Waters: Putting the cart before the horse

Kelowna council was asked to support a controversial gravel extraction plan before residents were given their say.

You can’t blame Kelowna council for being miffed at the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines over its handling of a application by an East Kelowna landowner to remove sand and gravel from his property in order to create an orchard.

At Monday’s city council meeting, everyone there agreed aggregate is needed for building, the creation of more agricultural land is good and council should hear from its residents when it comes to changing land use in a neighbourhood—even a rural one.

It was the third part, however, where council was basically asked to buy a pig in a poke.

You see the ministry, which has the final say about resource extraction in B.C., has the option of requiring public consultation about something like a gravel removal operation and its timing. And it was asking the city, through a recommendation to the Agricultural Land Commission—because the land in question is in the Agricultural Land Reserve—to pass judgement on a plan that had yet to be presented to residents.

To say the process was flawed was an understatement.

But council’s handling of the issue on Monday wasn’t much better.

Rather than just defer a decision until after the public was heard, and telling both the ALC and the ministry what and why it was doing that, it insisted on voting on a staff recommendation to support the proposal. That vote ended up being tied, meaning it was defeated.

That’s the same as council saying it does not support the plan.

But, incredibly, there was then talk of deferring a decision on council support. By that time there was nothing to defer. A decision had been made by vote and that decision was non-support.

Some of the councillors who voted against the motion said that while they could not support it then because the public had not been heard from yet, maybe they would support it later because the creation of more agricultural land would be good thing. This may be, in the words of one councillor, short-term pain for long-term gain.

But they won’t get that chance.

So, in the end, all council could do is send the ministry and the commission details of its discussion to show its frustration. And that, basically, takes the city out of the equation.

While no councillor wanted to be this blunt, what they were asked to do, or rather how they were asked to do it, was a mess from the get go. (Council was more diplomatic saying the process was “flawed.”)

You don’t ask the political representatives of the public to make a decision that affects some of the people they represent without allowing those affected to be heard first. If you do, what are they basing their decision on?

It’s no wonder residents of the area on Mathews Road area showed up en masse to make their displeasure known. And it’s no wonder councillors expressed their frustration.

This proposal, albeit good in its intention to create more agricultural land and provide much-needed aggregate at the same time, was handled very poorly by all the government bodies involved.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Kelowna Capital News.