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Opinion: New rules for the Squamish political ring

'The recently published 16-page DOS Code of Conduct Bylaw is a kind of Marquess of Queensberry rules book focused on municipal government.'

Heads up Squamish, there’s a new sheriff in town. But let’s be clear, we’re not talking about a typical peace officer wearing a badge and holstered sidearm.

Here, we have the recently published 16-page DOS Code of Conduct Bylaw, a kind of Marquess of Queensberry rules book focused on municipal government. Before we digress any further, this is not about prohibiting low blows, biting, and spitting associated with professional boxing.

Still, they say politics is a blood sport, so we could be referring to the political equivalent of those barred tactics.

That said, what’s the new rule book all about? In a nutshell, it is a comprehensive catalogue of dos and don’ts for District officials at meetings, in the community, and on social media and is explicitly linked to council’s Remuneration Bylaw, allowing for the deduction of pay for each breach of the edict.

It also applies to election campaigns. The overarching declaration in the document is “council and committee members are keepers of the public trust and must uphold the highest standards of ethical behaviour to build and inspire the public’s trust and confidence in local government.”

One stipulation is that council members must direct inquiries about departmental issues or questions to the CAO, General Manager, or directors of departments and refrain from contacting staff unless the communication is minor and to seek administrative clarity.

Additionally, council members are prohibited from publishing on social media or otherwise, statements attacking members, staff, or volunteers. Regarding council meetings, we’ve had our share of political theatre. The most blatant example was the verbal shootouts and grandstanding displays in the early 2000s between an elected slate called Squamish New Directions and members of the old guard on council. Front and centre was the brouhaha over the highly controversial wood chip loading facility proposed for the Squamish waterfront.

In retrospect, all things considered, what kind of collective persona has the previous iteration of council presented? Let’s note that five of seven current council members decided to run again in the recent Squamish civic election. Their interaction around the council table and beyond appears to have been reasonably amicable, or more would have bid farewell to the inner sanctum at Muni Hall.

Although she decided not to run for council again, in a speech to the Squamish Chamber of Commerce last June, former mayor Karen Elliott said, “I have had the benefit of working with a great group of colleagues on council for the last four years.” She called the CAO, senior management group and a staff cohort across the District’s operations “one of the finest teams in the province. As a community you should never take that for granted.”

Several months before the recent election, Armand Hurford reinforced that sentiment. “Unlike many councils of the past, this council identified common goals early on and worked collaboratively and professionally together. There were disagreements and spirited debates; however, they did not spill over into social media soapboxing or personal attacks.”

Jenna Stoner said there were many highlights of her council experience, one of which was the respectful nature of the group. “I think this council has worked hard to focus debate on the issues at hand and not make politics personal, which to me has made for a more effective governance process overall.”

John French said the 2018-2022 version of council “displayed an extraordinarily high level of respect.” He added the group “didn’t allow our known differences in value related to the bigger issues we deal with creep into other votes. We see this with differing opinions on the growth management boundary and the Woodfibre LNG project. We all know how the other members feel about these issues, and we respect those opinions despite the disagreement.”

And Chris Pettingill said he was “incredibly fortunate” to work in such a collaborative environment. As much as strong personal opinions were commonplace, the group didn’t “allow that to turn into infighting that unfortunately seems all-to-common in other municipalities,” he added.

Now that the newest iteration of council has been sworn in, to what degree that assembly’s behaviour will be shaped by the recently tabled Code of Conduct, coupled with the claimed good sportsmanship of the previous council, will be determined in the coming weeks and months.     

Helmut Manzl is a long-time Squamish resident and political commentator.


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