Mayor Richard Atwell (centre) is one of five members part of United for Saanich running in the upcoming municipal election. Other members include Coun. Karen Harper and candidates Cory Montgomery, Kathleen Burton and Ian Jessop. Photo submitted

Mayor heads Saanich slate

Mayor Richard Atwell joins five-person political slate for Oct. 20 municipal election

Four years ago, then mayoral candidate Richard Atwell stressed his political independence and said slates have “devastated municipal politics” including in Saanich in a series of tweets. Now, he is heading one as an incumbent.

United for Saanich consists of Atwell, incumbent Coun. Karen Harper, and three non-incumbent candidates: Kathleen Burton, executive director of Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary; Ian Jessop, a former political spokesperson and broadcaster; and Cory Montgomery, a local businessman.

Atwell said in an interview that he is “proud to run” with this “highly qualified group” under what he later called a “non-partisan slate.”

This rhetoric appears to contradict his 2014 comments, when he singled out candidates running under the leadership of then-mayor Frank Leonard, whom Atwell defeated.

When the Saanich News asked Atwell whether he disagreed with what he had said about slates in his 2014 tweets, he said, “not really.”

“I thought that party politics [specifically B.C. Liberal party politics] was getting in the way of progress at Saanich, hence the independent quote in my tweet,” he said.

Provincial politics do not belong at the council table, he said. “We [United for Saanich] are grassroots and not beholden to or supported by any political parties.”

So how does he think the public react to Atwell’s decision to headline United for Saanich in 2018 after his comments in 2014?

“In 2014, residents were looking for a change in direction and voted for change,” he said. “To fulfill this mandate we need greater co-operation from candidates, who are willing to put party politics and personal agendas aside and move Saanich forward.”

The group will formally introduce itself Friday with a press release that invites Saanich residents to meet with them at their booth at the Saanich Fair.

Mona Brash, a political scientist, said slates bear dangers but also opportunities.

Slates can be problematic because one person could drag down the others, she said, adding slates also give the appearance of political party influence. “Many people do not like party politics overtly involved in local politics (even though we know they are behind the scenes),” she said.

But slates can also clarify choices. “In an election where there is a sharp divide in the municipality, slates can be good as they clearly identify the stance on the divisive issue(s),” she said.

This said, voters do sometimes want to see a variety of voices on council, she added.

Coun. Fred Haynes, who is running against Atwell for mayor, generally questioned slates. “I believe that Saanich is best served by electing nine independent, diverse members. This better represents our community.”

Haynes said a slate with five members could enable passage of an agenda without debate. “This scenario is not in the best interest of Saanich,” he said, pointing to Atwell’s previous comments about Leonard’s slate that he said was effectively only ‘one voice.’

Atwell, for his part, is not distancing himself from his apparent reversal of position concerning slates.

“Thanks for [the] opportunity to clarify my old comments,” he said.


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