Herb Haldane and Maja Tait sat before over 350 people to answer questions and introduce themselves to the assembled at the Chamber of Commerce All Candidates meeting at the Prestige hotel on November 4.
There was a draw to see who spoke first, and Tait’s name was drawn as the first speaker.
Tait said the role of mayor was to bring the community together. She said the past six years have been an incredible experience. Her qualities included remaining professional, getting along with all members on council and having the ability to disagree without being disagreeable.
“Will I be a full-time mayor?” she stated. She said, no, she didn’t believe in sitting behind a desk all week, that was what a CAO was for. She said she would engage the professional staff to get the answers to the tough questions.
Haldane told a story about going to John Muir elementary school and talking to the kids about why he was running for mayor.
“The kids had the same questions you did tonight, about sidewalks, busing, etc.” said Haldane. He told the kids part of the reason he was there was because he wanted to fix things in this town.
When asked about recreation services and support services for youth and seniors, the Sooke Potholes campground and a seniors’ centre, Haldane was the first to respond.
He said Sooke was in desperate need but how could Sooke afford and how much more could they tax people. He said there are trails, lakes and the outdoors and he hopes something could be worked out with access at Harbourview. He thought a transportation method from the gate at the bottom could be used to get people to the lakes. As far as a seniors’ centre went, he said, “we would have to try and do the best we can with the money available. Every time someone says they can do it for $2 million it will cost you $6 million.”
Tait said work had been started by various community groups in regard to refurbishing the community hall. She said the debt to SEAPARC would soon be paid off and a partnership with other agencies might make expansion possible. The campground at the Potholes did not receive a tax break because of a split vote in council but there was a process happening to get it open again. Tait was amenable to access off Harbourview to non-motorized vehicles.
If the citizens of Sooke are opposed to increased tanker traffic, what would the next action be?
Tait said this has been troubling the island coastal communities for years as all tanker traffic is damaging. She said the question made it onto the ballot and that was important. As to action she said calling peers on the island and working together would be important.
Haldane stated the question was put on the ballot for a reason. He said global warming was not just here it was everywhere. He said he was against tanker traffic and the exploitation of the oil industry.
When asked about their specific approach to leadership, the citizens and staff the following comments were made.
Haldane said it was tougher on Wendal because he had no previous experience on council. He said mayors take on a role and don’t govern on their own. He said he wanted councillors to feel important and they should delegate like in Langford and give councillors decent authority so they feel they are making progress. He thought councillors should have portfolios for such things as finance, land use, etc. to give power to each councillor, so they feel they are giving to the community.
Tait said councillors and staff should be engaged. She said staff is under-utilized and communication could be improved between the two groups. Councillors could be paired with staff so that everyone was engaged and valued. The mayor would take the front line when there is danger. That’s how I would lead, she said.
Both candidates said they have become aware of the dangerous situation at Poirier; Haldane said a mistake was made on road dedication and Tait stated it would need to be looked at.
When the issue of parking outside the hotel was brought up, both candidates admitted it was a mess. Haldane said property for parking could come available if council helped a landowner to get his property out of the ALR. He said a deal should be made with the “local farm guy.”
Tait said the parking issue was a number one problem and it also made it dangerous (along West Coast Road) for cyclists and pedestrians. She said open dialogue about the situation should happen with the stakeholders and a solution should happen before fishing season started again. Shuttling or carpooling to events would also relieve some of the parking congestion.
The Integrated Health Network and the lack of physicians and health services was brought it and the candidates were asked if council would support that work.
Tait said funding was at risk for the network and support would continue. She said health services was an industry and it was important to attract more people here.
Haldane said portfolios for councillors could address the issue. Incentives to attract new doctors would help.
They were asked, what they would do to improve the business climate, attract new business and work with the chamber and tourism?
Haldane said Sooke is stuck because of the trucking route and he said most manufacturers won’t come out to Sooke. He mentioned a technical park. He would continue to support SRTA and the SRCC.
Tait said both entities (SRTA and SRCC) want to be more sustainable and the question was now to make the more independent. She said the proposed hotel tax was to be used to promote tourism. Perhaps repurposing the business license fee would aid businesses. Growing the town centre would bring business.
Losing farms and farmers was brought up as was the agriculture plan which is sitting in a shelf. The question was when was council going to implement the very good recommendations in the plan?
Tait said she was impressed by how sustainable and independent Sooke was and said there was a challenge here and it is time for the new council to look at the plans.
Haldane said it was about financial challenges for small farms and a subsidy situation could occur.
Both candidates were civil and respectful to each other and shook hands before the questions came forward.