FVC Weekend Edition—Harrison's CEO question

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Hey Insiders, it’s Tyler 👋 

So the thing about running a publication that covers a large and diverse area is you don’t want to overwhelm readers writing about a single story over and over and over.

I’ve about had it with Harrison. But the story hasn’t had it with me. The thing about the Harrison council problems is that they are a window into broader issues with local government structures well beyond the village. They also show how ambiguous laws can be used by politicians to make arguments that wouldn’t stand up in a court of law, but maybe sound right in the court of public opinion.

I’m thinking here, specifically, about the fact that BC’s laws declare that a mayor is “the head and chief executive officer of the municipality.”

Harrison Mayor Ed Wood and Coun. John Allen have regularly used this phrasing to suggest that a mayor’s power supersedes that of council and allows for executive control over Harriosn Hot Springs.

But that isn’t true. This fact is obvious to anyone who has watched how governments function across this province. A broader look at provincial and municipal rules also makes this clear. (As did Greg Lowis, a corporate officer in the Thompson Nicola Regional District, who confirmed as much.)

The mayor is, technically, a municipality’s CEO. But if one is to take the corporate comparison to its logical extent, a mayor is not a CEO who also owns a majority of shares in the company. Instead, the mayor is a CEO who can be over-ruled at anytime by the company’s board of directors. And in this case, the board of directors is a municipality’s council.

The mayor has a seat on that board, but just one seat.

While a municipality’s board of directors—its council—can’t fire the mayor, and the mayor’s signature is on documents and legal declarations, the mayor can’t actually do much of anything independently without the endorsement of council. Even his signatures on declarations and bylaws less reflect his own power, than power granted to him by the council he chairs. If a council votes in favour of a bylaw that the mayor opposes, the mayor has to sign that bylaw, whether he likes it or not.

Or take the Emergency and Disaster Management Act, which was this past week’s controversy. It declares that while the mayor can declare a State of Local Emergency, they must have “used reasonable efforts to obtain the consent, to the declaration, of the other governing members of the local authority.”

Council’s consent is vital; the act shows that the mayor’s power is limited by those other governing members.

None of this is normally controversial. But as Lowis told me, if bits and pieces of provincial law are proclaimed without appropriate context, they can wrongly imply certain things are allowed—or forbidden.

The problem, Lowis said, is not necessarily that a law is ambiguous or not.

“'Whether your rules are ambiguous or strict, if people want to use them as weapons, they'll be able to,” he told me. “'What really matters more than anything else is a willingness to play fair and play by the rules and admit that sometimes you'll disagree with people.”


The Insider Poll

Last week we asked: What is the most important benefit of the Agricultural Land Reserve:

78% It preserves farmland

12%: It protects greenspace

8%: It restrict the ability for cities to sprawl

2%: Nothing. It should be abolished

One of you wrote: “Farmland is very important to grow local food and in the Lower Mainland of BC is enables the production of a large variety of food and some important crops on a Canadian scale. The ALR has become a zone for both soil and non-soil based agriculture and should allow for future growth in farming. Without it the low cost farmland would be replaced with all sorts of other development that can pay more for land such as commercial, industrial and residential.”

Today’s poll:

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Your Current round-up

1. Langley daycares

2. A Minister’s decision

3. Your insights

4. Abbotsford’s legal bills

Here’s what’s happening this weekend

Only members have access to our weekly events story. You can find it in every Thursday newsletter. If you missed it then, you can find it below. And if you are organizing an event, use this form to tell us about it.

Here’s a last-minute addition: people who have tickets to Saturday’s Whitecaps FC game at which Lionel Messi will not be playing are being offered free entry into Saturday’s Vancouver FC/Pacific FC clash at Willoughby Community Park in Langley. The game starts at 3pm, meaning Whitecaps ticketholders would still have time to watch the Messi-less Inter Miami play at BC Place.


👀 Building better homes (for owls)

👀 The case for non-intervention in Harrison

👀 An Indigenous fashion designer

Catch up on this week’s newsletters

Did you miss a newsletter this week? Here you go!

  • Tuesday: Langley City downtown daycares / Abbotsford’s home-building shortfall

  • Wednesday: An interview with Bowinn Ma / Harrison’s state of local emergency / Fraser Health & Kent’s FOI responses

  • Thursday: An FVC Perspective on the Fraser Valley Express / Harrison backtracks / Province will talk with Langley about childcare

  • Friday: Abbotsford’s legal bills / Roadside RVs in Mission

Hi again non-Insider Member! All the journalism we produced this week was thanks to our Insiders money. Without their support, The Current—and our coverage of housing, Lytton, municipal affairs, and local people—wouldn’t exist. It only costs about $2 a week to support our work. It’s a little money that helps a lot. And if we can turn our 1,300 members into 2,000, we’ll be able to create even more journalism. You can become a member here.

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