Getting a handle on municipal finances, more proactively supporting the business community and reopening a decision to allow for absentee landlords were the hot topics at a Central Saanich all-candidates meeting last week at the Saanich fairgrounds.
With the municipality facing a deficit of $13 million, candidates spoke of increasing the tax base by proactively supporting business, such as focusing on reinvigorating the Keating industrial area and establishing financial priorities.
Transparency was another key tenet of candidates’ speeches and replies. Several called for a system requiring all votes, or at least votes that oppose motions, to be recorded in the minutes.
With individual councillor tallies not recorded in the minutes, said candidate and former two-term councillor Zeb King, “people feel they’re being shut out” from the process.
A submitted question asked whether candidates would support reconsidering this spring’s removal of the owner-occupancy clause in the secondary suite bylaw.
Cathie Ounsted said she would support such a review, over a concern about the condition of a property if the owner were not living on the premises.
Candidates Liam Cooper and James McNulty, however, each pointed out that the district already has safeguards in place — bylaw officers — to protect against problem properties under the current system.
Mayoral candidate Chris Graham clarified his understanding of concerns over absentee landlords: “It’s not about renters, it’s about land speculators.
Mayoral challenger Coun. Alastair Bryson, who brought forward the idea to remove the owner-occupancy rule, explained that he saw the requirement as discriminatory and “a safety blanket the community no longer needed.”
In response to another submitted question, most candidates roundly rejected the idea of spending money to study the feasibility of amalgamating with Saanich.
Ryan Windsor noted the concept has many layers and many options, with full amalgamation the extreme. Before taking any action toward combining services or administration, he said, “Residents need to say whether they want servicing to change.”
Bob Thompson said the sharing of services is a possibility, but likely not with Saanich.
“I look north, not south. The natural partnership is on the Peninsula,” he said.
Coun. Terry Siklenka quipped, “We’re the envy of the entire CRD. Maybe they might want to amalgamate with us.”
Central Saanich residents “value local planning and local self-destiny,” said Graham.
While most candidates acknowledged the importance of the Keating area to the district’s tax base, they were asked to answer a question about how they might help increase business opportunities and growth in Saanichton.
Carl Jensen suggested that an economic development plan be created that includes the three key business areas of Saanichton, Keating and Brentwood Bay. Coun. Susan Mason followed, saying that was a good reason for the district to hire an economic development officer.
“The land is prime for development there,” said Coun. John Garrison. “Business needs to come forward with ideas that work for the community.”
Coun. Adam Olson said densifying the area, creating more residential buildings with street-level commercial spaces, would help create a more thriving core in the neighbourhood.
“We need to engage not only business owners, but property owners who would make that investment,” he said.
The final all-candidates meeting was held Tuesday in the former Tsawout band office.