Economic issues loom over the Saanich Peninsula

Peninsula mayors deliver political forecast for 2015.

Sidney Mayor Steve Price says his town is focusing on economic development.

Economic development on the Saanich Peninsula is taking the lead within the strategic plans of the majority of local governments this year.

Both the Town of Sidney and District of Central Saanich have introduced, or are about to, economic development committees. Only the District of North Saanich seeks to retain the status quo.

Sidney Mayor Steve Price, speaking at the Feb. 19 Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Mayor’s Breakfast, says the Town’s committee is tasked with producing a report by the spring. They will be looking into the issues facing downtown Sidney, the West Sidney industrial area and more.

“I made a promise in the election to the West Sidney Industrial Group,” Price explained, “to develop a local area plan. It’s in our budget for this year, as well as our strategic plan.”

The committee work, he said, will determine the needs in that area.

Price said the creation of a local area plan, or LAP, is a potential opportunity to expand or improve the industrial area over time.

Economic development is also on the forefront in Central Saanich.

Mayor Ryan Windsor announced the district is in the process of developing an economic advisory committee, with a one-year mandate to bring back to council.

“I was nervous, truth be told,” said Windsor about putting the call out for committee members. “But we had more applications than we expected.”

The District recognizes the value of economy in Central Saanich, with farming and the burgeoning village centres leading the way, and the advisory committee hopes to shed some more light on economic development, he said.

“We want to create a coherent picture of the economy.”

In a similar vein, Central Saanich will be looking a little closer at the viability of actually building an overpass at Keating Cross Road, said Windsor.

“We finally made the decision to look at the Keating overpass from a proper business analysis. That will help us move forward.”

Windsor also commended the success of the recent Tour of Industry, sponsored by the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, noting that four of the stops were in the Keating area.

In Sidney, Price added the new council is focusing on downtown revitalization recommendations to come out of last year’s Mayor’s Task Force activity.

“We’re going to move things along as quickly as we possibly can,” he said, adding council would even consider holding extra meetings on new development permits and projects.

Price said other plans in the works — from added wayfinding signs to waterfront redevelopment — is an attempt at solving Sidney’s demographic imbalance.

“Council is talking about it,” he said. “We want to explore opportunities to attract families, a younger demographic.”

Price did touch on the Town’s proposed community safety building. He said the current fire hall needs to be replaced and hopes to be building a new one by early 2016.

North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall started her portion of the Mayor’s Breakfast on the “cheery stuff.” She said North Saanich has a new council and they’re looking forward to celebrating the District’s 50th anniversary this summer.

North Saanich’s top issues include the Sandown commercial development and the potential replacement of a portion of the municipal hall. Regional transportation plays large on Finall’s mind.

“We are the gateway. We have the airport and Swartz Bay ferry terminal. A new CRD committee … demonstrates there’s a need for cohesive and co-operative efforts.”

Finall was unable to stay for the question and answer period of the breakfast event. The Q&A was brief, with issues of affordable housing and the doctor shortage raised.

The recent affordable workforce housing initiative, spearheaded by Elizabeth May, leader of the federal Green Party and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, was also a talking point for Windsor.

“We’re supportive in principle,” he said. “We need to take a new approach and think differently.”

Ensuring the people who work on the Peninsula actually live on the Peninsula will encourage and strengthen the community, and it’s important to remember to include all parts of the community, Windsor added, specifically the Tsawout and Tsartlip First Nations.

“The connection with First Nations is a big factor for me,” he said, adding Central Saanich needs to continue building its relationships to foster a stronger connection between the District and First Nations.

“I don’t want to see sidewalks end anymore,” he said.

The vital questions, Windsor continued, are “What can we do for the First Nations, what can they do for us, and how can we come together as a community?”

— by Steven Heywood and Angela Cowan/News staff