Customer Success: Living on the Saanich Peninsula as if it Matters
PlaceSpeak Founder and CEO, Colleen Hardwick, recently interviewed Bob Peart, Coordinator of the Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition.
Bob Peart has lived on the Saanich Peninsula for over 25 years. He is a biologist and educator who has specialized in parks management, land use planning and environmental education for over 40 years with government, the non-profit sector and as a self-employed consultant. Bob has volunteered for numerous organizations related to these fields, and in recognition of his contribution has been awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Douglas Pimlott Award and the J.B. Harkin Conservation Medal. Bob is active in the out-of-doors – and particularly enjoys hiking and birdwatching.
The Coalition functions as an informal, collaborative group that provides advice to the three local governments on the Saanich Peninsula: Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney. Formed in 2019, the Coalition has spent the last few years completing the document A Bioregional Framework for the Saanich Peninsula and working with the three local Councils to incorporate into their updated Official Community Plans the concept of collaboration and a bioregional approach to managing the development of the Saanich Peninsula.
For more information: PlaceSpeak – A Bioregional Framework for the Saanich Peninsula
* The member groups are: Friends of North Saanich Parks, Friends of Shoal Harbour, NatuR&D, North Saanich PROW Association, Peninsula Streams and Shoreline Society, Roberts Bay Residents, Saanich Inlet Protection Society, SeaChange Marine Conservation Society, Tsehum Harbour Task Force.
CH: Bob, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your connection to the Bioregional Framework work?
BP: I’ve lived on the Peninsula since 1996. I’ve lived in Victoria since 1980 or ‘81. I’m a Southern Ontario guy, and I was busy, like everyone else, traveling, whatever. As my life slowed down four or five years ago, I looked around and I thought, holy heavens, Saanich Peninsula is a pretty wonderful place to live. And I had some energy, and so I thought I’d contribute back to my community, but I wasn’t really sure how.
And then in 2018, I attended the Sidney Summit. A number of people had got together just to talk about the future of Sidney and the Saanich Peninsula. And one of the recommendations from that summit was that we need a more integrated approach to the Saanich Peninsula and the three municipalities: Central Saanich, Sidney, and North Saanich. And I thought, that’s an interesting idea.
So, a few of us called a meeting of about seven or eight of the community groups and the three mayors and the MLA. And we chatted for about half an hour to an hour. And basically we said, well, is this a good idea or not? If it isn’t, we’ll let it go. If it is a good idea, let’s do something about it in person. Everyone thought it was a really good idea.
So then after that, we called a meeting of the community groups to discuss how best to proceed. One of the community groups offered a little bit of funding and we approached UVic for a co-op student. The co-op student developed the document, the Bioregional Framework for the Saanich Peninsula, just based on a whole bunch of ideas that we had as a steering committee. And we then got the document, and the whole idea was to incorporate the ideas of an integrated bioregional management approach into the three official community plans.
As the OCP process moved forward, we connected with the idea of using PlaceSpeak as a public engagement platform. It took a while for me to realize that PlaceSpeak was not just a website, but instead was a communication platform that provides a broad range of options.
So where are we now? — we’ve got these bioregional framework principles we think are really important; the three OCPs are underway, and the next municipal election is in 2026. And now we’ve thought of the idea of producing a series of progress reports between now and 2026 that would measure the progress of each of the three municipalities towards the achievement of these Framework Principles. As we move forward, PlaceSpeak is going to have a really key role in that.
CH: What is it that you hope to achieve in consulting with the residents in the three municipalities?
BP: Well, I think one is awareness of the idea. The importance of working together in a collaborative approach is better than having three municipalities not helping each other.. And that’s what the recommendation of the Sidney Summit stated. Building that awareness of how important collaboration is and building awareness that environmental health and human health – in a lot of ways – are the very same conversation. And then we want to get the public’s help and their advocacy behind us to ensure that the municipalities do the right thing and that the municipalities frame their OCPs within the context of ecological sustainability, collaboration and community involvement.
