Federal candidates running in Saanich-Gulf Islands mostly dodged a question about the arrival of Amazon during a virtual forum Monday afternoon.
Incumbent Elizabeth May of the Green Party, Conservative David Busch, New Democrat Sabina Singh and Liberal Sherri Moore-Arbour zoomed off against each on the MicCHEK podcast hosted by Joe Perkins and Rob Shaw on Monday afternoon. Also running in the riding but not present was David Hilderman of the People’s Party of Canada.
The candidates answered questions about the environment, the state of the local ferry system and housing among other subjects. Midway through the forum moderator Perkins asked candidates whether they are glad Amazon is arriving in Sidney, as part of a question about the town’s future.
“Are you pro-business, pro-growth or do you think we need slow things down and conserve that quaintness that is Sidney-by-the-Sea?” he asked.
Arguably the most definitive answer came from Singh. Canada will not be able to save its environment without addressing poverty, she said.
“And Amazon is a huge part of that,” Singh said, following up her earlier comment that companies like Amazon have made record profits during the COVID-19 pandemic. “And we haven’t been using them for communities.”
Moore-Arbour did not directly take a position on Amazon’s arrival, but warned against the effects of large developments. She called for “smart development” as a way to balance industrial-commercial projects with Sidney’s quaintness, “so they are not necessarily completely at odds.”
Busch also dodged the question, speaking in general terms about development.
“This goes back to affordability and one of the things that we need to do is increase the density,” he said. “But it’s important that the federal government work in partnership with the local community, whether it’s North Saanich, whether it’s Sidney. We have to listen to them and trust in their Official Community Plan (and) support them with responsible development as the local community council deems best, and not for the federal government to lecture or to trounce upon the wishes of the local council.”
The building which Amazon will lease from York Realty lies within Sidney’s municipal boundaries, but stands on land under the authority of the Victoria Airport Authority. The Town of Sidney has no say in the approval process of the building, nor the tenant.
York Realty has made what it called significant alterations to the building following input from the community, including 11 recommendations from the municipality.
Meanwhile, Busch’s answer offered an opening for May.
“I have to start by saying that this is overwhelmingly not a federal government or Member of Parliament issue, except that I really love Sidney-by-the-Sea,” she said. She drew attention to the region’s potential as a location for film projects to maintain the region’s character, and echoed concerns by Moore-Arbour about increased congestion.
Perkins pressed May on the original query. “So at the end of the question though, Elizabeth, you are against some of the growth we have been seeing then?” he asked.
May reiterated her belief they are municipal and provincial issues, adding over cross talk, “I’m not a fan of Amazon.”
“But you can have an opinion, you can have some influence?” replied Perkins.
“Well, I can say on this issue, municipal development is a municipal decision,” May said. While Sidney had no authority over the development, she criticized the decision-making process around the development.
“The Victoria Airport Authority is federal, but its decision-making is already cast in stone by the nature of their right to operate. I think harbour and airport authorities are far too autonomous. I’d like more political accountability right across the board.”
When asked about feedback she has received on Sidney’s changing face, May said it has appeared split. “I can’t say if it’s a majority either way. What we want is affordable housing and what is coming to Sidney for the most part does not create a price point where people can afford to buy a condo in one of the buildings that are going up.”
The Amazon announcement has the support of the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith has called the Amazon development a suitable development for the location.
A podcast of the forum will be available Tuesday morning with a video version airing Sept. 8.
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