The last all-candidates forum held Tuesday afternoon at the Church of the Nazarene in Saanich featured 17 candidates. Wolf Depner/News Staff

The last all-candidates forum held Tuesday afternoon at the Church of the Nazarene in Saanich featured 17 candidates. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Saanich council candidates face off for last time in front of 500 people

Amalgamation, slates and affordable housing dominate final forum

Several candidates running for councillor in Saanich used its sixth and final all-candidates forum Tuesday to stress their independence, while promising to work co-operatively.

“We need people, who are first and foremost independent,” said Art Pollard.

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Rebecca Mersereau offered a familiar argument.

“I personally believed that residents are best served by independent candidates, because that ensures that [their decisions] aren’t compromised by other political considerations,” she said, drawing applause from the audience.

Cory Montgomery, who is running as a member of United for Saanich, disagreed. “We are all independent thinkers, and we are all independent voters. What we are doing is that we can all work together and talk together, and we can come up with ideas and solutions. We may not always agree together, and we may not vote together. But we can come up with some other solutions, and work together with other councillors, and move them forward instead of stalling.”

Vernon Lord, who spoke on subject after Mersereau and Montgomery, said Saanich is “lucky” to have eight councillors, who speak on behalf of the municipality, in calling for a diverse council. “My slate is council and the 115,000 residents of Saanich.”

Tuesday’s sixth and final all-candidates forum happened in the Church of Nazarene on Quadra Avenue in front of an estimated 500 residents, who had crowded the church’s pews. Demand for seating was so high, organizers had to set up additional chairs to accommodate the audience, which heard 17 candidates for councillor (Kathleen Burton could not attend because of illness) talk on all major issues during the campaign, including housing and homelessness, economic development, traffic safety, and transportation.

Under the format of the forum, not every candidate had a chance to answer questions that audience members had submitted except for a question concerning amalgamation.

RELATED: Saanich to test public support for future amalgamation talks

Candidates covered a range of views with their responses. Ned Taylor argued some form of amalgamation could make sense, but not necessarily involving Saanich. “I would support a provincially-funded study that is unbiased, across every municipality in the CRD, that should first decide if we amalgamate, and if so, how we should amalgamate,” he said.

Coun. Colin Plant said the question is misleading, because voters are not deciding on amalgamation per se, when they vote Saturday. They are instead deciding whether Saanich and Victoria should strike up a citizens’ assembly to study the issue. “I have an open mind, and need more information to decide.”

The majority of candidates echoed this position. Rishi Sharma said he supported the idea of amalgamation, while Pollard said savings are already available. “I don’t want to be part of Victoria,” he said. “I want to be part of Saanich.”

A smaller group of candidates (Vernon Lord and Nathalie Chambers) were more firm in their opposition, citing environmental and financial concerns should Saanich and Victoria merge.

Trevor Barry, meanwhile, argued that the real fault line does not run between Victoria and Saanich, but between the core and the outer rim of the Greater Victoria area.

“The West Shore is the problem,” he said. “We, the people of Saanich, are subsidizing through infrastructure. Langford is getting a free ride through our hard work. We need a better regional governance model and a better regional growth strategy. Amalgamation may or may not help with that.”


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