For undecided voters in the upcoming Central Saanich municipal by-election, an all-candidates forum Saturday night at the Brentwood Bay Community Hall might not have given them much to work with.
Apart from their distinct backgrounds and political experience, the eight candidates running for two council seats sounded, for the most part, very similar on issues facing the district.
The evening’s format, as outlined by the host Residents and Ratepayers of Central Saanich Society, included a series of written questions posed to each candidate. After two opening questions on the number of meetings attended and each person’s top three issues, they were asked their stance on amalgamation of Central Saanich’s police services with other agencies.
Only Susan Mason (no), Chris Graham (yes) and Bernie Struck (yes) offered definitive answers. All of the candidates spoke on being prudent and doing more research on costs, level of service and the short-and-long-term impacts of such a decision.
Asked about going to a binding referendum on the ongoing debate over spending tax dollars on a new municipal hall, the candidates offered more clear opinions. Ryan Windsor said he favoured a referendum, but only if the question was comprehensive. Graham added he would want to look into the costs associated with making the existing building last longer, but is otherwise in favour of a referendum.
All but one of the candidates agreed a binding referendum on the issue is a good idea. James McNulty didn’t say yes or no, but insisted it’s the district’s job to educate its residents prior to any referendum on all sides of the debate.
The candidates were then asked if they supported a deer cull to address issues of increasing deer numbers on the Peninsula, as well as the damage they can do to farmers’ crops.
Only Alicia Cormier shied away from the idea of a cull, wanting other options to be considered, including better subsidies for fencing.
“I won’t say no to a cull,” she explained, “but I encourage other options to avoid it if possible.”
“It’s a difficult issue to get behind,” added Graham. “The deer populations are up and they have no predators other than the car. A cull would need to be safe and humane and used as a food source.”
John Hannam, a farmer, noted crops aren’t being planted because of deer pressures, adding fences are too expensive for large operations.
Asked about a tax increase facing district residents, the candidates agreed what’s on the table right now (a proposed 5.36 per cent increase to the base rate, which is yet to be finalized) is too high.
“I figure no one supports that,” said Bob Thompson, “even the current council. We need to review expenses and revenues. Personally, I don’t like it but I won’t criticize council without knowing the process.”
Mason added council is facing real challenges, including increased costs. She said any change will have to happen after an evaluation of overall service levels.
On the topic of Woodwyn Farm and its bylaw compliance battle with the district, most candidates stated that bylaws need to be enforced equally.
“I support the vision of Woodwyn Farm,” said Struck, “but it needs the right zoning. However, the district does have to apply its bylaws.”
“Why have bylaws if you’re not going to uphold them,” asked Graham.
Electors can vote in an advance poll today (Wednesday, April 10) until 8 p.m. a the municipal hall.
General election day is Saturday, April 13 at the municipal hall or at the Central Saanich Cultural Centre, both between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.