Jack Knox: In Saanich-Gulf Islands, the focus is on Elizabeth May

Jack Knox is dropping in on Vancouver Island’s seven federal ridings, looking at them through the lens of issues readers say are important in this election.

Gazing down onto the car deck of the Mayne Queen, it occurs to me that whoever owns the pickup truck with the three cases of Lucky in the back is being awfully trusting. Anybody could grab them.

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On the other hand, the ferry and the Gulf Islands it serves don’t exactly comprise a high-crime area.

That’s confirmed on Saturna Island, where the Mountiemobile parked near the ferry terminal looks like it might need a ­jump-start before engaging in a high-speed pursuit. Saturna is less likely to see a crime wave than a gentle lapping against the shore.

The peaceful nature of the place is reflected at the community hall, where 30 of the island’s 350 residents — a pretty good turnout, considering Daniel Cook and The Radiators are playing in the pub down the hill — have gathered for a well-mannered all-candidates meeting. To clarify, it’s the residents who are well-mannered, though the candidates are pretty civil, too.

Also to clarify: It would be better to call this a most-candidates meeting since only four of the six Saanich-Gulf Islands hopefuls were there in person, and the computer links for the other two were wobbly. Liberal Sherri Moore-Arbour never could sign in, while Conservative David Busch only had audio.

That left the Green Party’s Elizabeth May, New Democrat Sabina Singh and the local race’s two ideological book-ends, Communist Dock Currie and the David Hilderman of the People’s Party of Canada.

For two hours, they addressed matters of global consequence (climate change) and local importance (crappy cellphone service, freighters anchoring offshore, lack of enforcement in what is supposed to be an orca sanctuary, a boil-water advisory that has been in effect for seven of the past 12 months).

Again, it was all quite respectful. Nobody got red in the face. Nobody heckled. Nobody threw gravel or called anybody a Nazi. Currie cheerfully took a couple of shots at his old party, the New Democrats (he was briefly their Kamloops candidate in 2019 until someone unearthed some nasty things he had said to an energy journalist online).

When Hilderman pulled out charts that he said showed alarm over climate change is unwarranted, the other candidates bit their tongues, just as he bit his when the others argued the opposite. May and her friend Pat Carney, the former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and senator, differed mildly on something they decided they should talk out later.

This is comfy territory for May, who just moved to Saturna. She won 63 per cent of the vote on the island in the last election. She also took 49 per cent in Saanich-Gulf Islands as a whole. Her personal popularity in this lovely, leafy, older, affluent riding has long outstripped that of her party, which earned a quarter of the votes on Vancouver Island in 2019 but just 6.5 per cent nationwide.

That last number was actually almost double what the Greens polled in the previous election. The party looked to be gaining momentum in 2019 when May, who had been a one-person caucus since her 2011 election as Canada’s first Green MP, was joined in the House of Commons by Nanaimo-Ladysmith’s Paul Manly and New Brunswick’s Jenica Atwin.

But 2019 is also when May, the high-profile face of the party, stepped aside as leader after 13 years. She was ultimately replaced last fall by Toronto’s Annamie Paul, whose tenure has been plagued by controversy. Atwin has defected to the Liberals. Manly is in a dogfight for re-election. The polls are going backwards.

So, as much as the election in Saanich-Gulf Islands is about anything, it’s about how voters see the future for May, who vows to keep holding Parliamentary feet to the fire over climate change.

Climate is, in fact, the most mentioned subject when people in the riding, approached at random, are asked what matters to them this election. It comes up on Saturna, in Sidney, outside Michell’s Farm Market, at the Panorama Rec Centre, and along the Lochside Trail.

It’s not the only issue, though. As is the case elsewhere on Vancouver Island, housing affordability comes up frequently. Cyclists Diane Janota and Randall Pow, taking a break in Central Saanich, mention it at the same time as climate change. “We are not poor,” Janota said. “We were both professionals, but we can’t afford to buy here.”

Down the road at Mattick’s Farm, senior Joan Reger worries about the street crime that has left her reluctant to go to downtown Victoria. She expresses sympathy for desperate people but feels vulnerable to the violent ones.

One man at Michell’s lists continuing COVID supports for small business as a priority, but a guy outside the Saanichton post office worries about mounting government spending. There has to be some deficit spending to reduce the effect of income inequality, he says, but debt must still be controlled.

Other topics: the timing of the election, the knee-jerk partisan adversity in Parliament, a lack of trust in Trudeau, too much trust in the Chinese government.

Vying to deal with these issues, big and small, are those six candidates. Singh, an educator and activist who has spent the past few weeks criss-crossing the riding in a ’72 Volkswagen van that doubles as a mobile campaign office, is better known now than she was when she placed fourth in this riding in the last election.

So is Busch, who finished second last time with 20 per cent of the vote, though he had to apologize early in this campaign for a series of social-media videos he made about the Black Lives Matter protests.

Galiano Island newcomer Moore-Arbour, a public affairs company founder, is one of three Indigenous women the Liberals are running on Vancouver Island.

Hilderman and Currie know they won’t win, but want to be heard. “Our political discourse has been radically constricted,” says the latter. At least on Saturna, people listened. (More on the candidates can be found here.)

jknox@timescolonist.com

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THE RIDING

The riding includes ­Sidney, Central Saanich, North ­Saanich and part of Saanich, as well as Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands.

• Size: 518 square kilometres

• Population: 107,339

• Registered voters: 92,690

• In the past: Elizabeth May has had a stranglehold on Saanich-Gulf Islands since 2011, when she became Canada’s first elected Green MP with 46.3 per cent of the vote. In 2019, that figure was 49 per cent. The second-place Conservative candidate had 20 per cent.

THE CANDIDATES

• Elizabeth May, Green Party

Incumbent for past 10 years

Website: elizabethmay.ca

Twitter: @ElizabethMay

Facebook @Elizabeth.MaySGI

Instagram: elizabethemay

• Sabina Singh, NDP

Academic and activist, also ran in 2019

Website: sabinasingh.ndp.ca

Twitter: @Sabina4SGI

Facebook @singhSGINDP

Instagram: sabina4SGI

• David Busch, Conservative

Saanich lawyer also ran in 2019.

Website: Davidbusch.ca

Twitter: @DavidBuschCPC

Facebook: @DavidBuschCPC

Instagram: davidbuschcpc

• Sherri Moore-Arbour, Liberals

Communications professional from Galiano Island

Website: sherrimoorearbour@liberal.ca

Facebook: @sherrimoore_a

Instagram: votesherrisgi

• David Hilderman, People’s Party

Website: Davidhilderman.ca

Dock Currie, Communist

Website: votecommunist.com

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