Land use, transportation and health care are among the biggest issue facing Saanich Peninsula residents heading into 2020, according to a sampling of local decision makers.
Speaking with the Peninsula News Review, North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr said his community is still trying to decide how it wants to evolve, a question that he believes also faces the rest of region.
“That gets right back to the best and highest use of land,” he said. “All [the things] we want to do on land are related to that notion of highest and best use – if that is to house people, if that is to grow food, if that is to build facilities or places, where people can gather, place-making to develop community — all those things relate to how we want to use land.”
Orr said the challenge facing North Saanich specifically and the region generally is to communicate the level of participation in each of those sectors.
“What are we doing as a Peninsula in these areas?” he asked. “Do we have agreement that North Saanich is really looking to continue to develop our agriculture and marine small business, but at the same time being cognizant that we need to contribute to some degree to the housing sector, and Sidney can take more [housing] and Central Saanich is bit of a hybrid.”
Orr said that the level of dialogue with the other mayors — Sidney’s Cliff McNeil-Smith and Central Saanich’s Ryan Windsor — has been quite strong.
“That helps to really put those things on the table,” he said. “Those are the things that we talk about when we get together – what are those high level, common initiatives that we can advocate for and have a cohesive approach to the degree that we can’t be entirely aligned with everything. That will be quite good by the time we exit [the second and third year] of this term.”
One issue that unites the Peninsula is transportation, with Highway 17 running through all three communities.
On the positive side, plans for a highway overpass estimated to cost at least $44 million at Keating Cross Road appear on track, according to Windsor, who predicts that it will dramatically improve access and egress off Highway 17, with benefits for safety and economic development.
But if this project promises to address a long-running transportation issue, another transportation issue remains on the mind of many: the state of public transit connecting the three communities with each other and the rest of Greater Victoria, including key facilities such as Victoria International Airport and the BC Ferry Terminal at Swartz Bay.
One issue looming large for local MLA Adam Olsen in 2020 is the expansion of primary care.
“Our system has always had a pretty good reputation for the ability to deal with people who are in a time of crisis,” he said. “If you have a heart attack in this province, you get looked after very well. It’s access to primary care, which has always been a problem — dealing with prevention and wellness and making sure that we stay ahead.”
Olsen said the provincial government pats itself on the back for its investments into urgent care facilities. “They fill a certain type of need,” he said. “But what I hear from my constituents and from what I hear from some of the health care professionals out there, we need less of the urgent care centres and more access to primary care, to a family practitioner of one type or another.”
Olsen raised this issue in his year-end-interview with the Peninsula News Review just days after the provincial government announced the opening of a primary health care centre in Victoria’s James Bay and after Olsen had also raised the issue in the Legislative Assembly, asking Health Minister Adrian Dix about the delay in extending the provincial primary care network into the region.
Dix, for his part, cited the opening of the James Bay clinic and promised additional measures that would “methodically, step by step” expand the network into different communities.
Olsen described Dix’s answer as “fairly promising” and said later that this issue is not just a matter of having the right party membership. “It is easy to look at this say, ‘Oh, if this were an NDP riding, it would be done,” said Olsen. “I don’t think so. It’s more complex than that. And even with bringing a primary care network in, it doesn’t mean that there are more people working until they actually hire more people.”
Within this context, Olsen praised the work of the Saanich Peninsula Hospital and Healthcare Foundation in working with the non-profit Shoreline Medical Society to open clinics in Sidney and Brentwood Bay. “They are changing the way it [primary care] is delivered,” he said. “At the same time, the government needs to put more funding in the system.”
Sidney has the longest waiting time in the province to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic, according to a new report that found seven of the top 10 longest wait times in Canada are in B.C., with Sidney topping the list at 180 minutes and Pitt Meadows second in the province at 100 minutes.
Vancouver Island had especially bad wait times with people in Langford waiting 98 minutes, those in Saanichton waiting 90, Victoria waiting 82 minutes and Nanaimo residents waiting for 79 minutes.