As the deadline closed Friday afternoon, competition for seats on several capital region municipal councils looked to be fierce.
University of Victoria political scientist Michael Prince pointed to the sheer number of candidates who have put their names forward as candidates — 37 in Victoria vying for eight council positions, 24 in Saanich vying for eight spots, 23 in Sooke fighting for six positions, and 14 in Langford hoping to snag one of six seats around the council table.
“It’s a testament to people saying: ‘We want vibrant, vital, vigorous councils who are engaged with community and local neighbourhoods,’ ” he said. “Historically in a lot of local elections we get acclamations, we get low turnouts, but that does not seem to be the story of 2022. There’s plenty of opportunity there for some sparks and some good debate.”
Nowhere is that more likely than in Victoria, where the sitting mayor has opted not to run again, two councillors, Marianne Alto and Stephen Andrew, are hoping to take over that position and only one incumbent councillor, Ben Isitt, is running for re-election as a councillor.
“Clearly there was a lot of community contention, controversy and tough media scrutiny, so this is now what I call the turnover election — there’s going to be a huge number of new faces.”
John Treleaven, chair of the Grumpy Taxpayers of Greater Victoria, said that turnover offers a rare opportunity to chart a new course, and pointed to a recent study by consulting firm MNP as a guide to how the city can be more effectively governed.
“How often does it happen in an election where you have an independent report, which kind of analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the way things were going, and points the way to the future?”
Treleaven said he’d like to see council stick to running the city rather than getting into issues where it can have little impact.
Of the 37 candidates vying for a Victoria council seat, there are two familiar faces: former long-time councillor Chris Coleman and former NDP MLA Steve Orcherton.
There are six candidates, aside from Alto and Andrew, running for Victoria mayor, which could make all-candidates meetings a logistical nightmare.
“How do you run a meeting if all [the candidates] show up and they all want air time?” Prince said. “It will be interesting to see how candidates capture people’s attention.”
In Langford, a heated battle is anticipated between two large slates of candidates — Community First Langford, which includes sitting Mayor Stew Young and six council candidates, and Langford Now, which has a slate of five council candidates that have targeted Young’s group.
Prince said he expects a bigger voter turnout in Langford this year, though he’s not sure Young’s hold on the mayor’s seat is in jeopardy.
“I sometimes call him King Stew because he’s been there for life almost,” he said. “Though at some point people may say ‘enough’s enough,’ but whether that’s going to be this election or not we’ll see.” Young, who was born and raised in Langford, has been elected or acclaimed as mayor for the past seven municipal elections.
A big turnout is also expected in Saanich, where former councillor Dean Murdock is taking on incumbent Mayor Fred Haynes.
“That’s a serious race in Saanich and those tend to bring up the numbers, the interest, media attention and public engagement,” Prince said.
That could also be the case in Metchosin for the first time in decades, as two sitting councillors will fight to take over from Mayor John Ranns, who is stepping away from politics, having sat as mayor for eight terms. Ranns was first elected to council in 1987.
Councillors Kyara Kahakauwila and Marie-Terese Little are vying to step into Ranns’ shoes.
Meanwhile, Kevin Murdoch in Oak Bay, Ryan Windsor in Central Saanich and Cliff McNeil-Smith in Sidney are all running unopposed and will be acclaimed.
“That does take some of the focus and excitement out of it,” said Prince.
Windsor, who was also acclaimed in 2018, said it’s difficult to know what to make of it.
“There seems to be a lot of positive sentiment in the community, but I don’t want to take it for granted because I know there’s other sentiments out there and I’m still mindful of that.
“But I guess even if they’re disagreeing with the decisions we’re taking, they’re appreciative of the approach that we’re taking.”
Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith, seeking a third term as mayor, said it feels odd not having to run a campaign this time around.
He said if there is general satisfaction with his performance, it’s down to a council that has listened to the community though major projects like drafting a new official community plan, updating its climate action plan and continuing to build relationships with First Nations on the Saanich Peninsula.
Municipal elections are set for Oct. 15.
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