An incumbent Saanich councillor is putting a new spin on the old political coffee klatsch, one that sees him willingly share the spotlight with his rivals.
Coun. Colin Plant has been meeting with voters every morning in October since the start of the campaign at another Saanich coffee shop, with last such meeting scheduled for Oct. 19 — one day before Oct. 20 municipal election. That itself is not unusual. But what distinguishes this coffee chat tour is Plant’s willingness to bring along a different group of competitors each time out.
“As a candidate during the campaign I want to meet as many residents as I can and door-knocking in the morning before my day teaching high school is not an option,” he said. “I also found that the formats and abundance of candidates at the all-candidate meetings made it hard to get my message out to the public as to why I was running for [council and the Capital Regional District] and I thought ‘why not meet over a cup of coffee’ in a different part of Saanich each morning in October.”
The experience so far has been positive, he said. Conversations with the other candidates and the public go beyond soundbites and offer opportunities for follow up, he said. “Also, we are not trying to outdo each other. It’s been positive politics and one where the conversations have been respectful and about learning from each other and hearing the public’s ideas. When you have 2 hours, everyone gets to speak and everyone gets to listen and ask questions. The format is not formal. It’s a coffee chat.”
So far 12 out of 17 candidates for councillor have taken him up on the offer. “I did not invite the mayor candidates as I did not want the chats to devolve into a leadership debate and about the mayor choice,” he said. “I also felt that the [mayoral candidates] are getting quite a lot of coverage and this would be a way for the public to get to know their candidates better.”
Plant said the tour is about showing that politicians need to continually seek input from residents by reaching out to them. Showing up at all-candidates meetings to answer questions is not enough, he said. “By going to where people are, you can find out what matters to them. It also sends the message that I can bring people together, can work with everyone and want to be someone who listens and then acts.”
In fact, Plant plans to make it habit. “If re-elected I’m going to do this once a month,” he said.