A losing North Saanich candidate for mayor predicts stagnation in that community thanks to the influence of Save North Saanich on the new council, while a returning councillor says the new council will listen broadly while welcoming the results of the election.
These positions from long-time North Saanich councillor Murray Weisenberger, who finished third to mayor-elect Peter Jones, and returning councillor Celia Stock were just among the many reactions making the rounds after Saturday’s municipal election.
Weisenberger said North Saanich will go back to being what he called “Sleepyville” in predicting that the new council under Jones will not pursue an ambitious agenda.
“Nobody will pay any attention as long as the rest of the region remains asleep to what North Saanich is about, which is privilege,” he said. “And as far as I can tell, Mr. Jones doesn’t really plan to do anything, so that is going to save a whole lot of energy.”
Jones also appears to be grappling for the best way forward around the OCP review, said Weisenberger.
Jones had said he will ask to stop the process for two months. “We will talk with people within the community that should have been consulted when this was first looked at two or three years ago,” Jones said earlier.
Turning to specific issues, Weisenberger said North Saanich will not see any new housing under the new council. “I would suggest that nothing is going to change,” he said. “They will try to take it back as far as they can in the past.”
Weisenberger said everything that could have gone wrong in his campaign went wrong, but he still thinks North Saanich residents are open to a progressive message. “I wasn’t the right messenger for sure,” he said.
Stock, who won her fourth term, called the results very conclusive. “It’s a very definitive statement made by citizens, which is that we need to really take care of expansion, development and density,” she said, adding later most people in North Saanich want to ensure that it does not lose its rural identity and remains available for food growing in pointing to North Saanich’s place within the regional growth strategy.
“We now have a council with a majority of members who agree that we need really to tread carefully,” she said.
Stock — like Jones earlier — also rejected that this incoming council exists mainly by the graces of Save North Saanich. “I wouldn’t say that we were elected by Save North Saanich,” said Stock.
Five of the new council members — Jones, as well incumbent councillors Jack McClintock and Stock, and non-incumbents Irene McConkey and Sanjiv Shrivastav — received endorsements from the group, which has been concerned about the OCP review specifically and the pace of development generally.
“I think we were elected because we ran good campaigns,” Stock said, adding she and McClintock had the advantages of incumbency, while the other two (McConkey and Shrivastav) ran good campaigns. While Save North Saanich’s support “might have helped a bit,” it was not the main reason, she said.
Stock said Save North Saanich will have an impact just as the North Saanich Residents’ Association will. While these associations will have an effect, Stock said council won’t be influenced. “Yes, we are going to be listening,” she said. “I have always listened to all residents of North Saanich, not just the ones who support my particular philosophy or ideas.”
McConkey struck a similar note. “Save North Saanich will have no more or less influence on my decision-making than any other association, group or individual in North Saanich,” she said.
Earlier she had said voters made it clear that they value the rural nature of North Saanich. “The results of this election mean we won’t lose our beautiful green spaces and farms to urban sprawl. Residents will live a community where they feel heard and know what decisions are being made and why.”
Former mayor Alice Finall, who is a board member of Save North Saanich, said Saturday’s outcome pleased her very much, but she rejected the suggestion that the real winner of the election is Save North Saanich.
“No, the residents of North Saanich are the real winners of this election,” she said. “The efforts of Save North Saanich have always been to provide information to residents so that they can better understand what is happening in the region, what is happening in the municipality, and what we should be doing about it.”
Rounding out the new council is incumbent Brett Smyth and Phil DiBattista.
Weisenberger predicted that both may find themselves frozen out.
DiBattista said Sunday morning he is honoured to have been elected and excited to get to work. “There is a very diverse group of people that have been elected with different backgrounds and experiences, which is not a bad thing at all,” he said. “If anything, it means the whole community has some representation on council. (With) some luck we will be able to find a grove quickly and work together.”
Smyth struck a comparable note in pointing out the difference between campaigning and governing. “I hope it (governing) will be eye-opening for them,” he said. He also expressed hope that the new faces on council will see staff as part of the same team and that “they are not the monsters that they are portrayed to be.”
But Smyth also did not hesitate to criticize Save North Saanich for needlessly dividing the community.
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