A Saanich councillor says she “chose pragmatism over politics” in signalling her opposition to the proposed replacement of a controversial environmental policy — a policy she was once supported.
“I already know [last week’s council] meeting was a pivotal experience for me,” said Coun. Rebecca Mersereau. “I chose pragmatism over politics. I advocated for what I felt was the right approach and the most effective approach, rather than the most popular one, or the one based on a particular ideology. As a scientist turned policy-maker, that was always my intent with this new elected role.”
Mersereau made this comment on her Facebook page after saying that she would vote against Saanich’s proposed Environmental Policy Framework, an ambitious effort to replace the controversial Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) that the previous council rescinded by a narrow 5-4 vote in November 2017.
This vote happened just weeks after Saanich residents elected Coun. Karen Harper by 102 votes ahead Mersereau during the 2017 byelection following the death of long-time councillor Vic Derman, a mentor of Mersereau. Derman also supported the EDPA, and Mersereau ran in part to protect his legacy, including the EDPA, which Harper had long criticized. Mersereau then joined council in October 2018 by winning the most votes of any candidate anywhere in the Greater Victoria region 18,416., while Harper returned as an incumbent.
It was against this backdrop that Mersereau joined Harper in opposition to the proposed EDPA replacement, a move that caught many by surprise, a point Mersereau acknowledged in her comments on Facebook and later to the Saanich News.
“After 10 days of building up the courage, I went with my conscience and spoke candidly about my doubts and my concerns with the proposed path forward for environmental policy in Saanich, even though I knew it would come as a shock and quite likely a disappointment to most of the people who helped me get into elected office,” she said.
So whom specifically did she disappoint?
“Many of my longest-standing supporters were Vic Derman’s supporters,” said Mersereau in an interview. “Vic was long involved in the EDPA and considered a proponent for it. And Vic is really the reason I became involved in politics in Saanich. A sense of obligation to the community that I feel to fulfill his principled legacy has been my primary motivation for investing so much of my life over the last five years into winning a seat on [council].”
Mersereau said “deciding to part from what is widely presumed to be [Derman’s] position on this issue” was not easy. “At the same time, what united Vic and I most was our predilection for independent and critical thinking. Over the course of spending many hours with him knocking on doors throughout Saanich, it was clear to me that he respected my ability and right to diverge from his views. Doing so in practice as a new [councillor] in Saanich is a natural and expected part of finding my own path, and I think Vic would have respected that.”