Editor’s Note: Voters will elect a new member of Saanich council on Saturday. We asked the 10 candidates in the Saanich byelection three questions. Here are their responses:
Q: What is the strongest asset you bring to council?
Nathalie Chambers: My strongest asset is my passion. I have devoted my life, my property and my business to building a greener, more inclusive, more equitable community. I will fight for the unrepresented, I will fight for the planet, and I will never compromise my values for political gain.
Keith Davidoff: My ability as a project manager to listen to the issues, to formulate a plan and to address and implement a solution. I’m a ‘doer’…here to ‘get things done.’
Michael Geoghegan: Capability. It’s easy to promise, it’s much more difficult to deliver. As a former CEO and a successful government relations consultant, I have the proven skill, experience and connections with both the federal and provincial government to deliver on my pledge of more housing, lower taxes and greater accountability for Saanich.
Karen Harper: As a senior vice-president at the BC Pension Corporation, I dedicated the last 10 years of my working life to transforming the organization into an efficient and accountable Crown corporation. My experience demonstrates what can be accomplished in the public sector when there’s a willingness to look at things differently.
Marsha Henderson: I work with others to get things done.
Rebecca Mersereau: My approach: balanced, cooperative, fair and accountable. I’ve been called ‘unflappable’ by many of my colleagues. As one person joining eight others on council for only a one-year term, my tendency to make thoughtful and reasoned arguments backed up by facts is the most effective approach to consensus building.
Shawn Newby: I will bring the same dedication and determination to council that I have invested into the Saanich Sunday Farmers’ Market and my work with the Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association. I can work with Saanich staff, Saanich council and the community in order to address the community’s concern and work to resolve them.
Art Pollard: My strongest asset is my ability to listen to ideas in a thoughtful and forward-looking manner. I listen to all sides of the issue and do not prejudge ideas without doing my homework. I am an independent thinker. And I am not beholden to special interests.
Ned Taylor: My youth and passion. As the youngest candidate in this race (18 years of age) I’ll bring a new perspective to council, and a voice for an underrepresented generation.
Robert Wickson: As a truly independent candidate, my strongest asset would have to be my 20 years of community leadership experience. Such leadership means creating respectful relationships that give positive results for our shared vision.
Q: What’s the single most important thing Saanich can do to increase the supply of affordable housing?
Chambers: Saanich needs a diverse and comprehensive strategy, including support for proven models like co-op housing, legalizing garden suites and building targeted density, but the most important step is taxing unoccupied housing to put an end to ruthless speculation and bring prices back down for the working class.
Davidoff: Create the ability for more density with land use while remaining respectful to neighbours and neighbourhoods. Working and fostering partnerships with community associations is vital to ensure efficient use of land in order to develop a more affordable housing and rental stock.
Geoghegan: Stop delaying, downsizing and denying every housing development proposal that comes before council. Use increased density to leverage more in the way of affordable housing units.
Harper: We need to begin using the tools we have available if we want to make housing more affordable for Saanich residents. If elected, I will propose that Saanich begins using community amenity contributions (CACs) more effectively to ensure that new development projects include affordable housing components.
Henderson: Get more housing being built by streamlining the process that exists in the community and at Saanich council. I have a sound understanding of the current process and see where improvements can be made, and together with others, am actively involved in action towards that goal.
Mersereau: We need to repair our relationship with the development community, which is currently sidestepping Saanich due to our inefficient planning processes and council’s unpredictable decision-making. I would implement clear targets to shorten timelines and communicate a clear vision about what we want our neighbourhoods to look like in the future.
Newby: It can identify the areas in Saanich that are appropriate for density and allow home builders the opportunity to build the needed housing in a timely manner. Speeding up the administrative process during the planning and building process will increase supply and keep rent and home prices as reasonable as possible.
Pollard: There are no easy answers. One solution is to restrict foreign ownership with a property tax increase on absentee ownership and make registration in the name of the actual owner, not numbered companies which evade taxes. Another option would be using current municipal powers such as inclusionary zoning and required developers to pay a percentage of taxes for affordable and family friendly housing. But thirdly, we must create income sources so people can also afford to purchase as well. We are having another lost generation of people, talented people that cannot afford to live in Saanich.
Taylor: Right now, allow garden suites. Council is currently moving forward with a study on garden suites with a 12-month time frame. I’m thrilled about this but we need more affordable housing now and that time frame needs to be shorter.
Wickson: The application process in Saanich can be difficult and lengthy. We must adjust our process to encourage development applications for all kinds of housing projects. For example, the current Nigel Valley affordable housing project has taken almost two years so far before the application has even got to council.
Q: If you could change one thing in the EDPA bylaw, what would it be?
Chambers: We need to reward good behaviour, instead of just punishing residents for infringements. I would introduce a stewardship program to reward ecologically responsible homeowners with tax incentives. As an organic farmer and business owner, I understand how to be environmentally responsible and make good fiscal sense at the same time.
Davidoff: I don’t believe there is ‘one’ thing that can be changed; however, the EDPA does need to be revisited. We need to better reflect the balance between protecting the environment and the rights of property owners.
Geoghegan: It was so poorly implemented by Saanich that it needs to be rescinded.
Harper: I believe that Saanich should rescind the EDPA and develop a new environmental stewardship program that is focused on rezoning and Saanich lands (such as parks), rather than single-family and agricultural properties. Rebuilding the bylaw after consulting affected and interested parties would encourage co-operation, education, incentives and innovation.
Henderson: The EDPA bylaw states that sensitive areas must be protected during development and restored if damaged, and on this there is broad agreement. What the bylaw appears to lack is clear definition of key terms, and an appeal process for an applicant significantly financially affected by implementation of the bylaw.
Mersereau: I would implement it concurrently with a more holistic biodiversity strategy that includes more focus on restoration activities in parks (Saanich quickly lost credibility without this); and a communications campaign that clarifies and raises awareness about the purpose of the bylaw, the potential implications for property owners, and desired outcomes.
Newby: I would change the use of the Environmentally Significant Area mapping system. ESAs should be developed from analysis on the ground rather than an aerial observation. Far too many property owners have been placed into a bylaw without the examination of the property itself.
Pollard: I would find a better way to implement it. It has occurred in a haphazard way. But if you have lemons you make lemonade, you don’t put it in the recycle bin or the trash. Ultimately, the chief administrative officer (CAO) is responsible for administering the implementation of the bylaw. As a councillor, I would direct the CAO to fix the problem. It is his responsibility to direct staff. I would also conduct a performance review on the CAO because compensation is linked to performance of his job duties. There have been big impacts on property values and that has led to a number of angry residents. There must be consequences and clear accountability and transparency.
Taylor: I’d change the use of outdated aerial maps from the 1980s. But there’s plenty of other issues with the EDPA. As councillor, I’d fight for serious consultation to finding a middle ground of creating an EDPA that works.
Wickson: The bylaw must be applied equally to both Saanich public lands and private property. I would not exempt Saanich from the bylaw, which may require some sort of timeline for compliance that includes scheduled updates and targets. In other words, level the playing field for both sides.