The last minute appearance of a fringe candidate and some sharp but familiar exchanges marked the final forum featuring the candidates running for mayor in Saanich.
David Shebib — one of four declared candidates for mayor in Saanich — made his first appearance of the campaign during the last all-candidates forum held in Saanich Tuesday afternoon at the Church of Nazarene in front of an estimated crowd of 500 people.
Occasionally hostile towards the crowd and frequently contemptuous towards the format and the other three candidates — Mayor Richard Atwell, Coun. Fred Haynes and Rob Wickson — Shebib shocked the audience with comments that ranged from the conspiratorial to the offensive.
When the discussion turned to the question of homelessness, Shebib suggested the creation of a dedicated camp for homeless individuals on a piece of property owned by the City of Victoria, which he repeatedly called a “tent city.”
“Stop hiding your poor,” he said.
The comment drew audible ‘boos’ from the audience. “Yeah, you don’t like that,” he responded. “But that is what you are doing.”
After some back and forth with Wickson, Shebib wondered why local churches won’t open their doors to the homeless.
“They will trash it,” shouted one audience member.
“Just like you trashed Victoria?” he responded, drawing more gasps. “You trashed this city, come on,” he continued. “The place is a dump. It’s a mechanical dump. Have a look at your traffic problems. Have a look at your problems.”
Another audience member then reminded Shebib about the state of the rural property, where he had invited a group of homeless individuals to stay earlier this month. “I’ll look at my junkyard. Do you want to look at your junkyard?” By that stage, audience members were telling Shebib to sit down.
But Shebib also earned a measure of sympathy from the crowd, when Atwell said Saanich resident get to choose their mayor from the “three of us up here.” Audience members reminded Atwell that four names appear on the ballot.
“I do apologize,” said Atwell. “This is the first debate that David attended.”
As for issues, Haynes questioned why Atwell surprised council by bringing forward his idea of turning the former Emily Carr library into supportive housing, which Haynes considers inappropriate use, while Atwell questioned Haynes’ support for the sewage treatment plant, accusing Haynes of failing to fight for Saanich residents. Atwell, meanwhile, questioned Wickson’s apparent obstructionism on the McKenzie Interchange Project, while Haynes questioned Wickson’s recommendation to narrow Tillicum Road, a busy commuter road, to improve cycle safety.
During their final statements, the candidates hit on familiar themes. Atwell, who had stressed his experience earlier, said the future of Saanich hinges on the election of new councillors willing to break with the past in making an implicit pitch for United for Saanich.
Haynes, who defended council’s effectiveness, said Saanich is best served through nine independent voices in promising to preserve Saanich’s rural-urban mix and current opportunities into the future.
Wickson advertised himself as a moderator, who would rise above the bickering that had defined council in attacking both Haynes and Atwell.
Shebib, meanwhile, questioned the entire legitimacy of the election and regional governance as it exists.
“There is nothing dumber than a voter,” he said. “You only get to act once every four years, and then you are stuck.”