Saanich voters are heading to the poll on Sept. 23

Byelection boils down to networking

Wolfgang Depner

News Staff

A political scientist says Saanich’s upcoming council byelection likely boils down to networking.

Would-be councillors are in a unique position as Saanich’s upcoming byelection happens 13 months before the October 2018 municipal election, offering an opportunity to start the campaign a year early.

Saanich council approved the Sept. 23 election date this week with advanced voting is set for Sept. 13 and 18 and Saanich will accept nominations from Tuesday, Aug. 8 to 18. The seat became vacant following the March death of then Coun. Vic Derman.

“It’s going to show how much networking matters,” said Mona Brash, political science instructor at Camosun College. “The general public may not be paying attention.”

In other words, the candidate who can mobilize support for an election that might not generate much interest stands a good chance of winning.

Three candidates — Nathalie Chambers, Rebecca Mersereau and Karen Harper — have already declared their intentions to run for the open seat, which needs to be filled under existing legislation. Several more are expected to come forward in the coming weeks.

Brash said running now rather than waiting until next wyear’s general municipal election offers two advantages.

First, it is easier to win a byelection, she said. While general municipal elections draw few voters, municipal byelections draw even less, she said.

“So you don’t need many votes to win,” Brash said.

Second, candidates running now raise their profile for next year, on the assumption they are in for the long haul, said Brash.

The eventual winner of this year’s byelection will head into 2018 with the advantage of incumbency and name recognition, said Brash. But given the time fram, the losing candidates also get a chance to get their names out there, building support along the way, she added.

It’s opportunistic for candidates try to crack into Saanich council, which has a reputation for being closed-off.

Perhaps the most illustrative example of this process might be the political career of the person whose seat they are trying to fill: Vic Derman ran four times before joining council in 2002.

If the early candidates aim for a winning strategy, their tactics so far differ.

Two of the three declared candidates — Chambers and Mersereau — have openly advertised themselves as intellectual stewards of Derman’s environmental advocacy. This approach runs the risk of winning some but not all of his support, Brash said.

Harper, meanwhile, has promised to focus on fiscal issues.

One factor in the outcome could be the date of the actual election date, Sept. 23. Brash said this period tends to be busy, following the end of summer holidays and the resumption of school.

Overall, it promises to be an interesting election, said Brash.

“Some of these people are earnest,” she said. “They really, really want to win.”

wolfgangdepner@saanichnews.com