It’s standing room only at the Oak Bay all candidates meeting on the Friday evening before the long weekend.
That’s typical for Oak Bay, says moderator and political scientist Michael Prince. Voter turnout in the 2018 municipal election was 53.5 per cent, a reflection of the community’s commitment and interest in citizen participation.
Kevin Murdoch, who served two terms on council before running for mayor in 2018, has been acclaimed. His priorities are to continue the work on financial planning — the district won the Canadian Award for Financial Reporting — housing reforms and developing plans to revitalize Oak Bay and Estevan villages. He also wants an outdoor pool for the region.
The next council will have the chance to make plans and set priorities for the areas around Willows Beach and Cattle Point, areas of extreme importance to the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, said Murdoch.
Council will also be responsible for negotiating a long-term plan for Turkey Head, the Beach Drive property operated by the Oak Bay Marine Group.
Incumbents Andrew Appleton, Hazel Braithwaite, Cairine Green, Esther Paterson and Eric Wood Zhelka are running alongside lawyer Roxanne Helme, architect Carrie Smart, city planner Lesley Watson and Raymon Farmere, a network administrator and teacher, for six council seats.
All nine candidates agree there is a need for more affordable housing.
Oak Bay needs policies to shift the conversation away from how projects will ruin the character of the community to how every housing project could be a solution, Smart said.
The most sought-after homes are on the tiniest lots on Harling Point, she noted.
“We don’t have to be afraid that having some of these innovative solutions in our community will change the nature of who we are as caring connected people. There are so many amazing things we could do to try some of these out with small pilot projects,” Smart said. “We need housing diversity we need condos, townhouses, duplexes.”
Watson, who has a graduate degree in urban planning, said Oak Bay needs to set up the framework to permit infill housing.
“Our residents wants this. We can do neighbourhood reviews and create the rules in one term of council… I know what it takes to move projects forward,” she said.
Helme warned the audience Oak Bay has to do better or the province will step in.
“Housing supply has not kept up with our needs, current and future,” she said. “Oak Bay has the highest property taxes per capita, probably the lightest workload as far as applications and one of the worst records in addressing approvals. … We can’t have a reputation for saying no all the time.”
Last year, Langford had 1,741 home starts, while Oak Bay had 27 — the lowest in the core.
Green, who has served two terms in Oak Bay, drew applause for decrying the “heartbreaking” demolitions of older homes.
“The greenest house is the house left standing and we have demolished so many older homes … but they are going down in too many numbers,” she said.
All candidates are advocating for meaningful conversation with the community and the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations on the long-term future of the Oak Bay Marina site. But there are differences of opinion on how reconciliation should take place. Some, like Braithwaite and Appleton, believe the First Nations should take the lead. Others advocate working with the First Nations as partners, building and nurturing a relationship.
The next council will also have to deal with climate change, sustainability, aging sewers and roads.
Appleton, who works for the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, cites sustainability as one of the top issues facing the community. The district needs to invest in infrastructure upgrades to make the community resilient in the face of climate change, he said. This means improving building standards and retrofit incentives.
Braithwaite, who has been on council for 14 years, wants to see the village areas thrive with more pedestrian and cycling friendly areas. She is advocating to improve playgrounds, parks and public beaches.
Paterson, who was elected in 2018, also cites climate change as a main issue. Provincial emission reduction targets mean changes to how we live, move and shelter, and being resilient to heavier rainfall and hotter summers, she said. Municipal infrastructure and buildings need to be retrofitted, replaced or adapted to deal with changing conditions.
Wood, who has served two terms, is concerned about the environment and tax dollars, saying Oak Bay is a small community with nearly no business taxes.
Newcomer Farmere, who lives close to the Oak Bay border, is running for council because he thinks Oak Bay is an amazing community. He is advocating for more wheelchair accessible sidewalks, green initiatives and fixing the cracks in the roads.
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