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Saanich mayor 'bounces back' with 48% approval after rocky start: poll

After a rough start, Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell, now midway through his rookie four-year term, is seen as doing a good job by almost half the people contacted in a Times Colonist poll.
Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell: "Need to improve"

After a rough start, Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell, now midway through his rookie four-year term, is seen as doing a good job by almost half the people contacted in a Times Colonist poll.

The poll found that 48 per cent of those surveyed approved of Atwell’s performance as mayor, 40 per cent disapproved and 12 per cent were undecided.

The poll was conducted by Oraclepoll Research.

His council is getting higher approval.

More than half of those surveyed, 53 per cent, approve of Saanich council, 40 per cent disapprove, and seven per cent were undecided.

Atwell said by email that he is not surprised by the approval percentage for himself and his council and that he sees room for improvement. “Neither are outstanding and an overall indicator that this council needs to improve. Everyone knows what the challenges are and I will work as hard as I can to improve and do my best for the citizens of Saanich.”

Veteran Saanich Coun. Vic Derman said it was difficult to know what to make of the findings.

“I find that most people, unfortunately, have a fairly limited ability to get information on what various parts of council are doing,” Derman said. “So I don’t know how well informed the individuals responding are. I hope they are well informed.”

Almost as soon as he was elected two years ago, Atwell made national headlines — but for all the wrong reasons.

The departure of Saanich’s chief administrator resulted in a $500,000 severance payout and Atwell being sanctioned by his council.

That was followed by a frenzy of allegations and denials including news of a 911 call the married Atwell made from the home of a female campaign worker (Atwell initially denied, then admitted to an affair); a request to the B.C. police complaint commissioner to look into how details of the call were leaked to media; suggestions he was being unfairly targeted for traffic stops by police; and confirmation that spyware had been installed on his municipal computer.

Derman called it the most tumultuous start to a council term he has ever seen.

Apparently, in the minds of the electorate, much is forgiven.

“Given the rocky start for Mayor Atwell, I guess you could say the numbers suggest he’s bounced back,” said Michael Prince, Lansdowne professor of social policy at the University of Victoria. “If you’d done a poll after 12 months or six months after the election, I’m sure the numbers would have been different.”

Atwell’s 48 per cent approval was close to the 47 per cent for Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, but Saanich council’s 53 per cent approval was considerably higher than Victoria council’s 44 per cent.

The survey revealed support among Saanich residents for the province taking a serious look at amalgamation: 71 per cent said the province should review the issue of amalgamation, versus 19 per cent saying it should not. Ten per cent were unsure.

The question on amalgamation posed by the Times Colonist was clearer than the one on Saanich’s ballot in the municipal election.

The Times Colonist survey asked: “In your opinion, should the provincial government review the issue of amalgamation in the Capital Regional District, including its advantages and disadvantages?”

In the 2014 election, 88.5 per cent of Saanich residents voted yes when asked: “Do you support council initiating a community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and our partnerships within the region?”

Atwell said he would be surprised if amalgamation were not “heavily debated” in next year’s provincial election. “Hopefully, the province will advance toward a fulsome study because as a rapidly growing region we simply cannot continue to talk endlessly about it without facts to debate.”

Seventy-one per cent of those surveyed said they support municipal tax dollars being spent on housing for the homeless, while 19 per cent opposed this and 10 per cent were unsure.

The telephone survey of 275 households was conducted using live operators between Nov. 1 and Nov. 7. The margin of error is plus or minus 5.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.


Thursday: A look at the Nanaimo mayor and council.