Guest column: Saanich election about governance

Rob Wickson: This election has a question on the ballot that could be most important Saanich residents have faced in a long time

Are we ready?  Have all the questions been asked and answers given to help you make the choices on the ballot this Saturday?  I hope so.

For Saanich, this election has significant implications. To begin with, we note that none of the current councillors are stepping aside. Does this mean they (or we) all think they are doing a wonderful job for Saanich?

How about the new faces who have bravely put their names forward for consideration: do they have what it takes to make those tough decisions? Will they be able to work their ideas into the agenda of the next council?

After the votes are counted on Saturday, we’ll have an opportunity to find out some of the answers to these questions. Is there a solution to the sewage treatment folly? Will we be able to fix the McKenzie/Admirals intersection? Can public transit be brought into the 21st century? What about the lack of affordable housing? All of these will have to be considered through an ecological lens.

These questions have been around since before I ran for a council seat in 2008 and as far as I can see, not much has happened since then. Whatever progress has been made has been done at a snail’s pace. Look how long it took get the Shelbourne Corridor Action Plan to what appears to be a non-solution.

Now this election actually has a question on the ballot that I consider the most important that Saanich residents have faced in a long time.

With just a week to go before nominations closed in October, the current Saanich council bowed to community pressure and created a ballot question I assume was meant to placate restless voters.

That question: “Do you support Council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the Region?”

Mayor Frank Leonard’s comments at the conclusion of Council’s discussion are also telling: “If the question is supported, it will be owned by the community,” Leonard said. I wonder what exactly he meant by “owned by the community.”

Does the Mayor mean Saanich Council will not or should not take a leadership role in this discussion? Do they expect the discussion in Saanich to focus on the inner workings of Saanich only? By asking about reviewing Saanich partnerships within the region, are they trying to avoid the more common question regarding amalgamation that is on most of the other municipal ballots?

This is a governance issue. Make no mistake, this is probably the most important issue to take centre stage in this election and I have no doubt that many incumbents would be happy for it to go away, but it’s not going to go away.

Our regional governance is at the heart of the discussion and Saanich – with almost one third of the population in the CRD – should be taking the lead in discussions.

Instead, we have developed a question that seems to try and delay that conversation. What kind of leadership is that?

To top it off, the Saanich question is actually at the bottom of a long ballot. Be sure to look for it even if you are not voting for school board candidates.

As an economist and community leader, I know that by working collaboratively with others, there is a way to address the governance question that will bring Greater Victoria into the 21st century.

The process has already started and it is now up to every citizen eligible to vote to make the governance question the top issue to come out of this election.

The complacent and out-of-touch approach to governing is a thing of the past and incumbents and prospective candidates need to hear this at the ballot box.

Rob Wickson is a Saanich resident, economist, business owner and president of the Gorge-Tillicum Neighbourhood Association. He previously ran for Saanich council.