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Meet Saanich council newcomers: an 'old millennial,' a founder of a running charity and a sea cucumber crime fighter

When incoming mayor Dean Murdock returns to the council table after a few years away, he’ll be joined by new faces Mena Westhaver, founder of Sole Sisters, and Teale Phelps Bondaroff, known for his marine and little libraries work
Dave and Lisa Jozsa bring flowers for Dean Murdock at his home in Saanich on election night. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

At 41, incoming Saanich mayor Dean Murdock is on the cusp of being a millennial, old enough that he used a hard-copy encyclopedia as a kid but young enough that he soon had it on CD-ROM, too.

“I’m an old millennial, I guess,” said the district’s new mayor, who brings a mix of relative youth and three terms of councillor experience to the role, after ousting incumbent Fred Haynes, 70, by 152 votes in the Oct. 15 municipal election.

Incoming councillor Mena Westhaver, one of two newcomers, said she always intended to run for office when her kids were grown and she was older — then it hit her recently that she was 51. “All of a sudden, it was like, I am older,” said Westhaver, who, along with Teale Phelps Bondaroff, will fill seats vacated by Ned Taylor and Rebecca Mersereau (Rishi Sharma, who finished 11 votes behind Phelps Bondaroff, has requested a recount). “I didn’t want to wait another four years.”

As for Phelps Bondaroff, he may have a PhD in political science and international studies from the University of Cambridge, but he has some decidedly down-to-earth priorities, such as providing free menstrual products in all District of Saanich washrooms.

Known for his work with little neighbourhood libraries, Phelps Bondaroff is also research director for marine conservation group OceansAsia, where he has targeted plastic pollution and illegal fishing, including the lowly sea cucumber: “People don’t even know what a sea cucumber is, let alone that it’s being smuggled by organized crime syndicates.” He is also co-founder of AccessBC, which campaigns for free prescription contraception.

Meet your new Saanich council members.

All three say that once they’re sworn into office, they will focus on paving the way for more affordable housing, better sidewalks, streets and trails and an improved process for property owners to add garden suites and secondary suites. They say they want to make the sprawling municipality of about 117,000 — the most populated on Vancouver Island — more liveable and affordable for all ages and walks of life.

“I think that Saanich has developed a lot of really good plans,” said Murdock. “Now I think council has an opportunity, using the tools it has, like zoning, to actually implement those plans.”

Murdock, who has been employed by the Ministry of Health for 17 years, said his appreciation for the power of community stems back to when he was five and his father, a safety inspector for Molson Brewery in Vancouver, was crushed under a water-filled air duct that collapsed following a fire. It was thought his father might never walk again. Family, friends and strangers stepped up to help and his dad recovered.

“It was so instructive to me about the strength of community, what it means to support each other and hold each other up through good times and bad,” said Murdock.

He moved to Saanich from the Lower Mainland when he was in Grade 6. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social sciences from the University of Victoria.

Murdock marked his mayoral victory on election night at home surrounded by family, including wife Rachel Deloughery, whom he married last year, his mother and his mother-in-law. His former wife, Keeley, was also in the room and snapped a celebratory photo of Murdock and their kids Caelum and Avery and fellow supporters.

“It’s a big modern family, I guess, and we’re making it work,” he said.

Westhaver, the founder of Sole Sisters running group and KidsRun charity event that raises money for pediatric cancer treatment, has worked 35 years for the District of Saanich parks, recreation and community services. She’s spent the last 15 years of that job assisting low-income families.

Westhaver said she’s focused on creating public spaces where everyone can gather and feel they belong: “If people feel like they have a place here they will be more invested, they will volunteer, and that will help all of us.”

On election night, Westhaver and her husband, Norm, a firefighter, were watching three screens — one with election results and two showing the hockey games of three of their four sons — Marty, 23, Andy, 21, Jack, 19, and Jake, who is in Grade 11.

In 2009, Jack was diagnosed with leukemia, which Westhaver said was a horrific time but also a learning experience. “I am a listener, I listen to people — I don’t judge because we don’t know what people are going through and I hope that would better serve me in this position of serving people.”

Phelps Bondaroff, 36, is originally from Calgary and came to Saanich eight years ago with his partner of 15 years, Stephanie Ferguson, a provincial government employee. He said he is fuelled by the desire to apply his research and creativity to make communities more livable, inclusive, safe and green.

Phelps Bondaroff leads Greater Victoria Placemaking Network’s pocket places project, which maps and builds free little libraries. When he started the project in 2017, there were 111 little libraries. Now the avid cyclist has delivered about 75,000 books to the more than 650 libraries around the region. He helped build about 100 of them.

“They are a place to have conversation and connect,” said Phelps Bondaroff. “And that’s ultimately the foundation of community.”

Phelps Bondaroff also wants to make the region’s streets, sidewalks and trails safer. He recently saw a mural installed at Falaise Crescent in Saanich as a traffic-calming measure, which he will study. On council, he said, he will push hard for a new advisory committee solely focused on accessibility.

“It’s good to see the composition of this council — there’s a lot of folks who are looking to really step up and take action on affordable housing and I’m particularly excited about really strong support on council about really taking action on road safety,” said Phelps Bondaroff.

“Since I’ve moved to Victoria, I’ve been working hard to build community in the region. And it’s just great to have now the opportunity to do a lot more good through Saanich council.”

Incumbents Susan Brice, Judy Brownoff, Colin Plant, Nathalie Chambers, Karen Harper and Zac de Vries were re-elected.

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