As then Lead Co-Chair of the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board, in June of 2015, I was made aware of a compromising Twitter exchange between then Chief Elsner and the wife of an officer under his command. Mayor Helps and I immediately retained the services of a lawyer and through our lawyer contacted the Police Complaint Commissioner.
The PCC decided that the Twitter exchange between Elsner and the wife of his subordinate on a VicPD account was a matter that did not raise an issue of public trust and was, therefore, appropriate to be dealt with by way of an internal discipline investigation and process to be conducted by Mayor Helps and I in our capacity as the designated discipline authorities under the Police Act for internal disciplinary matters involving the chief of police.
Mayor Helps and I were walked through the process by the PCC and our lawyer. On October 30, 2015, our lawyer advised us that the Deputy PCC had confirmed that “all steps taken to date [had] been appropriate”. That specifically included the limited disclosure that had been made to the Police Board.
We had the matter investigated by an independent investigator approved by the PCC. As a result of this investigation we ultimately found Mr. Elsner guilty of misconduct and imposed a letter of reprimand.
Internal discipline matters concerning the police, as in any workplace, are to be dealt with confidentially. That is why I stated “there is no investigation at this time”. The internal investigation and imposition of discipline had been completed at that point and was meant, as is the usual course, to remain confidential.
After the discipline issue we had recently concluded was leaked to the press, the PCC changed his mind and ruled that the matters we had investigated and imposed discipline for were indeed matters involving the public trust, after all. He then decided he would re-investigate and re-adjudicate those same matters under the public trust discipline process set out in the Police Act. By then he had also had other allegations of misconduct on the part of Chief Elsner to consider. Some of those other allegations came out of his reading of the evidence reported by our internal investigator, and others were brought straight to the PCC by the Police Union.
It is evident that between our internal discipline of Elsner on December 4, 2015 and the initial PCC press release December 18, 2015 things had significantly and rather quickly changed as a result of the additional allegations of misconduct on the part of Elsner that were then emerging.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of BC later ruled that once the PCC determined that allegations of misconduct were not public trust matters, he could not later change his mind as he did in this case. The Chief Justice ruled that to do so would be an abuse of process. He suggested that there was an obvious need for finality.
The Court of Appeal on April 19th, 2018 overruled Chief Justice Hinkson and held that the PCC actually does have statutory authority to re-do an internal investigation and discipline process. The Court of Appeal did question whether such a re-investigation and re-adjudication was really necessary in this case. The Court of Appeal , well aware of all of the evidence that was before Mayor Helps and me, described the conduct as “an entirely consensual and short lived flirtation via Twitter involving a chief constable who is no longer employed by VicPD”.
Elsner has long since resigned. As early as April 18th, 2018, the PCC was in possession of the ruling from retired Judge Baird Ellan dismissing Elsner for misconduct that had not been brought before Mayor Helps and me. I am left wondering what more needed to be “done” after that point. In spite of Judge Baird Ellan’s formal dismissal of an officer, who had resigned long before her decision, the PCC kept this case going for months longer, at public expense, until now.
In his press release of September 26, 2018, Mr. Lowe offers an excuse for continuing on. He says that the investigation had been completed and “the two outstanding misconduct allegations were already the subject of adjudication.” This is surprising, given that Chief Justice Hinkson had ordered that the matters dealt with by Mayor Helps and I had been heard and decided and was final and that the PCC did not have authority to reinvestigate. Clearly there could be no “adjudication” in progress prior to the decision of the Court of Appeal permitting the PCC to proceed further. While the PCC is correct in stating that “the retired judge did not have the authority to terminate the proceedings”, the PCC surely could have stopped them and I suggest should have. I have trouble with the excuse the PCC offers for continuing on the discipline proceedings at public expense after the Court of Appeal’s ruling on April 19, 2018.
Surprisingly to me, although he eventually (after the Board filed an action seeking to require him to do so) provided the other decisions of his discipline authorities, the PCC has refused to provide Mayor Helps and me (and the Police Board) the actual re-adjudicated discipline decisions of retired Judge Baird Ellan (those matters originally dealt with internally).
