Incumbents and newcomers running for Central Saanich council participated in an all-candidates forum Saturday night at the Brentwood Bay Community Hall. (Hugo Wong/News staff)

Housing, road safety key issues at Central Saanich all-candidates forum

Candidates debate the right urban, rural balance with development policies

Affordable housing and maintaining the rural, urban balance were central issues at an all-candidates forum in Central Saanich Saturday.

Some 200 attendees listened as the five incumbents faced three newcomers: Kathryn Parfitt, Tayler Ruygrok and Joshua Steeper at the event, organized by the Saanich Inlet Protection Society.

Five-term councillor Chris Graham said he would apply his accounting skills to the job followed by Coun. Carl Jensen who touted his leadership role in bringing a new cenotaph to Pioneer Park in time for Remembrance Day. Jensen also reminded voters of his involvement with the Greater Victoria Housing Society, securing two affordable housing projects for Central Saanich.

RELATED: Affordable housing and rental building approved for Prosser Road

Coun. Bob Thompson spoke of his support for the residential infill project and farm worker accommodation, while Coun. Zeb King emphasized his record of listening to resident concerns, citing better bus service into Tsawout and greater availability of car-sharing and electric vehicle charging stations as proof.

Coun. Niall Paltiel said he would prioritize traffic safety for all road users, affordability, and a clean environment.

Of the newcomers, Kathryn Parfitt said she took a citizen-driven approach to policy making, and did not want to govern on “rigid opinions and political ideology.”

RELATED: New cenotaph for Pioneer Park

Like Paltiel, fellow newcomer Tayler Ruygrok also campaigned on road safety and attainable homes in the area.

Gord Newton, a local business owner and umpire at Extreme Fastball, said in a statement that he has been attending council meetings for the past year to learn how council works, how to create motions and how meetings are conducted.

Most candidates supported tiny homes on wheels (separate from carriage homes on foundations) with some conditions. Ruygrok said it depended on location, Paltiel said parking and aesthetics would be a concern, and Graham said conceptually he is supportive but “the devil’s in the details.”

Steeper said he was skeptical of tiny homes and “not optimistic that it’s a healthy form of housing to add to our mix.”

RELATED: Tiny home group lobbies Central Saanich council

Candidates expressed little interest in expanding Central Saanich’s Urban Containment Boundary (UCB), which limits development to certain areas of Central Saanich.

When the issue was last at the council table, expansion was defeated 4-3, and even councillors who voted for the expansion said they would respect that decision, including Jensen.

King, who has made preserving the UCB a key platform point, challenged other councillors to say the same. Ruygrok said she is opposed to changing the boundaries, saying she heard residents’ opposition to urban sprawl. “It would have to be something very, very special to consider moving it,” she said.

RELATED: Boaters challenge District for Brentwood Bay

Most did not support amalgamating all 13 CRD municipalities into one, but some candidates seemed open to an amalgamated Saanich Peninsula, including Ruygrok and Steeper.

King and Thompson were “no to amalgamation, yes to service integration where it makes sense,” meaning municipalities co-operate on services (recreation, libraries, sewage treatment, etc.) instead of amalgamating (sharing local elected officials).

Paltiel said all three Saanich Peninsula municipalities will review their Official Community Plans around the same time, and called for co-operation during the review. Parfitt said it was beneficial for Central Saanich to handle certain services on their own because “you do get what you pay for,” including the Central Saanich Police Service.

Newcomers were asked for their view on the Brentwood Bay Management Plan, which would see the District of Central Saanich manage the bay. The plan promises to address pollution in the waters, but it is contentious among boaters for the additional fees and insurance requirements. Parfitt and Ruygrok supported the current council’s decision to seek an occupation licence from the province.

“This was the first year we’ve had pollution where you couldn’t go in and swim,” said Ruygrok. “It needs to be cleaned up and we need to have some sort of regulation on these boats.”

RELATED: Multi-vehicle crash on Pat Bay highway

On urban transportation, most candidates felt a mass sidewalk-building campaign was too expensive, but some alternatives were floated. Paltiel said as the 1970s-era sewer system is upgraded and the road is dug up, it could be a cost-effective opportunity to examine bike lanes and sidewalks in certain areas.

King said gravel paths were a more cost-effective way to get more kilometres of safe pedestrian walkways. Steeper said he wanted “lots of parking” and did not support variances to decrease parking because of the rural nature of the community.

All candidates campaigned on creating an overpass to access Keating Cross Road, currently an uncontrolled turn-off and the site of frequent car crashes.

Candidates were also asked how to make the community more child and family friendly.

Parfitt said many policies targeted the precariously housed, and wanted to include middle-class residents in the conversation, as well as encourage more community events to pry people from social media and electronics.

RELATED: Sober diabetic hits drunk driver

Paltiel wanted to encourage a new recreation facility in Central Saanich with a weight room, multipurpose room, and daycare. Ruygrok said affordable child care spaces were lacking in Central Saanich, and wanted to increase its availability. Steeper emphasized home ownership over renting to “set roots and be there for 50 years.”

On the issue of the doctor shortage, Graham said he would be open to reviewing zoning to encourage clinic inclusion in the Keating area.

Jensen said he was willing to do “whatever it takes,” including looking at the local charter to see what is legal. He said a future municipal hall site could be built using a public-private partnership, and could perhaps have a clinic, commercial, and residential space as well. He also floated the idea of subsidizing housing to help a doctor pay their student debt.

King, a senior policy analyst in the Ministry of Health, said the province is working on creating team-based care with multiple health professionals under one roof (doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, etc.) but since the doctor shortage was affecting people now, he would support more lobbying to make Central Saanich attractive for family doctors and for any future plans for team-based care.

RELATED: Team-based care: who do you see when you get sick?

Paltiel said if he was posed the same question during his first run for council, he probably would have said it was a provincial issue.

However, he’s learned over his term that facilitating partnerships and dialogues with other levels of government, First Nations, and the CRD was meaningful.

Another Central Saanich all-candidates forum is scheduled for Tues. Oct 16 from 7-9 p.m. at Stelly’s Secondary School.

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