The Township of Langley is launching a new Community Input Group Task Force, following a heated debate by council.
The task force — which residents can now apply for — will consist of 15 community members, one person from the Langley Environmental Partners Society, one chairperson and all nine members of council. All applications will be sent to council for review and selection.
The idea came from Coun. Charlie Fox, who presented the motion to council at their last meeting on March 19.
The intent, he said, is to provide another platform for residents in each of the Township’s communities to offer input and identify issues.
However, not all of council agreed. Fox’s motion passed in a 5-4 vote, with Councillors Petrina Arnason, Kim Richter, David Davis and Bob Long opposed.
Richter called it “disruptive” and “despicable.”
“On the one hand, we don’t want to talk about the tree bylaw because it’s so important and it’s going to take a lot of staff time. But, on the other hand, we’re going to throw together a community input task force that is going to be political and partisan because it will be populated by friends and insiders of a certain portion — a majority portion — of this council,” Richter said.
“These community associations have started up because they’re not happy with this council. Do you think this is going to make them happy with council? I think this is just going to infuriate them. It’s a stupid motion and I’m not supporting it.”
Mayor Jack Froese asked Richter to keep her words respectful.
“I guess I would question the degree to which we need another layer of information,” Arnason added.
“And what does that mean with respect to … which community group shall we listen to? So in this case, would we listen to the pre-vetted ones where we’ve sort of cherry picked the individuals who are going to be on it, as opposed to maybe a different community view from members who I think could be equally legitimate in their opinion?
“I’m perfectly content, myself, to listen to grassroots groups, whoever wants to come forward. I think that’s our job. I’m a conduit to what the community has to say and I don’t think, personally, this would be helpful.”
Davis said he was confused by the intent of the task force.
“It’s our job to answer residents and their emails and phone calls, and I’m just wondering if this committee would minimize … delegations. This is the people’s hall. People want to come up there and they want to question,” he said.
Fox explained that his motion mirrors what he heard at the Thriving or Surviving: What is a socially sustainable community? panel on March 15. The event featured industry panelists who talked about social issues like homelessness, substance abuse and inclusivity.
“Local government has to take the role in convening, that’s what has to happen — those are their words, not mine,” Fox said.
“Intersectoral discussions need to happen, groups can’t operate in silos — their words, not mine. You need to initiate dialogues and listen — their words not mine. Dialogues happen around a table. To have a collective impact, you have to engage groups of different people to develop social sustainability. That’s what I heard Thursday night.
“My intent in this is to actually get people engaged, it’s actually to get people sitting down and talking.”
Coun. Blair Whitmarsh agreed.
“This is, to me, a good approach to try to bring people together from all different facets of our community,” Whitmarsh said.
“When we are elected, we’re elected to represent all of the Township of Langley — and not just a specific community or a special interest group — to represent everybody.
“And yet it’s difficult to bring all members of every single association together, so this is a way to bring people from those associations to hear from the voice of those people there.”
Coun. Angie Quaale thought the motion spoke to a recent delegation from resident Barbara Sharp, who asked council to provide financial support to community associations.
“I think this motion, by adding the other community groups, adds a layer of input that Barb Sharp didn’t necessarily ask for, but it expands the boundaries,” Quaale said.
“We have to be mindful that the people in residents’ associations aren’t the only people with opinions about our community. There’s lots of other people who would like to have input. So I think this is a really good start.”
Coun. Michelle Sparrow said she attended the same session on social sustainability as Fox, and gathered many of the same conclusions.
“I really took a lot from it as well, [particularly] the comments that he brought up about working together and our role in facilitating the community to be engaged,” Sparrow said.
“I think this is just another layer, and I say that as a positive. I think this is a positive thing, it is another opportunity, another layer for the public to engage.”
Long, however, had a different view.
“Community associations want autonomy,” he said. “They’re put together by members of the community and they want to have an autonomous agenda. It’s not for us to try and get involved. It’s just not where we belong.”
Mayor Froese said the motion shows that council respects community associations and the work they do.
“I think asking community associations to provide a representation to something like this for council is not a bad thing,” Froese said.
“We still want to encourage community associations to continue working. They’re providing a valuable service… This isn’t replacing them, this is just an ability to reach out.”
On March 29, the Township issued a press release asking people to apply for the Community Input Group Task Force.
One representative is being sought from each of Langley’s communities: Aldergrove, Brookswood-Fernridge, Fort Langley, Murrayville, the rural area, Walnut Grove, and Willoughby-Willowbrook.
One representative from the business community, business association, or business improvement association from each of the communities is also needed, along with one representative from the agricultural community and one from the recreation and culture community.
To apply, visit tol.ca/cigtf. Application deadline is 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 16.
Members will be required to attend three monthly meetings on weekday evenings from approximately from April to July. Meeting dates are to be determined.