The Court of Appeal had before it all of the information and documentation that had been before Chief Justice Hinkson in the lower court. This included all of the evidence from the internal investigation conducted on behalf of Mayor Helps and I. Given Judge Baird Ellan’s observation that the Justices of the Court of Appeal “seem to be unaware of the extent of the interactions between the former chief and the [spouse of the affected officer]”, one can only assume that the PCC’S re-investigation must have uncovered evidence that went significantly beyond the evidence presented to us in the internal process.
Retired Judge Baird Ellan ordered that dismissal was the appropriate punishment for Elsner’s two counts of misconduct upon which she re-adjudicated after Mayor Helps and I had done so in the internal investigation. In doing so she made it clear that this was in part because of the other allegations that were not part of the internal investigation. She stated that she was unable to say whether her decision to dismiss would have been the same if these allegations stood alone (as they did when Mayor Helps and I adjudicated similar conduct). That notwithstanding, the PCC accuses Mayor Helps and I of prejudging the matter in an attempt to protect the former chief.
Even though I have only been provided copies of some of them, I accept the rulings of both retired Judges who served as discipline authorities and also the decision of the PCC that these matters may be considered concluded. I am certainly glad for all parties involved and for the citizens of Esquimalt and Victoria that this process has finally come to an end.
Given that it is now clearly the law that the PCC can initially decide that a matter is not a matter of public trust and then later change his mind on that very point, I would suggest that no mayor should ever again agree to undertake an internal discipline process involving a chief constable. I certainly would not. I would urge it on to the PCC from the outset. Why would any mayor acting as an internal discipline authority under the Police Act ever risk having to conduct and pay for one disciplinary investigation only to be later required to pay for two, the first process being discarded?
Further, the Police Act was amended after the process involving former Chief Battershill to extend the PCC’s power to deal with former police officers. Doing so comes at significant public cost. Perhaps the public will now consider whether this is the kind of thing that it want to pay for.
The Police Complaint Commissioner has taken defamatory liberty in respect to the honesty and integrity of Mayor Helps and I . He has found us guilty of misconduct that, if true, would be very serious indeed. He has done so from his position of high office and without giving us any opportunity to first answer his speculative accusations. The media has elected to repeat Commissioner Lowe’s highly defamatory comments.
I fully respect the public’s entitlement to transparency and its right also to challenge, and vehemently so its elected public officials. However if the public’s right to transparency and inquiry permits any type of comment, no matter how unfair or defamatory, then the level of our public discourse will inevitably continue to fall to new lows.
As we spend our time chatting with residents on doorsteps and elsewhere, I am frequently being provided with residents’ views about my decision to run in the provincial election. Party politics is a very emotional discussion and I do not, and will not, go through the merits of parties. But I would like to offer to those who ask and are interested, why I made the decision to run in the provincial election.
As Mayor of Esquimalt for the past 10 years, I saw that Esquimalt had no effective influence and impact with the previous provincial government. The extent to which funds did not flow to our municipality underscores this point.
The policing challenges in 2009-2014 and the sewage treatment process are strong example of issues where we would have benefited from a voice within the sitting government. Our MLA did what she could but, in opposition, she had very little influence.
As CRD chair in 2016 and 2017, I also saw that the region held very little sway with the BC Liberal government. Funding and investment in our region were difficult to obtain and slow to come.
With little or regional representation with the sitting government, we were often ignored and it felt we were unheard.
I sought to make a difference and strengthen Esquimalt’s voice.
Some have indicated I was abandoning Esquimalt. In fact, it was the opposite. It was about enhancing Esquimalt and the region’s needs, and getting heard. I have never been someone to sit by. If something is not as it should be, I feel strongly that we need to do what we can to fix it. If you can’t fix it from the outside then going inside is one of the few remaining ways to make change happen.
The voters decided otherwise and I truly respect that decision. We now have local, regional and significant representation in our BC government.
I believe that strong relationships with the party in power are essential regardless of political stripe. I am pleased with the relationship I have established with the BC government, with our MLA, Mitzi Dean and with local MLAs and cabinet ministers.
