Peter Duncan casts his ballot in the Oak Bay municipal elections. Close to 43 per cent of Oak Bay residents voted.

Incumbents top the polls for Oak Bay council

Former councillor will join three incumbents and two newcomers at the council chamber

Those will little experience on council, such as Eric Zhelka and Tom Croft, will study the inner workings of municipal hall in advance of the inaugural council meeting where two new faces and one returnee come to the table.

Zhelka and Croft earned seats around the Oak Bay council table in Saturday’s election. Former councillor Hazel Braithwaite and incumbents Kevin Murdoch, Tara Ney and Michelle Kirby join them Dec. 8 for the inaugural council meeting.

In the meantime, it’s an intensive on the inner workings, for those new to council and those seeking a refresher course.

“I’m looking forward to working with all the professionals on council,” Zhelka said. “I’m eager to contribute to continue to make Oak Bay a fabulous place to live.”

Incumbent Kevin Murdoch, who happened to celebrate his birthday Saturday, topped the polls that night with 3,875. Murdoch will be joined by fellow incumbents Tara Ney (3,411 votes) and Michelle Kirby (2,587). Former councillor Hazel Braithwaite (3,546) returns to the council table along with newcomers Zhelka (2,584) and Tom Croft (2,549).

“It’s quite different, we have quite a few different voices, which you want,” Murdoch said. “What I’m hoping for is we have four to six months of non-major issues coming forward so people can learn the roles and how to do things and deal with the process.”

He hopes to see some priority setting and councillors getting to know each other.

“If you have a chance to get to know each other and establish relationships … then you can have disagreements and not create schisms,” he said. “You want really diverse opinions, so I think we have that on council. With that comes some good solid debate on ideas.”

Braithwaite makes a return to the table after gambling her councillor’s seat for a losing bid at the mayor’s chair in 2011.

“I really truly miss not being on council for the past three years,” said Braithwaite. She kept involved in the community working on the Community Initiatives Committee, Oak Bay Tourism Committee and Oak Bay Tea Party.

“I’m looking forward to helping, especially in writing the bylaws around the official community plan. I think that’s the most important thing we’re going to do in the next four years because that’s really going to shape what Oak Bay’s going to look like,” she said, adding densification is the place to start.

“That’s what’s on most people’s minds. It’ll be very very interesting.

“We need representation from every area of Oak Bay I think to help with that,” she added, saying residents in north Henderson and south Oak Bay may have different views, visions and opinions.

Croft looks forward to putting his expertise into developing those land use and environment sections of the official community plan.

“It’s an extension of the work we’ve done in that last six years with the community association,” Croft said. “It’s funny how climate change and densification work hand in hand.”

He anticipates creating the “town plan” for the official one.

“We’ve agreed upon this plan that has a vision … now we need to fill in that with what the community saw when they were talking about these things,” Croft said. “That’s one of the main reasons that I decided to run, to bring my background both in finance and community and land use planning to that very notion.”

Kirby looks forward to her second term on council working with other communities on projects such as the active school travel planning.

“I feel like I finally know what I’m doing and I can get something done now,” she said. “I’m excited about regional co-operation on the walking and cycling to school.

“I’m also looking forward to the work we’re going to do around the village’s building vibrancy and making sure the family businesses there can do more than just survive. I want them to thrive.”

She anticipates they’ll work the next four years building on little projects in parks as well, for example, getting a more permanent washroom at Cattle Point.

“That momentum’s started for us and we can keep working on those projects. Four years is long enough to get some really neat things done for the community – make some positive change,” Kirby said. “It’s going to be a change, that’s for sure, but it’s going to be a good council. I think it will be a productive group. I feel like we’ve laid the ground work for some exciting developments to come.”

Zhelka is “eager and excited” to get to work on community policies.

“I definitely have a lot of things I’d love to work on … for example the tree protection bylaw is in desperate need of fixing,” Zhelka said. “We have so many things to work on. Our infrastructure is in desperate need of repair … we need to work on some basics.”

Ney expects the future will include changes to how the district communicates its business with residents, as indicated by election campaigning.

“This was a tipping point election in terms of how we campaign in our elections,” said Ney. “The way we use social media and the way we’re engaging with our community has taken on a new form.”

While previous elections were more on the street, this year Twitter and interacting on campaign websites were critical components.

“I think that’s true not only for the way we campaign but it signals a time in how me must make this difference in the way we connect with our citizenry.

“This council started with a volunteer-made web page that had information from 15 years ago. We had to start all over again,” Ney said. “Things have changed so fast now that people have forgotten what existed before this current council, what we were working with.”

She anticipates council will need to do more work on how it engages and communicates with the community which could include changes such as web casting meetings.

“We have a very smart, savvy citizenry in Oak Bay. They want to be engaged, so they want to see leadership around that,” Ney said. “They want to know what’s going on. We have to do the work to bring in the technology and the programming to ensure that people do know what’s going on.”

Sigurd Johannesen (2,165), Andrew Stinson (2,053), Heather Holmes (2,040), Jan Mears (1,265) and Joan Russow (995) fell short in their bid to be elected.

“Everybody who ran, everybody who got in, they’re here because they want to make Oak Bay better,” Murdoch said. “They’re genuinely interested in making Oak Bay better.”

 

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com