January has kicked off a busy start to the year for Oak Bay Council members. Working groups on community engagement and an Official Community Plan review have had two initial pre-planning meetings involving Council members, staff and community volunteers. There is a lot of skill and enthusiasm around both tables and each working group is chaired by Council members (myself and Pam Copley, respectively).
I also attended my first CRD Community Arts Committee meeting as Oak Bay Council Liaison, at which time a new Chair (Councillor David Screech of View Royal) and Vice-Chair (Councillor Pam Madoff of Victoria) were elected. This regional committee oversees arts and culture activities across the region and works collaboratively with the Arts Advisory Council to fund 32 arts organizations. Broad goals for the Committee include securing increased funding for the arts and expanding municipal membership on the Committee.
I also attended my first breakfast meeting with the University of Victoria, where the municipalities of Oak Bay and Saanich come together on a regular basis to talk about mutual interests and concerns, given that the UVic campus is situated in both municipalities. UVic has just completed a draft strategic plan that includes a significant piece on Community Engagement.
I believe that there are significant opportunities for collaboration with the University on a number of important topics such as changing demographics in our region. Eighteen to twenty-four year olds are a diminishing age group here and in other parts of Canada. The University of Victoria is facing a real challenge in how it addresses this change and continues to attract students and talent to the Island. And they are not alone. Municipalities also face succession challenges as employees retire and take their corporate knowledge and professional expertise with them.
I also attended with Saanich Councillor Vicki Sanders, a public information session about the future of the Sandown lands and its potential contribution to regional food production and food security, a subject that has drawn a lot of attention since the last municipal election.
I estimate that at least 400 people crowded into the North Saanich Presbyterian Church to hear a panel presentation, with keynote speakers MP Elizabeth May and other regional leaders involved in local farming, agrology and agriculture. There appeared to be majority support from the crowd for the Sandown proposal. As an aside, the Municipality of Saanich owns Haliburton Farm and my hope is that this may present an opportunity for regional collaboration on the future of Sandown.
I will also report out on Monday night’s Oak Bay Council meeting so please stay tuned.