As Mayor I will continue to nurture these relationships to enhance our community and ensure that our voices are being heard and that our needs are being met.
Finally, I promise you that I will not be running in any future provincial or federal election. I am hopeful to have your support and that you will allow me to continue to lead Esquimalt.
We are opening our Campaign office on Saturday September 15, 11-4 pm
Everyone is welcome to come celebrate with us, sign up to volunteer or just show your support for Barb. Come by for coffee and goodies , fun and friends!
Hope to see you there!
Facebook Event Page
This past week the CRD board reviewed the preliminary budget for 2019. There has been considerable concern over the 15% proposed increase to Esquimalt. In 2016 the CRD preliminary budget showed Esquimalt as having a 17% increase coming, the final tax requisition was for 3%. I will try to outline why these numbers can change so significantly.
The CRD has a five year financial planning process which allows the board to see budget projected expenses and revenues going forward based on service plans developed from the Boards Strategic priorities. A few things make this process different this year.
All of these differences suggest the final budget could be significantly changed from this past week.
Esquimalt also has a challenge to receive accurate preliminary budget projections because of our unique taxation make-up with a significant portion in the form of PILT (Payment in lieu of Taxes).
The process of assessment of Federal properties occurs between the federal government and BC assessment. Esquimalt receives a significant payment of these taxes in July and final payment of these amounts normally in November of the year but this has been as late as January of the next year. The importance of this comes down to the fact that preliminary budgets for Esquimalt are done very conservatively because we just don’t get the information early enough to do more accurate budget forecasting. This is why Esquimalt waits until March of the budget year to do its budgeting.
Enough on process with regards to accuracy of the CRD preliminary budget let’s talk about comparisons between municipalities which cannot really be done.
As you look at the budget of each municipality you will note each is unique in its list of services that CRD provide. Someone asked for an apple to apples comparison of taxes with other municipalities. My response to them was that it can’t be done because every municipality is a different fruit.
Some municipalities have taken various services out of CRD requisition and bill them to their residents under a utility. In this way that cost is not seen within the CRD budget. For example in the CRD requisition for Victoria you will not see the sewer program.
In Esquimalt we do not have any utilities because of the tax structure and the PILT. What you see on your bill is the culmination of all the taxes. If you are someone who defers taxes you are able to defer significant cost in taxation. People in other municipalities cannot defer items within utilities. Small comfort I know.
“We encourage a resilient and diverse economic environment”
The fourth priority of Esquimalt council for 2014-18 was in regard to our economy. This is not an easy task as we are both blessed and challenged by the fact that we have federal government, DND , and the graving dock as our largest employers. Blessed, because they create tremendous economy in the region. Challenged, because as their favour with the Federal government goes, so does the benefit to our economy. For example, within my tenure as Mayor the federal government was examining the divestiture of the Graving dock. Very little infrastructure work was done during this time and the viability of the west coast ship repair industry here was severely challenged. Divestiture meant uncertainty. Uncertainty can undermine infrastructure investment. The challenge for the Navy to grow and secure required infrastructure has also been a political football at the Federal level over the years.
There have been 2 significant decisions by government that have improved the future for these employers within our borders. The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy provided Seaspan with a significant contract to build ships for Coast Guard and the Navy. That program sees Esquimalt graving dock providing the work to the interiors of these ships and has secured steady work within this facility until 2030 and likely beyond I am told.
The second decision was the federal government (2015-16) committed to its ownership and development of the Graving Dock and with that, there has been significant infrastructure investment to ensure it will continue to be a westcoast resource for ship repair into the future.
Other contracts have since been secured such as Cruise ship refits work, Submarine fleet maintenance, and even work being done for New Zealand Navy vessels. The future looks very bright.
Esquimalt has considerable internal and regional potential to support and leverage the strengths of these industries. Esquimalt became a member of South Island Prosperity Project for these reasons.
In 2015 Esquimalt finalized our Economic Development Strategy. This roadmap can help us to achieve “a resilient and diverse economic environment” but we must proactively manage, and allocate resources in order for the strategy to achieve full potential.
