Three different communities, three different political landscapes.
That is the picture on the Saanich Peninsula as the 2022 municipal election in British Columbia approaches 8 p.m. when the polls close.
Likely the most closely-watched race takes place in North Saanich, where three candidates — Nancy Borden, Peter Jones and Murray Weisenberger — are running to fill the mayor’s chair. North Saanich residents must also choose among 13 candidates for six councillor positions with just three incumbents — Jack McClintock, Celia Stock and Brett Smyth — vying for another term on council.
Looming above both races is the fate of the Official Community Plan (OCP) and with it the pace of development in North Saanich.
Critics of the OCP review say it paves the path toward what they have called the suburbanization of North Saanich, contrary to its rural character, a charge countered by voices who argue that North Saanich needs additional as well as different types of housing for younger, working families looking to establish themselves, and older individuals looking to downsize in place.
Save Our North Saanich, a community group critical of the current Official Community Plan (OCP) review specifically and concerned about excessive development generally, has openly endorsed Jones. He has promised to suspend the OCP review prior to a revised process that would see local experts build on the previous work of the consultants whose ideas do not fit North Saanich, according to Jones.
Coun. Weisenberger, meanwhile, is openly running on the promise to defend the OCP in arguing that North Saanich needs additional housing. He is also running on his environmental credentials as a long-time Green and experience, having first won election to council in 2014. Jones said Saturday afternoon he has “a good chance” of becoming the new mayor based on feedback. Black Press also reached out to Weisenberger.
Borden, meanwhile, said Saturday morning that she remains optimistic. “I won’t comment on my chances but I trust our constituents and will respect their choice,” she said, having said earlier that she appreciated the campaign. “Either way I have a lovely breakfast planned tomorrow to celebrate,” she said.
As for the voters themselves, the OCP review played a big role but not an exclusive role in shaping choices among voters with whom Black Press Media spoke Saturday afternoon.
The OCP and zoning had a big impact on the choices that Vanessa and John Leask made. The couple said earlier that they would like to see their Ardmore neighbourhood stay the same. “That was a big factor,” said Vanessa, adding later that North Saanich lacks infrastructure to accommodate additional densification. “Build the road and maybe we can kind of look at that,” she said. “We are aware of the Save North Saanich group,” added John. “So we are keeping in mind some of the issues that they are talking about.”
Michelle Trottier said her big issue was climate change. She added that she would like to see the OCP get done. While it might be appropriate for the incoming council to review the process, it should not go on forever, she said. When asked what if any influence Save North Saanich had, Trottier said she does not like to “vote for any team” because it is better to have a mix. “Some young, some male, some female, some experienced, I sort of look for that,” she said.
Maureen and Bob Dawson said they voted with an eye toward preserving North Saanich as a liveable place. “But it has some room for workers in lower-cost accommodations,” said Bob. “I don’t know whether the OCP does that or not,” he said. “But we do think that we need some growth for younger people, to keep them in the community,” Maureen added later.
Kendra and Ray Hulbert said current land-use discussions influenced their choices. “We have a family,” said Ray. “It’s not a young family anymore … and we want to see opportunity for them,” he said. “We want to see progression in our communities. We want to see opportunities for young families and young people here and there are candidates out there, who aren’t swayed … We are looking for candidates who can see both sides of that story.”
Kendra struck a comparable note. “Our daughter sat on the OCP committee and the fact that that topic is so divided pitting one party against the other is a little bit ridiculous,” she said. “There are a lot of good things in the OCP, but of course, we are also concerned about saving agricultural land. To be honest, I voted for one person (endorsed by Save North Saanich). I want them to battle that out. It’s not a cut-and-dry topic.”
If the long lineup in front of North Saanich’s Municipal Hall suggests a strong level of turnout in that community, thanks to the overarching issue of the OCP review and the wide range of candidates, the situation may be different in Central Saanich, where Mayor Ryan Windsor returns by acclamation. Five of the six incumbent candidates — Couns. Chris Graham, Zeb King, Gordon Newton, Niall Paltiel and Bob Thompson — are also running again with just three other candidates — Jackie Lee, Geoff Krause and Sarah Riddell — coming forward.
Paltiel, who voted Saturday morning, said he loves municipal elections because it allows an opportunity to connect with voters about issues most important to them. “I’m spending today reminding people to get and out vote,” he said. “With the (mayor) being acclaimed, I fear that turnout will be low.”
Riddell spent Saturday knocking on doors. “I feel nervous and excited,” she said from the campaign trail. “I’ve been campaigning since June and I’ve put a lot of heart into it. I hope I have the opportunity to bring a different perspective and new ideas to the council table.”
Graham said he feels confident in predicting that the incumbents will be re-elected. “I believe generally people are happy with the current’s council performance,” he said.
Newton acknowledged a certain level of uncertainty. “I’m feeling exhausted, grateful, nervous, excited – mostly just happy to have gone through this experience again. I’m reminded how difficult and challenging and rewarding this process and experience is. We will see how I feel after the polls close and the results are announced.”
While other voting locations in Greater Victoria have seen long lineups, no lineups appeared visible outside municipal hall in Central Saanich Saturday afternoon. Voters could also cast their ballots at Keating Elementary School as well as the Cultural Centre in Brentwood Bay.
Brianna Hrasky, who has lived in the community for some 36 years, stopped to vote at Municipal Hall in Central Saanich at around 3 pm before heading to the pool with her four children. Hrasky said she came out to vote to help maintain that community feel and the various services that exist within the community. “We are a very active family,” she said. Issues she cited included transportation, accessibility and parks. She added that she brought her children along to give them a sense of the election system.
Central Saanich resident Elizabeth Kidd said she voted because she considers voting a privilege. As for the issues, Kidd expressed concern about the pace of development. “We are growing a bit fast, too many houses are being built, large ones,” she said. She also called for improvements to traffic safety.
Kidd, who voted with her daughter at Central Saanich’s Municipal Hall, also found voting easy. “We didn’t have to wait very long,” she said.
When polls close across British Columbia at 8 p.m., voters in Sidney will likely pay close attention to the fate of former mayor Steve Price. Like voters in Central Saanich, voters in Sidney will not have a choice for mayor, as current Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith ran unopposed.
But they will have a choice when it comes to councillor candidates. Price is one of four non-incumbents running for council, along with Steve Duck, Eric Diller and Richard Novek.
All three of them told Black Press Media that their fate now lies in the hands of voters. Duck, former president of the Sidney Community Association, said he is relaxed, while Diller admitted to being somewhat distracted. “I feel I’ve done the best I can do on a modest budget,” said Novek.
Also running are incumbents Sara Duncan, Scott Garnett, Terri O’Keeffe and Chad Rintoul. Voters had first elected that quartet in 2018 when they cast a clear judgement against Price, who lost the 2018 race for mayor against McNeil-Smith by nearly 80 per cent. That election revolved around the pace of development, with voters showing a clear preference for proponents of a slower pace.
Laurie Cain told Black Press Saturday afternoon that housing was her big issue. “That is a huge issue for Sidney,” she said. Cain, who rents, fears that high-end developments could end up crowding people like her out of the community. Cain also said that she voted out of civic duty and because she , having lived in Sidney for 20 years. “I watched a lot of changes,” she said. “I’m all for lots of change, I just feel there has to be some balance and I’m not seeing it right now,” she said. Cain also expressed concern about the state of the local business community. It is struggling to find staff, partly because people cannot afford to live here, she said. ‘There is no place to live,” she said.
Black Press Media has reached out to all candidates in the three municipalities (as far as contact information was available).
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