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A Chat with Norm Barmeier

Ex-councillor looks back on more than five years of service

Lions Bay is officially into campaign season for the by-election, scheduled for May 6. The Watershed has plans to interview all the candidates and give them each a chance to have their say. Before that, however, editor kc dyer held an exclusive conversation with the man whose resignation prompted this by-election to begin with — former councillor Norm Barmeier.

WATERSHED: Welcome, Norm. Can you tell our readers a bit about your history in Lions Bay? How long have you lived here? What makes the place special for you?

NB: I first got involved with Lions Bay as an engineer in 2008 when the Village hired EarthTech to look at the drinking water upgrades required to continue to be eligible for filtration avoidance. The project involved upgrades to the pressure reducing chambers, the addition of UV (ultraviolet) treatment, and updated chlorine dosing equipment. My job was design engineer and client rep (representative). The project ran for roughly two years and gave me some insight into the Village budget constraints, infrastructure deficits, and how the Village council and staff functioned. The regular trips to the Village over that time exposed me to the beauty and tranquility of Lions Bay, and I knew I wanted to live here. I bought a house on Oceanview in 2016 and have never looked back. I love the drive home after a long day of work, I can feel the stress melt away as I leave the city and trundle down the Sea to Sky towards Lions Bay. I love the natural setting of our home, the large property, the trees, the fresh air, and the privacy. It’s a peaceful reprieve.

WATERSHED: What inspired you to put your name forward for council in the first place? Looking back, your start on council began with a by-election, too. How did that come about?’

NB: A year after I moved (in 2017) there was a by-election, and I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring. I'd developed an understanding of the Village infrastructure needs and also the constrained budget the Village operated under. I thought I could add some value by contributing my time and expertise as an engineer.

WATERSHED: How did the reality of your first term in council compare with the actual experience? Can you talk about some of the frustrations of holding public office in such a small municipality? And what about the successes?

NB: I look back over the last five and a half years on council and honestly thought we did a good job. Before I began, I didn’t really have any expectations about what the experience would be like. I figured we would talk about the direction the community wants to go, how we would keep our infrastructure intact, and how we would pay for the things the community wants and needs. For the most part that's what we did, but we also spent a lot of time talking about parking, trail-head management, constantly changing COVID protocols, trees, bears, garbage, and bylaw enforcement. There were contentious issues for sure, some unexpected, some unreasonable, some left unresolved. In terms of my frustrations with the job, I would have to say the main one was my inability to get a successful ZEVIP grant across the finish line. (Editor's Note: ZEVIP is the Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program, aimed at making electric vehicle charging more accessible for Canadians coast to coast.) This was extremely frustrating on a personal level, because I think as a community we all bear some responsibility to improve our impact on the environment. Also, as a commuter based-community I thought an adoption of zero emission transportation infrastructure was so obvious. Apparently not, That was frustrating for me personally, for sure. Having said that, the Climate Action Committee moved the needle on a number of things and I look forward to continuing to push on that.

WATERSHED: Less than six weeks after being elected to a second term as councillor, you stepped down from your post. At the time, the Village Update implied you cited 'personal reasons' for this decision. Now that you've had some time to let the decision sink in, can you give a clearer sense of why you left?

NB: This was a tough and disappointing decision for me to take. My expectation was that council's first order of business would be to set a strategic agenda for the term. It is the logical first step. Align council on what our priorities are, work toward a budget for the year, and the next four years. Align our funding needs with provincial and federal grant opportunities. Basically develop a roadmap for staff and committees to execute against. None of that was happening. Instead we were peppered with a series of closed, last-minute meetings that were going in a direction I could not support. My protests fell on deaf ears. I would characterize the first month as frantic, completely lacking in transparency, disrespectful and disorganized.

WATERSHED: Do you have any thoughts you'd like to direct to people who may feel let down by your decision?

NB: I would suggest residents pay attention to what is happening in council, ask questions, insist on a full agenda, insist on reports based on facts and evidence, and insist on minutes. Transparency is the key to a representative democracy. What is going on now is alarmist theatre, with virtually no meaningful transparency.

WATERSHED: Your resignation has not been in isolation, and the Village continues to be rocked by a series of staff departures. Do you have any suggestions or even words of advice to offer the remaining staff and councillors regarding best practices as we look to the future?

NB: Collaboration and mutual respect. Staff are an extremely valuable asset, they possess institutional knowledge. Not taking advantage of that is simply foolish and irresponsible.

WATERSHED: Is there anything else you'd like to comment on or share with The Watershed's readers today?

NB: Village issues have names and budgets, we know what they are. All you need to do is read the last Infrastructure update to know that we have around $10 million in imminent infrastructure projects that are not eligible for grants. This council has not talked about any of them, and we have a budget due soon. Does this mean we’re not tackling any critical capital infrastructure projects this year and we’re just going to cross our fingers that nothing breaks? We've known for a long time now that our school has inadequate fire flow, and we have not been able to secure a grant to get the water main replaced. Is this funding gap being considered by the finance committee? How do they plan on paying for this? Given the climate extremes we’ve been experiencing, I would argue this is an issue that deserves council's attention. How do we plan to address watershed protection to keep our filtration avoidance permit in place? These are issues that are important to the community. Folks should know that we are on borrowed time with the Provincial Health Authority on the treatment of our surface water. The list goes on and on.

WATERSHED: Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today, Norm.

In this by-election season, The Watershed has reached out to Mayor Berry and Councillors Abbott, Broughton and Reuter, asking for their perspective on council's goals for the rest of this term. Watch this space for all the latest in by-election coverage.

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Thank you kc and Norm for this informative interview! It is nice to hear the truth as to the reasons for your departure Norm (rather than falsehoods like we heard in the council meeting last night). This truth also makes me sad for our village. Sad that the council member with infrastructure and council experience was not heard. Sad (and worried) that critical infrastructure projects are not being addressed. Sad that there is such a lack of transparency. Sad that our beautiful and caring village has travelled so far down this path.


Norma Rodgers
Norma Rodgers
Apr 05, 2023

Thank you Norm for your service to our community and your willingness to share your insight into the problems we are facing with the current government.


Thank you Norm for what Douglas Miller so aptly calls your "informed perspective."


Way to go Norm, you hit the nail on the head with “transparency “ and long time staff input, none of which we are seeing from this Mayor only nepotism and excuses, l admire your courage and openness something that is sorely lacking in this administration.👍


Thanks Karen for sitting down with Norm to get his informed perspective on issues facing our Village such as governance, infrastructure, etc. Norm's comments serve to support my suspicion that our community is in serious trouble on a number of fronts. I am not confident that our current council is capable of leading us out of this wilderness.

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