A sea change on Saanich council delivered a new mayor and four new councillors — two of whom have yet to move out of their childhood homes.
Ned Taylor, 19, who graduated from Reynolds Secondary School last year, and Zac de Vries, 23, an elite rower and cyclist who graduated with distinction from the University of Victoria with a double major in political science and geography, say they will bring more than youth to the council table. The two were third and fifth in number of votes received, respectively.
The two councillors represent the experience of a generation that is being hit by the affordable-housing shortage and lack of transportation infrastructure.
“This is going to be an amazing council we have elected here,” said Taylor. “We have people who can bring all sorts of different perspectives to the table.”
Taylor, who ran in the 2017 Saanich byelection and became interested in politics after initiating a 33,000-name petition to ban cages used for egg-laying hens, said he heard on the doorstep and at all-candidates meetings throughout the campaign that voters want more of a youth perspective on council.
“When you look at the biggest issues in Saanich, when you look at housing affordability and transportation difficulties, these kinds of issues are impacting young people the hardest,” said Taylor. “These are the issues I said I would focus on.”
The teenager, who works part time at the Glenshiel Housing Society for Seniors and promises to answer every email and phone call he receives as a councillor, relies on mass transit and can’t yet afford a place to live in Saanich or Victoria.
“There are thousands of students here in Victoria and Saanich who are priced out of a place to live,” said Taylor. “And even if they can find a place to live, it’s usually an illegal rental situation with poor living conditions. This is a serious situation we need to address.”
Among the councillors, four are new and four are incumbents. Three incumbent councillors opted to not seek re-election, and Coun. Fred Haynes successfully ran for mayor, unseating incumbent Richard Atwell.
De Vries said the changes on Saanich council seems to reflect voters’ desire for more progressive and courageous leadership around rapid transit, density where it makes sense and economic development.
“Saanich residents have endorsed progressive values and given us a mandate to build a better Saanich,” said de Vries, who rents a room in his parents’ home.
“I think residents can look to me for a strong voice on affordable housing, better transportation and triple-bottom-line sustainability, and someone who will protect our parks and farms and with a big focus on economic development in the core and in our village centres,” he said. “We need to attract more jobs here so people can live near where they work.”
Haynes, a 66-year-old publisher of business directories, handily outpolled 48-year-old software engineer and one-term mayor Atwell 15,312 to 10,786 to take the mayoralty on Saturday night.
Haynes said he’s thrilled about the diversity on council and what that mix of experience will provide.
Besides Taylor and de Vries, two other newcomers will be on Saanich council: water-resource management consultant Rebecca Mersereau, 35, who received 18,416 votes, the most of any candidate in the capital region, and farmer and restoration ecologist Nathalie Chambers, 48.
Incumbents Colin Plant, Susan Brice and Judy Brownoff were re-elected, along with one United for Saanich slate member Karen Harper, who first won her seat in a 2017 byelection. Atwell was part of that slate.
“It’s the council the people of Saanich elected — diverse and representative of the people of Saanich,” Haynes said.
Haynes concedes that while the council has a healthy age and gender diversity — five of the eight councillor seats will be occupied by women — it does not fully reflect the cultural diversity of the region.
De Vries, who will take on a new job with the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture in November to work as a food-processing analyst, said he has worked behind the scenes as an organizer on federal and provincial NDP campaigns and the 2014 municipal election. He said he was cautiously optimistic he would “squeak” onto council, but he didn’t expect to have the fifth-highest vote count among councillors.
“I think I bring quite a unique blend of experience organizing youth and getting youth involved in politics,” said de Vries, who hopes to establish a youth council in Saanich.