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Housing divides North Saanich councillor candidates during forum

With one candidate missing, 12 candidates participated in Monday’s forum at Mary Winspear Centre
Twelve out of 13 candidates for councillor attended Monday’s all-candidates forum at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney co-sponsored by the centre and Black Press Media. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Three distinct factions emerged from the 12-member-strong cohort of councillor candidates, who faced the public during Monday’s all-candidates forum hosted by the Mary Winspear Centre and co-sponsored by Black Press Media.

The first faction consisted of candidates critical of the substance, process and premises of the Official Community Plan (OCP) review that has caused considerable controversy, even deep conflict, within North Saanich.

They included incumbents Celia Stock — “I stand for keeping North Saanich rural” — and Jack McClintock, who described the OCP as a foundational document that should not be rushed.

Both had earlier voted against drafting a new OCP and consistently questioned the process from their perspective. Both also used their time to highlight what they consider to be successes in creating more housing in North Saanich through secondary suites and other measures, thereby challenging the claim that North Saanich needs more housing.

A trio of other non-incumbent candidates also offered a comparable message.

Sanjiv Shrivastava, who is simply running under Sanjiv on the ballot, said he is running because the disconnect between the community and the OCP has created what he called “an urgent need to assist in the constructive resistance of the destruction of North Saanich.” He added North Saanich can become a Canadian model for sustainability in an era of climate change by drawing on local expertise. He had also argued earlier that a lack of supply is not the reason for the current shortage, pointing to other factors.

Irene McConkey also cited the OCP process as a motivating factor. “This is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said.

RELATED: Housing crisis takes centre stage in Greater Victoria

Perhaps the most radical of those voices was Terri Rolph, who promised to “remedy” the damage of past decisions and “strengthen” North Saanich’s role on the Peninsula as an “oasis of rural and natural spaces.” She later questioned widespread concerns about housing.

“I’m not real clear what people mean by housing shortage,” she said, adding Sidney is “exploding” with housing, just as Langford and View Royal.

“There are so many places that are very nearby, who are providing housing,” she said. “So the supply-and-demand question I think is unproven, that there is a supply-and-demand problem anywhere really.” She also later defended the quality of transit from, to and across the Saanich Peninsula.

Rolph’s statement about the quality of local transit drew a challenge from Morgan Mikkelsen, who belongs to the second category of candidates emerging from the forum. He, along with other candidates, such as Phil DiBattista, Jon Rennison, Erin Giesbrecht and Maya Tse-Cotton broadly advertised themselves as fresh, younger voices, who would help restore trust between council and community in speaking to voters concerned about process, while also making a case for more housing.

The audience, for example, heard from DiBattista that 70 per cent of North Saanich’s workforce commutes from outside the community. “These are people, who need one-bedroom and two-bedroom rental unit options,” he said. Giesbrecht agreed with the need for more housing in areas where it makes sense without specifying those, just as Mikkelsen did.

Rennison, who spoke before Rolph, used his time in trying to defuse the OCP as a source of controversy.

The OCP is a vision for the community and anyone fearful about condominiums “and all these huge developments going up” should know developers must still follow a rigorous process, he said. “I ask that we continue forward with the OCP and depend on your council that you elect to not let these big buildings go up, but develop these pockets that are not going affect the rural feel of North Saanich.”

RELATED: Narrow council vote in North Saanich paves way for new OCP draft

Candidates, who offered a more full-throated defence of additional housing and prior process, represented the third and smallest faction among the candidates for councillor.

Majid Varasteh said he is running because he wants to help younger people get into the local housing market without ruining North Saanich’s rural culture through an agenda of sensitive infilling. He later argued that North Saanich can increase its tax revenues by allowing more people to live in the community, adding that locals can’t just simply throw away the keys to prevent others from coming.

“(Dean Park) is dense enough and there are a lot of places that become similar to that,” he said. “So let’s get together, talk about it, cooperate and do it, and then other people join our beautiful city.”

Incumbent Brett Smyth said Monday’s forum offered proof that different perspectives could be heard on housing, which is needed.

Tara Keeping is also running for councillor but did not attend Monday’s forum.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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