Letter to Mayor re-Arts Centre Survey

Mary- Ann,

I listened to your comments at the July 26 Council Meeting and then read this open letter to you from CIVIX and was extremely disappointed and upset. I regret having to write to you on such a topic.

Your remarks on the subject of the Arts Centre on July 26 were disrespectful to the many residents who had taken the time to respond to the District of West Vancouver survey on desired location of an Arts Centre. Essentially you stated you were only interested in “ qualitative “ responses and not “quantitative” responses. This essentially ignores the many comments from residents included in the survey and the actual responses that showed clearly that many, many residents did not support placement of the proposed Arts Centre in Ambleside Park. I guess that whether a response to a survey is “ qualitative” depends on the views and biases of the individual making the judgement. You made your bias and position very clear. Regardless of public feedback ( which you asked for) the right locations were ,according to you, either of the locations in Ambleside Park.

It gets worse as highlighted in the open letter to you from Mr Jensen of CIVIX. This letter highlights clear evidence of a flawed survey ( Residents were not first asked whether they supported a new $38 million Arts Centre) and a  failure to report results correctly. This was followed by a refusal by staff to provide fair and accurate results when reasonably asked to do so. In fact it appears that more effort was expended by staff on arguing  why such a basic question ( how many West Vancouver Residents responding to the survey supported either of the locations in Ambleside Park) could not be answered than making an honest effort to answer the question. The actual results of the views of West Vancouver residents only came out due to Mr Jensen’s diligence in spending considerable time and effort to file a Freedom of Information request and analyzing the results.

It is now very clear that many outside of West Vancouver answered this survey which materially skewed the results. It appears that Arts Centre enthusiasts ( and perhaps others) encouraged this within their wider community. I trust and hope neither yourself nor any Councillors participated in this.

The unfortunate and even more significant result of this flawed survey,  is the increased cynicism of residents towards the accuracy of all surveys conducted by the District of West Vancouver. There appears to be no attempt to ensure results, when presented , reflect the views of West Vancouver residents only. With regards to the proposed site for a $38 million Arts Centre ( that residents have never been asked whether they want) this is particularly critical for a structure that would be built on West Vancouver owned land and West Vancouver residents would be paying for.

Given this embarrassing situation my request to you is :

A) Apologize to the community for this debacle.

B) Ensure all management and staff fully understand that their role should be to provide transparent and clear answers to all reasonable questions from the residents and taxpayers of West Vancouver. Staff and elected officials are accountable to their residents.

C) Review thoroughly the process around future surveys to ensure that questions are framed without bias and leave room for those opposed to express views and those views be given appropriate weight in all reports on results of surveys. Views of West Vancouver residents should also be the principal focus of such reports.

D) Ensure that all survey results ,as far as reasonably possible, ensure no one votes more than once and that they reflect views of West Vancouver residents separately from views of others.

E) Ensure that all Committees of Council, particularly those involved re communication and engagement, are represented by diverse residents of our community to avoid “ group think” and “ bias”.

F)  Finally a specific apology to Mr Jensen and CIVIX for their unnecessary time in pursuing this Freedom of Information request. The simple question he asked was fair, reasonable and easy for staff to answer from information they had to hand. He should not have been required to go through such a cumbersome process.

I look forward to your reply.

Regretfully submitted,

Graham McIsaac