At a North Saanich all-candidates forum, the future Sandown Community Farm and transparency with residents loomed large at an otherwise friendly event.
The start of Wednesday’s event was more of a “meet-the-council” event, since the entire council was acclaimed.
Four incumbents (Heather Gartshore, Jack McClintock, Celia Stock, and Murray Weisenberger) were joined by two newcomers: Brett Smyth and Joscelyn Barnard. Smyth, a farmer, described himself as “an apolitical kind of guy” who would govern in a pragmatic, issue-by-issue manner. Barnard said she wanted a plebiscite on Sandown’s future, wanted to connect businesses on McDonald Park Road into the sewer system, remediate North Scoter Trail, and build affordable housing in designated development areas (known as Zone 1 and 2).
Most councillors supported increased consultation with residents. Barnard, who felt bike lanes on West Saanich Road were created with minimal consultation, wanted more. Owners who do not live in their properties should receive more communication, she said, and staff should have a timeline for answering questions from residents.
Gartshore said replacing the retiring CAO, Rob Buchan, would be a priority for the new mayor and council. She also wanted to build a new North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library. The North Saanich website, which was hacked in 2017 and is currently a temporary site, is due to be replaced by the end of the year.
In the mayoral portion, former councillor Dorothy Hartshorne (who served from 1999-2005) and current councillor Geoff Orr had similar views on many major issues. Orr said he was endorsed by a majority of sitting councillors and wanted to move forward on designating two zones (McTavish and Tsehum) as affordable housing only, while encouraging at least 20 per cent affordable housing outside that area (the plan will be considered by council on Oct. 15).
Hartshorne wanted to create a standing committee on communication, and wanted to start routinely asking the audience at council meetings if they were waiting for a particular item to be addressed, and move it earlier on the agenda “so people wouldn’t have to sit in those terribly uncomfortable chairs any longer than necessary.”
The Sandown Transition Team recently submitted an extensive plan on the future of the agricultural land, which includes a market, farm plots of various sizes, and an educational component. In 2018, council decided to direct 50 per cent of the commercial taxes from the Sandown Commercial Park towards an Agriculture Fund. The group wants the entire fund to be applied towards the startup phase of the Sandown Community Farm, to be gradually phased out by 2026 at which point the farm is projected to be profitable. Hartshorne said she wanted the funds spread out to farmers throughout the region, not just to the Sandown farm. Orr and Hartshorne both supported the idea to have a non-profit running the operation.
Neither candidate supported removing land from the Agricultural Land Reserve to build homes. Neither wanted amalgamation, but wanted shared services instead.