Jack Knox: A year from now, who will replace Lisa Helps?

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is adamant. “I am definitely not running again.”

That leads to the obvious question: Who will try to take her place?

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B.C.’s next local elections won’t be held until a year from this week, but politicians are already making plans.

In fact, seven of the capital region’s 13 mayors say they have already decided to try for another four years in the job. The list includes Fred Haynes of Saanich, Kevin Murdoch of Oak Bay, Maja Tait of Sooke, Ryan Windsor of Central Saanich, Barb Desjardins of Esquimalt, Rob Martin of Colwood and David Screech of View Royal.

Highlands’ Ken Williams says he’s tilting in that direction, too, while Metchosin’s John Ranns is leaning the opposite way. Asked if he plans to run again, Ranns replied, “Hopefully not.”

Neither Sidney’s Cliff McNeil-Smith nor North Saanich’s Geoff Orr is yet ready to say. Nor is Langford’s Stew Young. The mayor since 1993, Young typically doesn’t make up his mind until three months before the election.

Of the 13, only Helps flat-out says she will not run again. She made that commitment before the last election in 2018, vowing her second four-year term would be her last.

Who will succeed her? Helps says she has discussed the job seriously with Marianne Alto, who has been on council since 2010. “She’s practical, she’s middle-of-the-road, she’s non-ideological,” Helps says.

But Alto herself says that while she wants to stay at the council table, she’s a long way away from deciding whether that means running for mayor or seeking re-election as a councillor. She wants to consult with a diversity of people — not just those who will blow sunshine at her — before making up her mind.

She isn’t the only councillor mulling the mayoralty. Like Alto, Stephen Andrew says he’s not sure whether he’ll seek the mayor’s chair or go for a second stint as a councillor. It doesn’t sound like he’ll take long to decide; he’s just waiting for some research to come in.

Both Alto and Andrew are in the same boat. Run for re-election as a councillor and all you have to do to keep a seat at the table is end up among the top eight vote-getters, but go for mayor and you either finish first or finish on the street.

As it is, both of them expect some incumbent councillors won’t run again. Some have simply had enough of acrimony and division. “This has been the most challenging term of any that I have experienced,” Alto acknowledges.

She says that after a decade of pushing change, maybe it’s time for council to take its foot off the gas. “I don’t think it would be a bad time to take a breath.”

A longtime New Democrat, Alto talks about the need for balance in political decision-making. “What we need not at all is division.”

Andrew says people tell him they’re fed up with ideologues and being “gaslit” by council members who won’t listen to what they have to say.

Of course, Andrew is the one who emerged victorious in a December 2020 byelection that effectively pitted him against the candidate of the left-leaning Together Victoria, which had seen all three of its council candidates — Sharmarke Dubow, Sarah Potts and Laurel Collins — win in 2018. (Some assume councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday were part of that slate, too. They weren’t.)

There’s speculation about whether Together Victoria will field another slate next October. Asked about how it plans to approach the 2022 election, the group replied only that it continues “to have conversations with our membership and the community.”

Added to the equation is the mysterious Concerned Victoria Citizens, which has been taking out Times Colonist ads calling for a “new city council that will govern in the interests of all citizens.”

An email to the group elicited a reply saying: “We have been organizing since May an effort to return Victoria to competent measured city leadership. We feel that the present city council largely means well but unintended consequences from their political actions have caused many harmful outcomes.” There was no clue as to who is in the group or whether it intends to run candidates.

Helps, for one, isn’t a big fan of slates. “Generally, slates don’t really work in Victoria.”

What would she remind those considering the mayor’s job?

“You’re not just the political leader. You’re also the CEO of the corporation.”

Candidates need to ask themselves how much time they’re willing to devote to the role, because it takes all your waking hours, she says.

Also, a mayor must expect to become a lightning rod for criticism of all council decisions — even the ones with which the mayor disagrees — and to resist the temptation to meet fire with fire. “Part of the job is to take heat without flying into a big reaction.”

What will be in Helps’s post-mayoral future? Perhaps a few months off, followed by something to do with city-building, inclusive prosperity, climate change.

“Definitely no more politics,” she says. “I can promise everybody that.”

jknox@timescolonist.com

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