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Kamloops Performing Arts Centre AAP Alternative Approval Process

Build Kamloops and the Alternative Approval Process (Part1)

July 09, 202411 min read

If you haven't heard already, Kamloops council has unanimously voted to borrow up to 275 million dollars to fund the Build Kamloops plans of a new performing arts centre and the arena multiplex. To do this they want to use an Alternative Approval Process (AAP). To be clear, KCSC has no opinion on these projects. The benefits of such projects are clear to many, and would no doubt go a long way to improving the recreational, social, business, and arts in Kamloops.

So what is the purpose of this post?

Part of the KCSC policy mandate is to advocate for accountability - In our opinion, the AAP fails in several ways to meet a transparent and accountable process. But again, to be clear this is not a comment on the projects themselves which many of our members strongly support.

We oppose the process, not the projects.

The purpose of this post is to give the reader additional information on the project, its costs, and how the alternative approval process (AAP) functions allowing you to have a fair chance at taking part in the process. The first post will describe what the AAP is and some of the known issues with the process.

The AAP is asking voters to approve (or rather disapprove of, we'll get to that part later) of the largest ever capital project in Kamloops history and a lifetime Half Billion Dollar liability to Kamloops tax payers.

Our official position on this is that tax payers, electors and citizens should have their fair say and vote in a referendum on this topic with eyes wide open. Huge decisions like this are not the time to retreat from the public and push agendas through. The biggest and most impactful decisions require our leaders to fully embrace the democratic process, not run away from it. After all, as we have been often reminded, Build Kamloops is a popular program - what is the downside for holding a referendum on the debt funding?

Some History and Context

Kamloops Performing Arts Centre Timeline History

The first vote on the PAC was held in 2015. It was voted down with a 32% voter turn out and 53.7% opposed. A new proposal was brought forward in 2019 by Kamloops Centre for the Arts Society. A second referendum vote was scheduled for April 4th, 2020, but was cancelled weeks before on March 18th, 2020 by ministerial order due to covid. In 2022, our current mayor and council were elected with 29% voter turnout. The new council created the Build Kamloops working group which identified multiple projects around Kamloops including the performing arts centre, and a new 4 ice arena multiplex.

No More Referendums

This time council decided in closed door meetings to bypass the referendum and use whats known as the alternative approval process (AAP). On June 25, 2024, council unanimously voted to move forward with the AAP and directed staff to put forth 2 new bylaws that make use of the AAP to borrow up to 275 million dollars. As of writing this, the bylaws have been submitted to the minister for approval.

Who Chose the AAP?

Its up to council to direct staff. Staff was directed to create a report on the AAP, and as the AAP local government guide states:

Generally, staff reports provide the background, analysis and rationale for the recommendation that council or the regional district board choose the AAP over assent voting.

Council did respond to the KCSC and had the following to say:

In terms of the choice of Alternate Approval Process versus a referendum, both are options provided by the province, and both have been used successfully to gauge the public's will to borrow funds. The advantage of the AAP is it is far more cost effective, and unlike a referendum where there is just one day to vote (plus possibly a couple of advance polls), there is much longer period of time to register opposition with the AAP. As an example, West Kelowna citizens approved a new fire hall with an AAP.  Meanwhile, Summerland residents  rejected a new recreation facility with an AAP.   In terms of the length of time of the AAP, that is specified by the province.

 Council choose the AAP because it has proven to be an efficient , cost-effective method.

kamloops referendum cost AAP performing arts centre

The only rationale we have seen is the that the AAP process will cost less money than a referendum. Our question is - But at what cost? A referendum may cost up to $200,000. Given the total borrowing is 275 million, we feel this is a tiny price to pay for the requisite transparency and accountability given the magnitude of the debt Kamloops tax payers are being asked to take on. The cost of the referendum in context will be a paltry 0.0073% of the loan amount.

What is the Alternative Approval Process?

According to the City of Kamloops:
An AAP is an alternative to Assent Voting (referendum), which is costlier to taxpayers and involves a lengthier process. The AAP allows electors 30 days to submit an Elector Response Form only if they are in opposition to the local government's proposal. If an elector is not opposed, there is nothing they need to do. If 10 per cent or more of eligible electors submit forms indicating their opposition to the proposal, then elector assent is not obtained, and the City cannot proceed with the long-term borrowing without first holding a referendum.

IMPORTANT: The AAP 30 day period will start after the city has received approval from the minister, and given its second public notice. Public statements from council indicate this period will END no later than Sept 15th before the writ drop for the provincial election

Clarity: What is the Subject of the AAP?

oppose the process not the project

The AAP is not a referendum on whether or not Build Kamloops should proceed. It's a referendum on the debt funding. There are 2 bylaws (linked below), which have been submitted to the minister for approval. They are asking for 140 million for the performing arts centre, 125 million for the arena multiplex and an additional 10 million for planning further projects. The AAP covers all of the lending in one process for a total of 275 million of debt financing. Again, the AAP and bylaws only authorize the borrowing and not the project.

