An all-candidates debate hosted by the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce on Thursday evening held few surprises for the more than 400 Sooke residents in attendance at the Prestige Resort Hotel.
The event began with a chance for all 13 council candidates to introduce themselves to the crowd and give a bit of insight as to why they’re running for council and what they considered as the pressing issues of the day.
It didn’t take long for general themes to emerge, however, as each of the candidates spoke about their love of Sooke with most all of them mentioning that the municipality was at a crossroads in its history. Growth was an over-arching theme with an optimistic caution being the order of the evening.
Development was fine, said most every candidate, but needed to be approached with caution in case Sooke lose its way and outgrow the infrastructure base of the community.
Every candidate, at some point in the proceedings, pointed to the need to develop a new official community plan with several of them adding that a new chief administrative officer needed to be hired sooner than later to bridge the gap between council and the district’s employees.
Other common themes involved the need for improved health-care facilities, fixing potholes and installing sewers, and the ubiquitous mention of a secondary route into Sooke.
A few memorable moments occurred in the proceedings, one of which resulted from a question directed at incumbent Coun.Rick Kasper and his partner Doni Eve, who is also running for a council seat.
“Will you be independent or vote as a block?” they were asked.
Kasper was first to take the microphone and answered by first asking the crowd if there was any married person in the audience who ever let his or her spouse tell them what to do or think.
His response evoked laughter from the crowd and a spate of spontaneous applause.
Once the laughter subsided, Eve responded to say that she was certain that she and Kasper were certain to have some disagreements but would always vote their conscience.
Another candidate, Tony St. Pierre, responded to some questions on planning with answers that, on several occasions, spawned applause from the audience and eventually prompted the moderator to ask the audience to withhold their applause to the end of the proceedings.
Closing statements from the candidates were fairly homogenous with the possible exception of Meagan McMath who acknowledged that she was the youngest of the candidates but she represented the future of the community while respecting the past.
Immediately following the council candidates’ presentations, the three mayoral candidates took to the dais to present themselves to the crowd in what had become an uncomfortably warm venue in the full-to-capacity room.
Kevin Pearson spoke about his love for the community and how he wanted to be a part of shaping the future of the town for his children and grandchildren. With his experience as a councillor, Pearson spoke about the need for a new OCP and an urgent need for a new CAO. He cautioned the audience about unplanned growth.
Incumbent Maya Tait stirred the crowd with her oratorical style and spoke passionately about the community’s future, citing her accomplishments to date and promising to continue to work for the community.
For his part, Mick Rhodes presented quite differently as a mayoral candidate, acknowledging his two opponents as the “heavyweights” on the stage, but vowing to “punch above his weight class” to get things done. On one occasion, questioned about the upcoming legalization of marijuana, he deferred to Tait’s response to the same question, saying that “she got it right, I’ll use her answer.”
Audience members were slow to leave the hall, with many of them cornering candidates for a few final questions or words of encouragement. Some of the crowd were disappointed that their own pet issues had not been raised.
Polls open for the civic election at 8 a.m. Saturday (Oct. 20), running through to 8 p.m., at Edward Milne community school on Sooke Road.