Farmer first to declare campaign for vacant Saanich council seat

Madrona Farm operator Nathalie Chambers seeks council seat in upcoming byelection

The first candidate has declared their intention to run for the Saanich council seat in the upcoming byelection.

Madrona Farm operator Nathalie Chambers made the announcement on Tuesday that she will campaign for the seat left vacant by the unexpected death of Coun. Vic Derman on March 17.

Chambers takes up the call as a farmland activist, particularly in the Blenkinsop Valley. She’s also an inspired fan of Derman, who was a founding member of The Land Conservancy and who encouraged Chambers (and husband David, whose family previously owned it) to restart the historic 27-acre Madrona Farm 17 years ago.

“I am stepping up to defend [Derman’s] legacy of environment and sustainability,” Chambers said. “Really, and truly, my apolitical husband and I are shaking in our boots as we know what lies ahead.”

Chambers has worked with organizations such as the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, The Land Conservancy and the Social Environmental Alliance. She’s spearheaded the campaign to protect local farms and stop the industrialization of the Blenkinsop Valley, and founded the Big Dream Farm Fund Society and the Farmland Protection Coalition.

She’s also a staunch defender of both natural and traditional First Nations ecosystems. The author of Saving Farmland aims to increase the protection of South coast soils for agricultural purposes and ensure remaining farmland not in the Agricultural Land Reserve is protected through enforced municipal bylaws.

“Oh yes, good old bylaws, yes,” Chambers said. “I intend on monitoring by map. It is time to stop rewarding the rule breakers at the expense of the exemplars and future generations.

“The public doesn’t want to subsidize non-permitted uses of farmland, only to forward the debt onto future generations.”

Despite the decision by Saanich council to postpone the bylection until September (thereby avoiding having the byelection shadowed by the provincial election and with the understanding summer is not ideal for elections), Chambers may have made the right decision to declare her intentions already, said Mona Brash, Camosun College political science instructor who follows municipal politics.

“It’s generally accepted that no one will pay attention while there’s a provincial election, or summer,” Brash said. “The risk is [this announcement] get lost in the next month.”

In Brash’s opinion, other candidates will probably wait until after the provincial election to declare their own nomination.

However, there is more to it. Brash had heard of three, possibly four other names who are also likely to chase the vacant seat on Saanich council.

With the next municipal election booked for October 2018, there is an added benefit to running for the interim position on council. It’s a chance to increase the all-important jump on both the byelection or 2018 election, which are both paid traditionally little attention, though byelections have an even lower than municipal elections, Brash said.

“[Chambers] certainly wasn’t one of the names I’d been hearing, and I did not know of her before,” Brash said. “[I anticipate] some people will put there names in now as they seek name recognition for 2018. Of the [potential candidates I know of] some already have name recognition, so perhaps it is a good idea [for Chambers] have her name out there.”

For starters, Chambers will need to create a web presence.

reporter@saanichnews.com