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Does it matter where council candidates live?

Most council candidates live in the municipalities where they are running, but some, like Qualicum Beach’s Robert Filmer, do not because of their jobs
Qualicum Beach councillor Robert Filmer is running again, even though he lives in Vancouver. Marianne Alto is running for mayor in Victoria but lives in Saanich. Charlayne Thornton-Joe has served two decades on Victoria council despite living in Saanich. Photos: Town of Qualicum Beach, submitted, Times Colonist

Qualicum Beach Coun. Robert Filmer has been living in Vancouver for the past year and a half since his job changed, forcing him to relocate.

Filmer, now running for his second term on council in his hometown, said he wanted to hold onto his career working for an airline in in-flight operations, and giving up his council duties was not an option.

“It is a commitment I made for four years, so obviously that wasn’t even in the books, so I had to figure out how to do both.”

He found an affordable place to live in Vancouver, and has flown and caught ferries back and forth to the Island since easing of COVID restrictions allowed it, sometimes two or three times a week. There have been many early mornings. “But I still made my meetings and still made my commitments happen.”

Filmer anticipates returning next month full-time to Qualicum Beach, where he will be able to work from home. He said he had earlier announced he would not run again but some area residents urged him to stay on.

Most council candidates live in the municipalities where they are running, but some, like Filmer, don’t for a variety of reasons, although many live in a neighbouring municipality.

B.C. election rules do not require candidates to live where they are running. In the 1970s, the province did away with the requirement that a candidate must own property in the municipality.

The question is does it matter to voters? Some say it does, while others have been elected repeatedly while residing outside the municipality.

Charlayne Thornton-Joe, who was born and raised in Victoria but lives in Saanich, just wrapped up 20 years on Victoria council.

Location didn’t matter to voters when Metchosin-based Bob Cross was twice elected as Victoria mayor, the first time in 1994. He had already served three years as a councillor.

Cross was well-known in the community and had a stake in the city because he owned the Douglas Street building housing the family business, Cross’ Meat Market, which is now closed.

Peter Pollen was elected as Victoria mayor in the 1970s and again in the 1980s when he was one of four Oak Bay residents on Victoria council. Businessman Pollen owned land and buildings in Victoria.

Another Oak Bay resident, Janet Baird, served on Victoria council between 1981 and 1990. She was an early proponent of the local high-tech sector, advocated to preserve heritage buildings, and called for more downtown housing.

University of Victoria political science professor Michael Prince said a candidate’s home address will be a factor for some voters in Saturday’s municipal elections.

“For a lot of people there’s an intuitive sense that it matters in terms of giving people a sense of understanding of the issues and having a stake in it that way, too. You actually do live in the area that you’ll make decisions about.”

That may hurt Langford mayoral hopeful Scott Goodmanson, who grew up in Langford but now lives in Saanich, where he has a business.

In the contest for mayor of Victoria, Coun. Marianne Alto — who is up against Coun. Stephen Andrew for the job — said while she lives in Saanich, she owns a house in Victoria that she rents out and pays taxes on.

Alto, who has served a dozen years on Victoria council, said the topic of her residency is rarely raised, although it has come up in this election. She considers it a red herring raised by her opposition.

The better question is “what’s your connection to the place that you’re running?” she said.

The UVic grad said she has spent three decades in Victoria and previously lived in Harris Green and the Oaklands areas for 21 years.

Alto, who lives within walking distance of the Saanich/Victoria boundary, said she is familiar with urban issues and has a history of working with non-profit organizations in the Victoria.

“I challenge people to suggest that where I sleep at night has any impact on my commitment to the city.”

Several Victoria candidates are based outside the city.

Rossland councillor Janice Nightingale, who lists Victoria as her home, is running for a seat as a Victoria city councillor. She said she will be a full-time city resident as of this week.

The Rossland municipal website, which says that she is a full-time resident of that community, is incorrect, said Nightingale. She said Fernwood is her primary home and she spends more than half of her time in Victoria.

The Rossland address has been a recreational property where there were also family responsibilities, she said.

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