Mayor Maja Tait knows she’s facing a myriad of issues in the new year.
“Economic development is certainly something that this council is going to have to address,” Tait said.
“We have changes in the traditional industries like fishing and forestry that will inevitably alter our economy and we need to be able to take steps to expand that economy in the District of Sooke to provide opportunities to our citizens.”
Tait said that, through the Western Task Force, she is still working to lobby the Provincial and Federal governments wherever possible to address forestry regulations and fishing closures but acknowledged that, as a municipality, Sooke has only limited influence on these issues.
“We have to look at this realistically and ask, if we continue to lose portions of those industries, what can we do to look ahead for other opportunities?”
One example of an economic driver for Sooke involves tourism.
“We have this amazing natural environment and we could do a real push for mountain biking, for example. There’s an opportunity there to draw people into our community while connecting our residents to our natural spaces,” Tait said.
According to Tait, another economic driver for the community might be the craft industry.
“We have craft beer, craft gin and businesses like Seaflora (skincare) already established in the community. These types of businesses are bricks and mortar and if we expand that concept it can help employment and the overall economy,” she said.
Looking ahead, Tait also acknowledged that a craft marijuana industry may be in the cards for the future, but noted that it will only be possible with a change in the current regulations at a federal level.
Economic development will, however, require an improved set of strategies.
Asked if the District will rely on the Chamber of Commerce to take a larger role or whether a different approach might be in the cards, Tait reserved her options.
“We’re examining the South Island Prosperity Project, and I support obtaining a membership there. We’re also looking at a workshop in Feb. where we’ll be looking at whether we need an economic development officer or something else. We have to see what makes the most sense for us,” Tait said.
On another note, the mayor is looking forward to embarking on a new year with a full council and a stabilized administrative structure.
“Norm McInnis (the District’s recently hired CAO) is completing an organizational review and has already taken steps to set up service level expectations (for the municipality),” Tait said.
“He has gone through every policy and every bylaw to identify where things can be changed and improved.”
The year will also see a series of projects continue to progress, and Tait said that some, like the work on Hwy. 14, will undoubtably have the potential to be disruptive.
Other initiatives, like the ongoing development of Lot A and the improvement of medical care in the community will also continue to demand attention as those projects proceed.
“We also have to proactively resolve issues from the past that have been kicked down the road for the past 20 years. There’s a backlog of issues to address but it’s time to clean them up,” Tait said.
“There’s no shortage of work and it’ll be a busy year, but our council is prepared to deal with what lies ahead.”