Christopher Graham, the one-time teenaged councillor who served 12 years on Central Saanich council and is taking his second run at the mayor’s chair, says he’s learned something from all three mayors he worked with.
Wayne Hunter, Alison Habkirk and soon-to-be-retiring mayor, Jack Mar — whom Graham lost to in 2008 — each demonstrated characteristics that are useful in leading a municipality, he says.
Hunter showed him the ability to place people in areas where they had strengths, Habkirk was a talented critical thinker and Mar an excellent listener.
Now 33, Graham believes his own leadership style borrows from all three.
“People like feeling empowered,” he says, noting that such a scenario helps move projects toward completion more efficiently and effectively.
Empowering residents with the feeling they are being heard is crucial for council to making decisions that are right for the community, he says.
Graham gives as an example a council decision to remove the owner-occupancy clause from the secondary suite bylaw. He takes issue with council revisiting the clause, when more than 80 per cent of residents surveyed five or so years ago supported the owner-occupy rule.
“When there’s no evidence that’s changed, that, to me is a form of top-down democracy. I believe in a bottom-up approach — enacting the community’s agenda rather than my own.”
Revitalizing the Keating business district is also on the minds of voters, he’s found from talking to hundreds of residents in the municipality.
After spending resources building up Brentwood Bay and Saanichton, Graham says, it’s time for the district to devote time and energy to bringing business back to Central Saanich’s primary industrial/commercial district.
In creating a business-friendly climate there, he says, “You wouldn’t use the Keating model in Brentwood Bay or Saanichton. You’ve got to recognize it for what it is.”
Instead of creating specific zoning for the area that would throw up a stop sign for certain businesses, he says, why not open it up for myriad potential uses, after hearing from residents what they wouldn’t like to see allowed there?
Asked how he’d deal with a $13-million municipal debtload, Graham first clarifies that a major factor in the district’s need to take on debt was a $1.25-million cut in annual funding from the provincial and federal governments. “That’s a big hit for a small municipality.”
Doing due diligence on infrastructure projects such as the new fire hall, and such community amenities as the Wallace Drive tennis courts, an $800,000 facility whose cost tripled from the original plan, will help the district keep a handle on its debt, he adds.