A road-safety action plan, including appropriate speed limits for all Saanich streets, will be a priority for the new Saanich council, with bylaw amendments in support of the new approach expected by early next year, says Mayor Dean Murdock, who was sworn in Monday night along with the rest of council.
A 2018 blueprint for building a network of cycling infrastructure and connected, walkable and accessible neighbourhoods is being updated, he said in his inaugural speech.
With five MLAs from the region sitting at the provincial cabinet table, it’s also an “extraordinary” opportunity to work with the province to improve transit and attract more riders with better and more rapid service, he said.
In his approximately 20-minute speech, Murdock also said appointing a Citizens Assembly to explore the pros and cons of amalgamating with Victoria prior to a referendum on the idea will be a priority.
Other key areas for council include reconciliation with First Nations, creating homes, climate change, creating a stronger local economy, ensuring transparent and accountable decision making, and creating regional partnerships, he said.
“The challenges we are facing this term are significant,” said Murdock. “They also bring with them abundant opportunities to build a stronger, more resilient future for everyone in Saanich.”
On the housing front, Murdock said the approved Housing Strategy setting out initiatives to address affordability, diversity and supply will be put into action, with a focus on using public land and partnerships to create doctors’ offices and childcare spaces.
Council will undertake a process to revise neighbourhood zones to make it easier to create more attainable family-suitable homes such as duplexes, triplexes and townhouses, he said. Making it easier to build rental homes in places where people want to live will also be a priority.
On reconciliation, Murdock said he and council want to build stronger relationships with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations and W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council “at the pace of trust.”
“As a settler on the unceded lands of the Coast Salish peoples, I acknowledge that colonialism, racism and oppression continue to this day,” said Murdock.
As part of his climate change plan, Murdock promised during his campaign to plant 100,000 trees by 2032 on public lands, boulevards and private properties.
As for building a stronger economy, Murdock said council will update neighbourhood zones to make it easier for local businesses to set up shop.
And to make sure residents know what councillors are up to, Murdock said Saanich will publish a Council Voting Dashboard that tracks council decisions, will create a lobbyist registry to show who representatives are meeting with, and will implement an ethics commissioner to advise mayor and council on good governance.
The inaugural council meeting opened with a procession led by bagpipes, the Esquimalt Nation’s Joseph Singers and Dancers and a guest poet followed by the swearing in of the mayor and council, and the mayor’s address.
Murdock thanked municipal staff for their “creativity and remarkable resilience” in providing services since the start of the pandemic and paused to remember the events of June 28 — when two heavily armed men entered the Bank of Montreal on Shelbourne Street and were killed.
Murdock thanked police officers for their “courageous service.” Six officers from the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team — three from Saanich and three from Victoria — were injured in an exchange of gunfire. All have since been released from hospital.
“Your community is grateful for your courageous service,” he said.
“To all the members of our police department, we stand with you and support you as you manage the ongoing impacts of these events and the toll that they’ve taken.”
On Oct. 15, Murdock defeated incumbent mayor Fred Haynes, while newcomers Mena Westhaver and Teale Phelps Bondaroff were elected to fill the two spots vacated by Rebecca Mersereau and Ned Taylor.