Kamloops Centre for the Arts Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 57-1, 2024
Arena Multiplex and Recreation Initiatives Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 57-2, 2024

So whats the issue? [Zero Accountability or Transparency]

Kamloops AAP for debt borrowing has Zero Accountability

In the June 25th meeting during the Build Kamloops presentation to council, the presenter stated:

[THE AAP is] run under same oversight and transparency requirements as referendum, however there is no polling costs

Based on our reading, this is not the case at all. It's hard to understand how someone familiar with the process could come to that conclusion. Unlike a referendum which is a process run by the Chief Election Officer and allows for public scrutineers to be present during voting and vote tabulation, the AAP is "TRUST THE GOVERNMENT" system. As per the AAP Guide here:

An AAP is not a vote and therefore there are no provisions to allow for scrutineers to be appointed to verify the acceptance or rejection of response forms by the Corporate Officer.

Essentially what we have here is a case of the fox guarding the hen house. The corporate officer is an unelected government employee who is now in charge of counting elector votes and can even decide if your vote should be counted or not. Having all of this power vested in one person is the opposite of accountability and exactly the reason why citizen scrutineers are allowed to be present during voting and vote counting during a regular referendum. To be clear: We're not accusing the corporate officer of any ill intentions, but we are pointing out a weakness in the process that should be avoided in favour of a transparent alternative.

Here is a comparison of all differences between the 2 methods of elector assent:

Alternative Approval Process Kamloops table 1AAP no transparency Kamloops

Other Issues with the AAP

Kelowna recently ran through the same process, at the same time of year, to borrow the same amount of money, for a similar project with no existing plan.

Summer Time Participation

The city is planning to hold the 30 Day AAP period over the summer. In the AAP guide it states clearly this is a sure way to stop full voter participation.

The decision to hold an AAP when many electors are absent during the summer months or other holiday season could result in an artificially low response rate that falls well short of the required 10% threshold.

Suggestion: City of Kamloops must extend the 30 day period. We suggest a minimum of 45 days to allow electors enough time to educate themselves and participate accordingly regardless of provincial election timing.

Issues With the Elector Form

The elector form used in Kelowna may have caused confusion and the potential disqualification of many elector forms. Of course there is no way to know how many forms were discarded with the AAP process as no tally was publicly announced, and the only person who is responsible are the CAO and corporate officer. We just have to trust them.

Kelowna AAP elector Form hard to fill out properly

According to the guide, forms may be disposed of if:

  • Initials are used on the form

  • Address cannot be verified as a resident or non resident elector

Suggestion: City of Kamloops must ensure the form is clear and allows ample space for electors to fill out the address section properly

Some of the complaints from Kelowna were that the address box was too small to legibly write the address for most people and that it was confusing where the form asked for first last and middle names, which prompted many people to use an initial. At the time of writing, Kamloops has not yet released the elector form.

Electors Cannot Anonymously Vote

One of the hallmarks of a free and democratic system is the anonymous vote. In a referendum, you must identify yourself as a voter, but your vote is private and anonymous. In contrast the AAP forces electors to identify themselves and make their vote known to the municipal government. Immediately many people are discouraged from voting as they don't want any negative attention. Moreover, people who deal with the city often may feel as though opposing city agendas can have a negative effect on acquiring crucial building permits or business licensing. Voting in a free society should be anonymous.

anonymous voting is important. social pressure and potential personal or business blowback prevents people from voting how they feel

Disqualified Elector Forms / No Transparency

According the AAP guide, an elector response form must be rejected when:
• an elector signed more than one form;
• an elector is determined to be ineligible;
• more than one non-resident property elector signed a form in relation to the same property; or,
• a non-resident property elector signed a form in relation to a property owned in whole or in part by a corporation

An elector can submit their form at the local government offices until the close of business on the last day established for receiving the forms. Only the Corporate Officer, or their designate, can review or verify elector response forms during an AAP.

Again, the entire process rests with a single person being the corporate officer. The process is not transparent and there is no requirement for the corporate officer to share any information on how many forms were received, how many were rejected, and what the current tally is.

However, council does have the power to direct the corporate officer to make this information public

Councils and regional district boards may direct the Corporate Officer to report, the:
• total number of elector response forms submitted by eligible electors;
• number of response forms rejected by the Corporate Officer; and/or,
• percentage of elector response forms determined as valid.

Suggestion: City of Kamloops must direct the corporate officer to publicly post the tally of elector forms received and disqualified in a fully transparent manner including the total number of forms received, the total number of forms rejected, and the total number of forms qualified as valid.

Equity and Accessibility

Forcing participation through a physical paper form reduces access to disadvantaged members of the community. The council has within its powers to set an electronic submission policy to allow emails, faxes and potentially an online submission form.

As per the AAP guidlines:

Local governments may choose to allow electors to submit response forms by e-mail or by fax. These methods for submitting elector response forms are not covered by provincial legislation, and any policies related to electronic submissions would best be set out by local governments in a formal policy document.

Suggestion: City of Kamloops must create an electronic submission policy to remove all barriers stopping disadvantaged groups from participating in the process. This policy should make use of technology allowing electors to submit their forms from mobile devices, computers, fax, email and by physical copy.

Our conclusion

Although in compliance with legislation, the AAP is a truly democratic process. The AAP relies solely on the government to police itself lacks accountability, transparency and public oversight. For such a monumental decision, we urge city council to consider doing away with the AAP and run a normal referendum process.

Note: A copy of this article and KCSC recommendations along with a request for feedback was sent to council before posting this.

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