Climate change, open government themes of Saanich Mayor Atwell’s inaugural speech

Richard Atwell uses first speech to announce establishment of new committees, task forces and an economic roundtable on development

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell addresses council and a packed room of onlookers during an inaugural council meeting at Saanich Municipal Hall on Dec. 1.

Saanich’s 25th Mayor is promising to make council meetings more welcoming, build greater collaboration with neighbouring municipalities and tackle climate change as the District embarks on its first four-year council term.

Richard Atwell took an oath of office, along with two new councillors and six incumbents at municipal hall on Monday night.

“I’m not just some guy from the high-tech sector who showed up in a suit with some blue campaign signs and got elected,” Atwell told the standing-room only crowd and council.

“I am your mayor for the next four years and I take seriously the commitment to making amazing things happen for the District of Saanich that will do us proud,” he said.

In a sweeping speech, Atwell announced his intention to create four new committees and task forces: a Governance and Co-operation Review Committee to address a ballot question that passed with 88 per cent support (most neighbouring municipalities asked questions more directly about the possibility of amalgamation.); a Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Seniors Issues; a Mayor’s Task Force on Climate Change; and a Round Table on Sustainable Development.

Atwell said he will work in partnership with other municipal leaders on future governance and regional services, and said timelines and specifics would be rolled out in the coming weeks.

“I would like to see this council join with me in demonstrating that we are not only leaders in the region who can be relied upon to make decisions that will take the District of Saanich and the region as a whole forward by leaps and bounds over the next four years, but that we are united in our resolve to address the many issues our citizens face, whether it be economically, environmentally, socially or otherwise,” he said.

The governance review committee will be comprised of the Mayor and experts who will assist in designing a new governance structure that is “above all cutting edge,” Atwell said.

He added council, staff and the public would need to be heavily involved to undertake an effective  governance review, and said the District risks getting left behind if it fails to modernize its service delivery.

“Saanich must become more effective at delivering services to the public if we are to benefit from progressive economic development,” Atwell said. “We must also support people who’s business is to attract greater investment within Saanich borders, including the high-tech sector.”

Atwell said a climate change task force will help the District respond to increasingly extreme weather patterns and that people need more than a “feel-good document” that lacks direct oversight.

“I intend to walk the talk on climate change and as such, I will be looking to have the existing plan formally audited,” he said.

Atwell’s speech also touched on affordable housing, sewage treatment and the commitment to open council meetings so that members of the public can address council on any topic, a key campaign promise.

“I want everyone who works for Saanich to know that I welcome all of your input and ideas. We are all equal in our desire to do a good job for Saanich residents,” he said.

Council also approved the appointment of Vic Derman, Judy Brownoff, Susan Brice and Colin Plant to the Capital Regional District board. Atwell is automatically appointed to the CRD as mayor; he and Brice – as the most senior politician on council – will be permitted two votes each at the CRD board table in keeping with past tradition. Saanich receives seven votes around the CRD board table based on population size.

editor@saanichnews.com