The debate over North Saanich’s Official Community Plan has cast a large shadow over this weekend’s municipal election.
Three mayoral candidates and 13 council candidates are fighting it out for seven spots around the council table, and even if they don’t specifically mention the OCP in campaign material, it’s in the subtext of their campaign promises, especially those who vow to do whatever they can to keep North Saanich rural.
A review of the district’s plan over the past few years has deeply divided the community, with groups like Save North Saanich, which opposed the review, calling the process flawed due to a lack of consultation and a perceived focus on adding development and density in a largely rural community.
Other members of the community, however, have expressed concern about lack of options for aging in place, and called for more affordable housing through gentle densification.
Both sides claim the views of the other reflect a minority in the district.
A draft OCP is in the works.
Current Mayor Geoff Orr is not seeking re-election in part because of the tone of the debate that surrounded the OCP review process.
Orr said the anger and personal attacks of the past year seem to have been tempered during the election campaign, although endless questions about the process and council decisions have been raised by moderators at candidate debates — enough to remind him he made the right decision in not running again.
He said candidates can’t just take shots at a council or mayor, which takes the edge off some of their comments.
“It’s still not a pleasant environment,” said Orr, who is concerned that no one is talking about things like how the district should improve its relationship with local First Nations. “That doesn’t even get brought up in any really meaningful way. That’s a huge problem in my opinion.”
Strategic initiatives are only a small portion of what councils deal with, he said — the vast majority of the time it’s about operating the business of the district. “Right now, you’d think the OCP was 90 per cent [of the work].”
Two-time councillor Murray Weisenberger has decided to step into the mayoral race in part to defend the work of the previous council, carry on with completing the OCP process and provide some experience from the chair.
“I don’t think being mayor is an entry-level position,” Weisenberger told the Times Colonist. “Experience and knowledge gained over time is important and I have that experience in North Saanich.”
On the flip side is Peter Jones, who has been endorsed by Save North Saanich and said he will do whatever he can to maintain North Saanich’s rural landscape, suggesting the existing infrastructure cannot handle densification, which would forever alter the community fabric.
The third mayoral candidate is Nancy Borden, who is campaigning on bridging the gap between the sides in the district.
Borden said she wants to be part of a council that will listen to the community and reason out differences respectfully, while dealing with the OCP and developing strong partnerships with bordering municipalities, the CRD and senior governments.
Vying for the six council seats are three incumbents: Brett Smyth, and two endorsed by Save North Saanich, Jack McClintock and Celia Stock.
The endorsement from the Save North Saanich group also went to newcomers Irene McConkey, Terri Rolph and Sanjiv Shrivastava.
The other council candidates are Phil DiBattista, Erin Giesbrecht, Tara Keeping, Morgan Mikkelsen, Jon Rennison, Maya Tse-Cotton and Majid Varasteh.
> For more election news and candidate information, go to timescolonist.com/civic-election