CH: Why couldn’t you achieve that on a Facebook group, for example?
BP: I’m not on social media so it’s difficult for me to answer. My naive answer would be that PlaceSpeak has a much better control over the responders and the people who interact and engage with PlaceSpeak. It isn’t a free-for-all like social media. It is a professional, if that’s the word, way of engaging with the public.
CH: To what extent do you think that public feedback can and would have influence on decision makers?
BP: Well, it does. I’ve worked on the political side of government. I know from experience how important public feedback is to how government operates. In reference to this particular project, if we can find a way to frame this progress report in a manner that supports what government’s doing, but yet at the same time gives the public a window into how government is actually doing; that’s a really valuable and worthwhile project for a group like our Coalition to be doing. Hopefully this project will open up government and show the public whether they are or are not achieving what they said they’d do.
CH: Do you think it matters to be able to show with online tools that you’re reaching real people within the real affected geographical area? Do you think it matters?
BP: When I was involved with the political process, the first phone call I made every morning was to the Constituency Office, because an individual, to stay elected, needs to get elected. And so I think about what’s going on in the individual riding, in this particular case, North Saanich, Sidney and Central Saanich. If they read the tea leaves and see the public’s way offside, that’s something they should heed. And so, yes, the public, their advocacy and their feelings should be really important to someone who’s in an elected capacity – if not they might not get re-elected.
CH: So what are the next steps? Could you clarify?
BP: We’ve got 5 or 6 indicators that are really important aspects of the Bioregional Framework that we think should be built into the OCP’s state of environment reporting: such as, conservation of the shoreline and shoreline management in the context of climate change, riparian management, tree canopy, landscape connectivity and conservation of the watersheds on the Saanich Peninsula. We want to measure each of the three municipalities’ progress towards the achievement of these indicators and how they’re built into the OCP. We will score or rank them somehow or other; and then the public would then see whether these important goals are being achieved or not; i.e. measure progress toward achieving these indicator outcomes. During this process we’d have conversations with each of the municipalities at the staff level to see what they use as their measurements. We’d host a couple of public meetings to get their feedback and a sense of what they are thinking. And then probably three times between now and the November 2026 municipal elections, we would actually formally go out and publish how we think the governments are doing towards achieving these sustainability indicators.
CH: How would you be asking the public for feedback; using polls, surveys, discussions, place-based commenting? Have you thought about different forms to gather quantitative and qualitative feedback?
BP: Yes, and it could be any one of those, or all of those. We’re just starting the conversation among ourselves, so are just figuring out how best to frame our approach. For example: in our public meetings we could brainstorm each of the different principles and get a sense of what the community thinks. And then using PlaceSpeak we might create surveys or a poll. We aren’t at the point yet as to what exactly our approach would be.
CH: So as we look at the timeline, we’re looking at the three municipalities OCPs coming up with guiding principles within the benchmarked timeline. But the payoff is really the 2026 election.
BP: That’s exactly right. We would like the public, when they pick up their pencil to vote, they choose the people on the ballot who are thoughtful and care about the future of the peninsula – and aren’t one-term development-type people.
CH: Have you thought about how to hold the decision makers accountable as you go through this process?
BP: Well, the main reason we’re doing the progress report – a report card – is that we’re trying to develop a tool that will illustrate that accountability. Hopefully there will also be media reports and hopefully the media will follow-up and interview the elected officials about their response. In summary, one of the reasons for the progress report is public accountability; as it’s really difficult to get that accountability from elected officials. The OCPs outline the need for accountability ,measurements and performance, but yet it’s very seldom that specific outcomes are included in the OCP content, so the public can actually gauge performance. . This detail is often an appendix n or in an annual strategic report – but that doesn’t really mean much to the public as they are internal, often hard to get, documents. Accountability is a real challenge. And that’s why a tool like PlaceSpeak is so good, because it can help groups like ours frame that accountability.