Alice Finall is hoping this municipal election will provide a return to a co-operative, well-led council in the District of North Saanich — like the council she led two terms ago.
Finall is running for a third term as mayor of the community and unlike three years ago when she retained the mayor’s chair by acclamation, she is facing a trio of challengers this time around. She said the encouragement of residents spurred on her decision to seek a third mayoral term — and she admits she wants to get the taste of the last term of office out of her mouth.
Finall was decidedly in the minority on council since 2011, opposing what she calls “unplanned and dramatic urban level increases in residential housing.”
Her stance on this issue, as well as battles between two distinct camps on council, made for sometimes long and combative sessions. The current term saw Finall replaced as the community’s director for the Capital Regional District by her political opponents, a council that had to undergo mediation to improve their working relationship and a general lack of decorum that caused residents to react negatively.
“I kept struggling to reach people with good communication and consultation on major initiatives,” she said.
Her first term as mayor saw large public meetings on issues such as the proposed Sandown lands development and fire hall upgrade, as well as a return to holding neighbourhood meetings. Finall said that she tried to honour that during this current term.
“You can’t legislate good behaviour,” Finall noted. “I tried to always maintain a high level of respect and decorum, but the mayor only has one vote. I tried to reinforce the rules but was overruled by council several times.”
Finall said she hopes this election brings a change for the better.
Most of council’s animosity grew out of housing issues in the district. Finall said council this term made significant changes to the 2007 official community plan. In 2011, Finall discouraged council from undertaking a full review of the OCP — now she said she wants to see the document put to the community for just that.
The change of position, she said, came after seeing just how far council went in changing local housing policy.
“I had no idea the extent that the majority of council wanted to go,” she explained. “People felt blindsided. I don’t think people had any idea this was the direction they wanted to take.”
Community planing and policy direction is now this fall election’s main issue in North Saanich, she said.
“We need to have an OCP review. We can’t revise everything that’s been done, such as existing permit approvals. Those that have been approved will go ahead. Until others reach that stage, they could be stopped, depending on council.”
Finall is basing much of her 2014 campaign on holding an OCP review with a specific look at housing policy — from density to affordable options.
District residents will also face a decision at the polls on the question of amalgamation. North Saanich decided to put a referendum on the ballot, asking “Are you in favour of a study, provincially funded, to investigate the feasibility, costs and implications of amalgamating the three municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula of Sidney, Central Saanich and North Saanich?”
Finall said council is concerned, pretty much as a whole, that amalgamation could bring about tax increases in the community. Yet, she agreed that residents need to be asked if they approve of the next council seeming more information on the issue. Depending on the result on Nov. 15, further action may proceed.
Finall said her campaign this fall is one of seeking good policy direction in North Saanich.
“We need good planning for major changes and those decisions made this last term have not been planned. The major threat to rural community is urban sprawl and … the costs of this have not been anticipated.”
Finall, a retired lawyer, was first elected mayor in 2008 and has 14 years of municipal council experience.