Saanich mayoral candidate Dean Murdock accused incumbent Fred Haynes of foot-dragging on garden suites, affordable housing and a citizens assembly on amalgamation in a fiery debate on Thursday.
Murdock was a three-term councillor over a decade until 2018, while Haynes was elected mayor in 2018.
The debate was hosted by CFAX radio and moderated by Ryan Price.
On the ropes for much of the debate, Haynes defended his record as mayor and his leadership during the pandemic. Murdock painted the current mayor’s leadership as one that puts excessive planning and studies ahead of action.
Murdock also raised the issue of council’s costly firing — including a $600,000 payout — of former chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson in November 2021 so council could “go in a new direction,” saying he has seen no evidence of what that direction is.
Murdock said he experienced as a councillor how “traumatic” the firing of a previous CAO was to the organization, arguing that taxpayers expect council and staff to co-operate and that “adults can work together to get the job done.”
He pointed to an eight-year process on garden suites, a housing strategy that has yet to produce housing, a nine-year development of the Shelbourne Valley Action Plan, as well as the yet-to-be-established citizens assembly on amalgamation or service integration between Victoria and Saanich, first proposed in 2018.
“It shouldn’t take eight years to move forward on housing affordability in Saanich,” said Murdock.
On affordable housing, Haynes noted the mayor’s standing committee on housing supply and affordability led to a task force and creation of a housing strategy, and $36 million was invested to build up the municipality’s IT and reform its previously paper-based planning system to, for example, receive digital files such as applications for garden suites.
In response, Murdock said “it’s time for us to move beyond planning and into action,” adding there should be a region-wide digital network sharing resources.
Murdock said in 2021, Saanich delivered fewer than half of its targeted number of new homes in the community, suggesting the municipality should use its zoning tools to create more affordable family-suitable homes, such as townhouses, duplexes and triplexes.
Haynes said updating of plans to meet provincial mandates to avoid public hearings and speed up developments are underway.
He said he agrees “we need to take action” but added that the pandemic had an impact on development and supply chains, which the municipality couldn’t control.
In the meantime, he said, council has worked on internal systems to deliver affordable homes by improving application processes, building up the IT system, and hiring a new director of planning.
“Delivering housing is a multi-faceted task,” said Haynes, adding townhouses and duplexes are included in Saanich’s housing strategy.
Murdock said while he was delighted to see the 73-point Saanich Housing Strategy approved 18 months ago, the mayor and council have “implemented exactly zero of those 73 actions over the last 18 months.”
And while Haynes said he brought forward the garden suites proposal in 2016 and council recently asked staff to look into how to allow secondary suites and garden suites on the same property, Murdock said he had suggested garden suites two years earlier, in 2014.
“These processes are far too slow,” said Murdock. “We have excellent plans. They were developed in consultation with the community. It’s not enough to just hold up plans as if that’s mission accomplished. We need to move forward with actioning those plans.”
Haynes said he has led a “diverse council with nine independent minds” over the past four years to produce winning results.
He said his background as an educator, PhD in medical research, entrepreneur and long-time community member, and his “proven leadership” through the challenges of the pandemic, make him worthy of a second term in office.
But Murdock said he has met thousands of Saanich residents concerned that what they love about the community is slipping away. Murdock said the challenges facing the municipality are serious and urgent issues — affordability, climate and road safety — that require co-operation between all parties and delivering on promises..
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