EDITORIAL: Mayoral contender faces hurdles against six-term Leonard

Saanich election campaign will include a lot of sewage talk

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard has his first challenger in an election that will crown a winner for four years on Nov. 15.

Richard Atwell, a prominent critic of the Capital Regional District’s botched secondary sewage treatment project, announced last week he’ll be jumping headfirst into the political arena in Saanich.

Atwell may not be a water cooler name, but his profile at the Capital Regional District is something akin to a bee in a bonnet. He takes every opportunity he can at the CRD’s core area liquid waste management committee to dredge up previous staff comments that have led directors down the road to their current dilemma. The McLoughlin Point wastewater treatment plant moved forward several years ago because directors believed the B.C. government would mandate rezoning if Esquimalt failed to go along with the plan.

Looking back, that belief was foolish, and observers like Atwell have made sure the public knows it.

But a municipal election encompasses a lot more than expertise on a single issue. Atwell’s most difficult hurdle in challenging Leonard for mayor will be overcoming perceptions of his one-issue candidacy. He needs to somehow shed the perception of himself as a sewage lightning rod and find a way to garner votes without looking disingenuous.

Leonard is a lifetime Saanich politician. He’s served on council since 1986 and winning this election would mark his seventh term at the helm. Toppling his legacy is going to take smart organizing, a small army of volunteers and an electorate that believes a new leader is worth the risk.

The ongoing sewage saga might be enough to convince voters of some need for change across the Capital Region, but whether one of the Seaterra’s biggest opponents can fight through pigeonholing is going to be worth the watch.

Get ready for the election campaign.