organization’s operations.
Mayors get elected to do good things for their community. Mayors Helps and Desjardin were both handily reelected in the fall, which is evidence they are doing their mayoral jobs well. But no mayoral candidate runs to be chair of the police board and they don’t meet the criteria. So why does the Province force them into it?
Section 25 also, inexplicably, prevents mayors from stepping aside if they can’t carry out their responsibility to the board. Normally, with other boards, the chair can be excused temporarily or permanently if they can’t fulfill their responsibilities. But the mayor is the police board chair come hell or high water.
This caused problems with the board’s disciplinary action regarding two previous police chiefs. To sum up those situations as simply as I can, there were concerns the mayors worked too closely with the police chiefs to be objective about their behavior. The public perception was the mayors avoided doing the right thing by not handing their responsibilities over to an uninvolved third party. The reality was, because of Section 25, they had no legal ability to do so.
The current police budget impasse further highlights the shortcomings of Section 25. How can the mayor credibly approve something in one forum and then reject it or criticize it in another? The police board should be free to submit the budget it thinks is credible and necessary, and the mayor and council should be free to critique it and approve it, or not, without having the objectivity of both processes compromised because they are led by the same individuals.
A solution is to have the Province fix Section 25 so that the police board chair is a highly qualified citizen appointed by the mayor and council — as is the case with Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.
And keeping mayors at arm’s length from oversight of the police department will free them to fulfill their responsibilities to consult with the taxpayers and determine how much they are willing to pay for policing, and get on with it.
This column was originally published in the Times Colonist on Jan. 31, 2019.
By Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Catherine Holt
A mission statement should capture the reason an organization exists, while its vision statement explains what it will become if it achieves its aspirations.
Summing up these concept in short, memorable phrases helps an organization focus its time and resources. If your organization is going through this process you might find it helpful to learn how The Chamber came up with our new statements.
Last fall, we worked with our board of directors ona mission and vision that will guide us for the next four years.
We decided our mission is that we are: Working together to build good business and great community.
This statement expresses a number of important things about The Chamber.
Members work together to help each other with business and community contributions, as well as personal challenges. As an organization, we work with other associations and community leaders who are taking an active role in ensuring our region prospers.
We also build good business. This phrase has two meanings that capture the spirit and intent of The Chamber. We want our members to prosper, to be doing “good business.” We also want to make the right kind of contributions to our community. Good business is positive and important.
Building great community means more than helping the “business community.” That’s a label I don’t agree with or understand. Business is an essential part of community and we shouldn’t separate the two.
Businesses contribute in ways that make our region a better place. They donate, sponsor, volunteer, mentor, advise, lead, invest, employ and pay taxes. All these contributions help make Greater Victoria a great community.
If we succeed at working together to build good business and great community, we will achieve our vision: The Chamber is the region’s most diverse and influential business association.
As with the mission, the vision should resonate with anyone who wants to understand who we are and what we hope to be.
There are a few important concepts embedded in our vision statement. First, we see ourselves as advocating for the whole region. That’s why our name is the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
To do that, we have to be diverse. We work on behalf of businesses from all 13 local municipalities and beyond. We include big organizations and small businesses. We need long-time members who provide stability, and new members who bring ideas that constantly rejuvenate us. We also want to represent every sector: retail and hospitality, tech, arts, sports, manufacturing, professional services, finance, education, public and not-for-profit.
And we need a diversity of faces at our events and around our board and committee tables. We want everyone who supports the mission of The Chamber to have the opportunity to work together, including new arrivals, indigenous people, young and old, men and women and everyone in between. We benefit from every additional point-of-view and personal contribution.
Diversity and inclusiveness create the pathway that enables us to be the influential business association we aspire to be.
This column was originally published in the January 2019 edition of the Business Examiner