Goundwork laid, Esquimalt’s future has significant potential economic development opportunities.
“We recognize the importance of, and will enhance relationships with our neighbors and other levels of government”
Esquimalt has many strategic Partners from which great relationships result in great things. Our community borders with Songhees First Nation, City of Victoria, View Royal, and Saanich just across the Gorge waterway. But internally we have significant landownership by the federal government DND and Esquimalt Graving Dock. Esquimalt has its own family of schools as well as the only Francophone School of the region so we have a relationship with 2 School Districts. Of course we are part of Capital Regional District, working together on issues such as waste, water, and parkland.
Our relationships with Federal departments are critical. They provide significant economic benefit to Esquimalt, through the work they do, the jobs they provide and the taxes they pay. This relationship requires ongoing dialogue, and communication. We benefit currently through mutual aid agreements and joint training opportunities with our fire departments. We benefit by use of MacAulay Point as a park through lease agreement. The base and the Township did joint work toward deer management as well. We have developed joint luncheon meetings between staff of DND and Esquimalt with the Base Commander and Mayor and Council included. These occur twice per year and help to ensure ongoing relationship building despite the challenges of change in Command and movement of DND personnel.
The School Districts are important partners within our community as well and council continues to explore the options for greater benefit. Joint use agreements have helped the Township access classrooms, theatres, and sport fields. We are currently discussing enhancement of the sport field at Esquimalt High for Rugby.
Our relationships with our neighbors, Esquimalt First Nation and Songhees First Nation have been growing and this work will continue with the work of meaningful reconciliation. We already benefit from 2 separate properties within the Township that are owned, and have been redeveloped by these Nations and we will continue to work for strong and ongoing partnership opportunities.
Finally, Esquimalt wherever possible works toward shared services with CRD and other municipalities. These provide significant benefit to us through resource, finance, and public safety. Our shared fire dispatch service being a key example and of course through CRD there are regional Arts, parkland acquisition and Housing First programs. The South Island Prosperity Project has in its short time improved the interest and investment into our region , to the benefit of its members of which Esquimalt is one.
Relationships require work and they are worth it for our community for greater social, economic and environmental benefit.
“We will continue to enhance the health and liveability of the community”
In my last blog I talked about infrastructure management in Esquimalt. With good foundation, no pun intended, we achieve structural and environmental health and livability for our community. But there is another important aspect of community health, Social enhancement, and that is the focus of this blog. Community health and social enhancement is improved through public gatherings and activities such as the ones we now see as part of our summer, ie the Farmers Marker and Music in Memorial park.
One of the budget areas that provide council some discretion for social benefit is local grant funds.
There are far more requests than funds available every year so a committee of council has the undesirable task of determining who gets what. All are worthy requests. However, with restricted finances I operate on the basis of ensuring that who we choose to put dollars to, gives the broadest possible benefits for the people of Esquimalt.
I strongly support groups who provide art, cultural and healthy events within the Township. It is my opinion that these have enhanced Esquimalt’s image, pride, and community energy. This summer’s lineup illustrates this well. Musicfest in Memorial Park brought people, of our community and beyond, out to hear music, to eat, dance and chat, to socialize for seven straight weeks.
The Esquimalt Farmers Market every Thursday from May 24th- September 13th, and monthly through the rest of the year, draws people from across the community, to socialize and purchase healthy foods and other products, all in a festive way!
Two other examples of developing Esquimalt’s social capital are:
Movies in the Park this summer which provided family opportunities like the old fashion drive in!
Summer programs for kids this year were amazing with Eco Champs being just one example. Our children learning how to make the world environmentally better. They in turn teach us parents and grandparents.
All of the examples I have talked about promote liveability in our community for residents, businesses and for visitors. They also engage people through volunteering which provides individual health benefits too!
I will be a strong advocate for future councils to continue to support community groups who provide healthy benefit to the broad community.
