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Group launches campaign to oust Victoria city council

Tired of what they say is fiscal mismanagement and decisions that lack common sense, a citizens group has launched a campaign to oust Victoria city council in next year’s election. The group has set up a website called NewCouncil.
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Mayor Lisa Helps leads the first meeting of Victoria council after the election on Nov. 15, 2014. The next municipal elections will be held Oct. 20, 2018.

Tired of what they say is fiscal mismanagement and decisions that lack common sense, a citizens group has launched a campaign to oust Victoria city council in next year’s election.

The group has set up a website called NewCouncil.ca which features a survey that, among other things, asks people if they would consider running for mayor or council.

“As of last Friday we’re now a year away from the municipal elections [on Oct. 20, 2018], and a bunch of us thought, ‘Let’s start planning ahead. Let’s see if there’s the interest and see if there are the people who think they have the proper leadership skills to run the council with more balance and common sense,’ ” said Stephen Hammond, one of the founders of the Mad As Hell group, which first mobilized in response to the tent city on the grounds of the Victoria courthouse.

Hammond said a slate could form out of those who express interest in running, but that hasn’t been decided.

The citizens group is not directly affiliated with council watchdogs Mad As Hell or Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, but Hammond said he expects to hear from people involved in both of those grassroots movements.

A flashpoint for the group is the city’s vote in favour of expanding the Mount Edwards Court transitional housing facility from 38 units to 78 permanent units, despite safety concerns from some in the community.

The Vancouver Street facility, operated by the Victoria Cool Aid Society, is immediately adjacent to Christ Church Cathedral School, which has students from kindergarten to Grade 8.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she’s concerned about the lack of transparency on the website, which offers no information on the group behind the campaign. “The public doesn’t know who is behind this,” she said.

Helps said she’s interested to see the community’s response to a group that seems to have mobilized over a single issue.

“If [the Mount Edward Court] decision is what they’re hanging on, I’m curious to know whether Victorians feel that putting low-income seniors with health challenges next to kids is a problem,” Helps said.

Coun. Jeremy Loveday, who said he is going to run for a second term, said the top issue he hears on the doorstep is affordability and housing availability.

“So if a campaign is being launched on the notion of denying affordable housing, I don’t think that’s going to be a successful campaign.”

Coun. Chris Coleman said he knows council has made some difficult decisions over the last three years and welcomes alternative voices.

“But don’t just say you’re angry. Say what you would do that’s different,” said Coleman, who recused himself over the Mount Edwards Court decision because his wife works for the Anglican Diocese.

“I understand the anger but then you have to have some pragmatic alternatives.”

Coun. Margaret Lucas said she’s frustrated by “armchair quarterbacks” so she applauds the group for being engaged.

Former councillor Shellie Gudgeon, one of the 24 Victoria residents who have endorsed the campaign, said residents with legitimate concerns have been shut down by city council.

“My experience is, the best decisions are made when there are different positions and when balance is found and compromises are made,” she said.

Coun. Pam Madoff said it’s “irresponsible” for the group to suggest that council always votes the same way on certain issues.

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said she has always approached issues with an open mind to make an evidence-based decision.

“You know you’re going to make some people happy and others unhappy,” she said.

“I think people want us to be planning for how it affects them today and tomorrow. As councillors we are supposed to be planning for how it impacts people 30 years from now.”

Helps, Thornton-Joe, Madoff, Lucas and Coleman have not said whether they plan to run in next year’s election.

kderosa@timescolonist.com