Eight candidates are challenging for Sooke’s vacant council seat and the issue most driving the candidates’ campaigns is the community’s growth.
Mayor Maja Tait said the emphasis on how growth is impacting the community is only reasonable given that the District of Sooke is one of the fastest-growing communities on Vancouver Island.
“We know we’ll be growing, but how and where the community grows is the question,” Tait said.
A review of the candidates’ platforms demonstrates that there are several schools of thought on that “how and where” question.
Lorraine Pawlivsky-Love said growth is inevitable but has emphasized that the region needs an economic development plan to make that growth a positive factor.
“We have a lot of alternatives for business in Sooke; a whole tech industry is possible here given that we have fiber optics in the community,” Pawlivsky-Love said.
“We don’t have to stop growth, but right now we have a runaway wagon and we do have to bring it under control and set a direction.”
It’s an approach consistent with both Britt Santowski and Dana Lajeunesse.
Santowski has written that the OCP needs to create a “vibrant, picturesque and sustainable future” by creating a drive-to and not a drive-through economy.
Lajeunesse is more specific, calling for a broader array of industries in Sooke.
Then there are the pragmatists.
Kevin Pearson, for example, doesn’t so much weigh in on the question of whether growth is good or bad, but rather on the issue of the capacity of the community to service growth.
“What should be driving growth is capacity. Health care, transportation, and the ability to service has to match the growth,” said Pearson.
To accomplish that, he, too, advocates economic development that will shift the tax burden off residential properties and onto the industrial and business sectors.
Tax rates are also on Jeff Stewart’s mind.
For Stewart, the issue isn’t so much the community’s growth, but the cost of that growth to people of the district.
“The rapidly rising cost of Sooke’s municipal governance is the main issue. That governance will lead to a projected 30 per cent tax increase over the next five years,” Stewart said.
“I think the biggest issue for the next council is to deliver value for our property tax dollars.”
But perhaps the biggest divergence in opinion emerges when comparing the campaigns of Herb Haldane and Christina Schlattner.
Haldane is a vocal proponent of increasing the size of the community saying that the community really has no choice but to keep building.
“If you shut down the Sooke (real estate) market, prices will skyrocket,” Haldane said.
“Some of the people saying that we need to stop growth are the same people who moved here in recent years. Who are we to say that we can pull up the drawbridge now?”
But Schlattner says that opposition to growth is reasonable.
“We have to respect what the people in Sooke feel about it (growth). We have nature all around us and the ocean at our door. It’s why people came here,” said Schlattner.
“I’m not against growth entirely, but the developers and speculators should have to make concessions.”
Only Mick Rhodes has largely stayed away from the debate on growth, preferring instead to focus on his dream of a waterside park as his main priority.
Voting Day is Saturday (Sept. 28) from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Edward Milne Secondary School, 6218 Sooke Rd.