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North Island Rising: What the heck just happened?

‘Regulars will also know that votes around this council table are often split 3 to 2’

There was something different about the Port McNeill Council’s July 6 Committee of the Whole (CoTW) meeting. Some might even go as far as to say it was unusual. Let me explain…

I’ll begin by confessing that attending this meeting was not at the top of my to-do list. The agenda seemed dry and perfunctory and not something you necessarily look forward to, especially as a way to start your morning.

However, that all changed when, for the first time since I’ve been covering town meetings, Port McNeill Councillor Ryan Mitchell, after first disagreeing with an issue being discussed, listened to what fellow councillors and meeting chair, Shelley Downey, had to say. He appeared to consider the options Downey had succinctly summarized, asked another question or two and then stated, and I quote, “I can go along with that.”

I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed when the skies did not part and the trumpets did not sound but they should have. You see, if you’re not a regular at council meetings, you may not know that Mitchell has lines in the sand that to his credit – at least at times – he will not cross and one of them is a willingness to change his mind once it is firmly set.

Regulars will also know that votes around this council table are often split 3 to 2 with Mitchell and Koel being the odd persons out. It is just the way, more often than not, that things seem to unfold with this council. In fact, so much so that I have come to anticipate and expect it.

So what, you may ask, was so different about this meeting and so dramatic as to change well-established and expected behaviours? Perhaps it was the chair, as I noted Downey was not only letting all members speak but she was adding to the conversation, summarizing – along the way – the points made by others and bringing councillors into the discussion and eventually into agreement.

There were no preset battle lines, no deeply-entrenched party lines being followed, no attempted gotcha moments, no eye rolls and no body language suggesting your voice was heard but not being listened to.

As an observer looking in, it was incredibly interesting to watch the meeting dynamics begin to alter and it wasn’t just Mitchell’s shifting mindset. Councillor Ann-Marie Baron was more engaged than what I usually see and Koel was listening, talking and adding ideas as is his style but perhaps listening and considering the ideas and suggestions of others more than he might normally do.

Compromises were happening in real time and that rare but hardly ever seen political concept-in-exile called consensus would on occasion, nervously peek around the corner to see if it was time to make an appearance.

It was the same people as always and while I’m not sure what happened or why, the only thing different from all the other meetings was the chair.

And maybe that is what it took.

Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at bill@northislandrising.com


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City CouncilColumnist