ELECTION 2015: Meet the candidates in Esquimalt Saanich Sooke

Saanich News profiles the candidates in the upcoming federal election

  • Sep. 8, 2015 6:00 p.m.

Randall Garrison – NDP

First and foremost, Randall Garrison is running in the 2015 federal election to replace Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The NDP MP for Esquimalt Saanich Sooke said he has seen the damage the Harper government has done to things like democracy, veterans and Canada’s international reputation, which is why the NDP needs more seats in the House of Commons.

According to Garrison, the NDP has big policy initiatives that focus on addressing issues such as climate change, and affordability and availability of childcare spaces – something that’s a big challenge in B.C., no matter how much money people have.

Garrison, who served as the official opposition public safety critic, is leading the fight to protect privacy rights and civil liberties from surveillance legislation. He was also the LGBT critic, and had a non-government bill securing equal rights for transgender Canadians passed in the House of Commons, but it was later killed in the Senate.

“That guarantees equal rights for transgender Canadians. I’m very much committed to bringing that back again,” said Garrison, adding he is consistently the opposition member with the most success in getting federal dollars for his riding.

Locally, Garrison is committed to creating a recovery action plan for killer whales and creating more ship building jobs in the dock yards of Esquimalt.

“The Conservatives promised they would get busy on that program and we’ve yet to see much progress. Those are quality, long-term jobs in this community,” said Garrison, who lives in Esquimalt with his partner Teddy Pardede.

Garrison has also fought projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline, proposing responsible, sustainable alternatives instead.

Before entering parliament, Garrison was elected to Esquimalt municipal council and was a member of the Esquimalt municipal police board. Prior to that, he was a criminal justice and political science instructor at Camosun College for 20 years.

Frances Litman – Green Party


Taking on an incumbent MP can be a daunting task, but it’s not an unfamiliar role for Frances Litman. The Green Party candidate for Esquimalt Saanich Sooke has always seen herself in the role of underdog.

“I’ve always sided with the underdog,” said Litman, 53. “When you talk about how has your life experience affected you, I suppose somewhere deep in my soul I saw myself as an underdog and related to those that were less privileged.”

Litman has called the Island home since the age of two, growing up in Saanich where she went to Reynolds secondary, before moving to Esquimalt where she started Frances Litman Photography.

High school was a time of profound and life-altering change for Litman. She landed a job with the Times Colonist while still in high school, and by graduation was living on her own after losing her parents to health issues.

“It’s made me very … well I’ve never had anyone to rely on. It makes you very determined to make a success of yourself because there’s no one really to give you a leg up. I’ve worked very hard because I guess there’s that underlying fear that I don’t want to be homeless.”

Litman went to both Camosun and UVic, studying business administration and applied communications, before taking a year-long photography course at Western Academy.

“That really piqued my interest and I started my own business,” said Litman, who ran her photo studio during the day and worked for the newspaper at night.

Eventually, she gained the confidence to leave the security of a regular paycheque behind and left the paper to focus on her photography business full time.

It was her connection with the underdog that spurred Litman’s involvement with environmental causes and eventually the Green Party.

“My underdog became the environment when I discovered that less than three per cent of all charitable giving goes to environmental charities,” she saId.

About five years ago Litman began Creatively United For the Planet, an Earth Week festival dedicated to empowering individuals and communities to take better care of the Earth. The festival raised her profile among environmental organizations, and the Green Party came calling earlier this year asking her to become a candidate.

“I thought if I can make a difference that can finally affect policy and make the changes we need to move forward so we do have a world worth living in, then I’m willing to do that,” she said.


Shari Lukens – Conservative


Shari Lukens grew up in the wheat fields of Alberta. When she wasn’t working the golden fields on the family’s grain farm, she spent her time carving her own path on the ice. She even landed a spot at the prestigious Mariposa School of Skating.

“My goal was to be world champion and that’s what I was training for,” Lukens said. But at 16, her skating dreams were ended by a drunk driver.

While no longer able to compete professionally, her passion led her to coaching, and eventually Denmark, where she not only taught other skaters but was also asked to teach power skating to the Danish men’s national hockey team.

After returning to Canada, Lukens shifted careers to broadcast journalism.

After training in B.C. her career led her across the province and back to the Prairies. It was while working on an award-winning documentary that Lukens was set up on a blind date with the man that would eventually become her husband.

“We were married eight months to the day later,” she said. The couple lived on the mainland for a while but in 2005, they moved to the Island. Her husband was originally from the Duncan area, so the Cowichan Valley seemed like a perfect fit.

“We were avid fishermen so it was fabulous.”

But their Island life together was short-lived. In 2006, Lukens’ husband was killed in a helicopter crash.

“It really takes the wind out of your sails,” she said. Her father had been a pilot and she knew the risks of the profession, but she said you never imagine something like that ever happening.

In August 2009 she moved to Colwood, a place she had told herself years before that “If I ever get the opportunity to move down here I would.”

That love of the West Shore drew her into the area and she became highly engaged in its communities, eventually running for Colwood city council in 2011 and serving until 2014.

But tragedy struck again. Just as she was preparing to run for another term her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She was forced to make what she refers to as a “life choice” and decided not to run.

Now, she’s putting her travel plans on hold with the hopes of representing her riding in Ottawa.  When she’s not out campaigning she’s at home with her 11-year-old English springer spaniel named Maestro.

“He’s Mr. Personality,” she said of her beloved dog, who originally belonged to her husband and is her “last real connection” with him.

While Lukens doesn’t get out on the ice as much as she’d like in recent years, she said “that’s where I really feel freedom and passion.” She said skating has taught her to get back up when you fall.


David Merner – Liberal


Running for office was only a matter of time for David Merner, who is representing the Liberal party in the newly defined Esquimalt Saanich Sooke riding.

From his time as a political science major in university to his current role as the executive director of the Dispute Resolution Office in B.C.’s Ministry of Justice, Merner has been heavily involved with the federal Liberal party.

The 53-year-old has also been an observer at two of the biggest presidential elections in modern history, 2006 in Haiti and 2014 in Ukraine.

“There were certainly security risks and concerns,” says Merner of both situations.

“But people were also so grateful that Canadians were there to help.”

Haiti was particularly moving, as people walked long distances to vote, some through the night.

“They filled their ballots by candlelight,” Merner said. “You can see how important democracy is to them. They take it seriously [because] they know what it’s like to lose democracy. It’s very inspiring and a reminder of how lucky we are.”

A father and a husband, Merner and his wife, human rights lawyer Annemieke Holthuis, have raised four daughters in Victoria.

The youngest, 12, attends Ecole Victor Brodeur. Their 18-year-old is doing a one-year program at Mahindra College in India (part of the United World College family of schools, which includes Metchosin’s Pearson College). Meanwhile their oldest, a pair of 20-year-old twins, are in university, one in pre-medical school at Queen’s and the other environmental studies at Dalhousie.

“Still one at home but it’s the start of empty-nest syndrome,” joked Merner. “Previously we had been so busy driving around.”

Before he worked in the justice industry Merner started at Harvard University and ended up doing a masters at Oxford University in the 1980s, where, little known to Canadians, he played hockey for the Oxford Blues.

“It was a semi-pro league, we played in the [traditional] Oxford versus Cambridge [rivalry],” Merner said. “The fans loved it, they wanted Slapshot, they wanted all that bad behaviour, it was something else.”

To this day Merner still plays hockey three times a week, including twice in the morning before work.


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