Now that we are into the depths of summer and 3 months away from the municipal elections, it is a great time to reflect on the work done by this council, Esquimalt staff, and council committees over the past 4 years. This has been a very busy and very productive term in Esquimalt, and it has been an absolute pleasure to work with the people you elected in 2014.
Through our Strategic Priorities council set out 4 overarching goals:
Esquimalt recognized Inflow and Infiltration (rainwater and waste that contribute to the flows to the municipal sewer system) from old pipes would cause significant cost and environmental stress to the municipality in the future. Significant work has been done to repair and reline municipal sewer infrastructure. Esquimalt reduced flow by 15% 2005-2012 and greater reduction since then. This translates to you in reduced cost for sewage treatment, as greater longevity for the plants being built now.
Roads, sidewalks, municipal buildings are also part of this goal. Council gave direction to increase the connectivity of our community through increased sidewalk, road and cycling infrastructure. Your input, as was requested recently for Lyall and Lampson St corridors, is crucial to prioritizing these connections. Maintaining buildings such as our sports center which is now almost 60 years old can continue to serve us well with our focus on good management. Upgrades and maintenance to Townhall, the rec center, and the public safety buildings are all continuously reviewed .
In the next number of blogs I will go through the other 3 goals and I am hoping these will stir comment from you!
The draft Official Community Plan is making its way through council readings receiving second reading on Monday May 7th. With this plan come great opportunities for Esquimalt to look into its future and provide a flexible document that serves as a map for future councils and community. Our vision statement should also serve as the map forward and council has received considerable feedback on its lack of comment for future aspiration.
“Esquimalt is a caring and welcoming community that has strong relationships with our neighbors, the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations, regional municipalities, and the naval base.
Our vibrant economy is supported by an engaged community. As a coastal community, we are stewards of our environment and value our past, present and future.”
All very strong and true values of our community, but no reference to what we want to see Esquimalt be in 10, 20 and even 40 years into the future.
This community discussion needs to take place, and it is unfortunate that the Official Community Plan is coming to council so far into current council’s mandate and so close to a future council's mandate.
Who should develop this vision? I have always found the dialogue candidates have with residents during the election period has provided strong input to council's strategic plan development. It has been informed by probably the broadest community engagement that you could hope for as door-knocking engagement, all candidates meetings, meet and greets, and media in all forms become touch points with residents in the community. Both the vocal and the silent community are heard from.
That strategic Plan should also work within the vision and the OCP as the community's guiding document.
So which comes first, and who should develop the Vision?
For my part, from conversations, community ideas, and engagement our vision could include:
“Esquimalt, a community of art, cultural and historic recognition, events and connections celebrating our diverse heritage, while enhancing the future prosperity of Esquimalt”
Love to hear your thoughts and comments on this!
Council has been working on the update for our OCP over the past term. It has taken considerable time for several reasons. One is that our Development Services Department is just so darn busy, and the second factor has been the interest in housing, the concern about affordability, and appropriate options for housing for our community. Busy in the department is really an understatement as staffs have processed 3 significant projects, Esquimalt Town Square, English Inn and Triangle Lands (Now Westbay Quay) as well as many smaller multifamily developments over the term as well. A total of 1,100 units have been approved by this and former councils. This means growth for our community, something we have been strategically working for.
This growth has brought several eateries back to Esquimalt. We have a growing homebased business sector with services from yoga, to massage, flowers to music and dance, graphic design to baking.
In the past Esquimalt has been fairly flat in growth and in fact the census showed a decrease in our population. This has significant effect on our ability to attract new businesses and to provide services and amenities that you would like.
Growth is change, change can be challenging. For the most part we don’t like change. The OCP provides a general outline for growth over the next 10 years. It is a guide not a policy so there can be variations from it but variations must be carefully reviewed and community must have input.
Growth is important and we must continue to grow. Young families are moving here, seniors want to stay here. This is a healthy community. To provide the services for them both to stay, for their children to stay, we must allow growth.
Ensuring various housing stock will help this happen. The OCP is important for our communities future. It is important that you participate.
Please check the draft plan out at : https://www.esquimalt.ca/business-development/official-community-plan-review .