All 350 seats in the theatre at Edward Milne Community School were full on Tuesday night, Nov. 8, as voters came out to listen to what the local candidates running for council had to say.
Sitting at a long table stretched across the stage were 14 candidates, two running for mayor and 12 for council.
Moderator Steve Gundy stated that the candidates would respond to questions from the floor but those posing the questioners would not be allowed to make a speech.
Each of the candidates had three minutes to address the audience and some of the newer hopefuls spoke about their experience, qualifications and commitment to serving on council.
Others spoke about rising taxes, the sewer system and growth or lack of it.
The candidates spoke in random order. When questions were posed to specific candidates their responses were generally longer than their opening comments.
In opening Jim Mitchell spoke about the high taxes in Sooke. He said his had risen by 200 per cent. He also said that the district has already spent $800,000 out of its 2012 budget and EPCOR cost three times what residents were told it would cost.
“Sooke is on the fast road to bankruptcy,” said Mitchell.
Herb Haldane spoke of a district that takes no tenders and a failing sewer system.
“It’s failing right under your noses,” said Haldane.
Mayoral candidate Dave Bennett talked of why he wanted to be mayor and listed his affiliations and volunteer history and stated that he was a “team builder.”
Shaunna Salsman said she saw a need for diversity and change, while Terrance Martin stated that growth was the most pressing issue.
“You cannot tax your way to prosperity,” he said in regard to tax increases.
Sheila Beech spoke of “triumphs” over the last three years, like participation at Ozone, the Sooke Subaru Triathlon, Sunriver Allotment Gardens, Charters River Salmon Interpretive Centre, the hotel and public boat launch.
Wendal Milne, running for mayor, said, “Let’s tell it like it is.” He wants to set specific goals and timelines in an action plan and to get municipal spending under control.
Ron Dumont said Sooke was the only community in Canada that gave back $4-million in reference to a failed referendum on an alternate route through Sooke.
Moonfist Colbert blessed the audience and stated that Sooke was still young, only 12-years-old and that was why the tax increases are what they are.
Rick Kasper stated that the “public has to have a say of what their vision is for their community.”
Maja Tait spoke of the many things including her commitment and why she was running for re-election as well as her track record over the past three years.
Kerrie Reay said it was crucial for council to be made up of individuals who would make decisions based on independent thought.
Kevin Pearson said that taxation was on the minds of most everyone and how necessary it was to get value for money spent.
“if there is disfunction on council there is disfunction in the streets,” he stated.
Bev Berger spoke of rising budgets over the past three years as well as rising legal costs.
The public then got the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates.
Gail Hall asked both mayoral candidates if they thought, “yes” or “no” whether the agreed to paying $316 per day to a Vancouver law firm whether they were working or not.
Dave Bennett said “yes.” Wendal Milne answered,”no.”
Martha Moore pointedly asked Rick Kasper, “can we still maintain respect for each other?” Kasper responded by stating, “yes” and that Wendal Milne has earned his respect.
Sally Manning asked if council would continue to support community grants and all stated they would with the exception of Jim Mitchell.
Other questions put forth to the candidates were about collective bargaining and what was council’s role; what had each mayoral candidate done to increase the quality of life for people in Sooke. Bennett said he was involved in many organizations both on a district and regional level. Milne said he has been retired for only three years and has been traveling and he hadn’t done much here in that time frame.
When asked why Herb Haldane and Bev Berger attended a meeting opposing the 21-year sewer agreement instead of a Committee of the Whole meeting dealing with the Sooke Bylaw, Haldane stated that the 21-year deal was more important than a COW meeting. He said he had a problem with rubber-stamping the deal and they should have seen a contract first.
Berger said she sat on the bylaw review committee as a public member and the bylaw was only being introduced at the COW meeting.
The mayoral candidates were questioned about their commitment to the arts, culture and heritage. Both Milne and Bennett said they would ask council to make these a priority.
Terrance Martin was asked if he would step down as director of an off-roading association if elected, he said didn’t see any conflict but he would step down.
The arts and youth were the subject of a couple of questions.
Bennett and Milne were asked if they would reopen the competition that was held for art/signage along the boardwalk and reappoint members to the Sooke Program of the Arts Committee. Milne said he would look at the committee to ensure it was consistent with the bylaw while Bennett stated that council determines the membership and there was nothing wrong with the present committee.
All of the candidates were asked if they attended a Sooke Region Cultural Plan seminar and only Maja Tait, Shaunna Salsman and Kerrie Reay attended.
When asked about their commitment to youth, each of the candidates outlined their current and past involvement. The general sense was that they felt there was a need for a centre where both youth and seniors could interact.
When asked if the future council would support holding the line on wages at the municipal hall it appeared that only Jim Mitchell and Shaunna Salsman would.
Most agreed that they would support the proposed road network.
When asked what they saw different in Sooke in the year 2020, Bennett responded by mentioning the implemented Town Centre Plan, four or five revisions of the OCP, renewable energy, a ferry to East Sooke and a high speed ferry to Victoria and a pedestrian friendly town core. The Sooke Philharmonic would be making its fifth tour, the Sooke Subaru Triathlon would continue and there would be a satellite campus in Sooke.
Milne saw Sooke as a town built on Smart Growth principles with two or three storey condos with stores beneath close to transit. People would walk to services and there would be sidewalks and safe access as well as the basic amenities in a compact community which was an inviting place to live.
The mayor hopefuls were also asked what they would do to councillors who defied the wishes of the whole council.
Bennett stated he swore an oath to adhere to the principles of the Community Charter and as one of seven he respected in-camera issues.
“If council member cannot respect the process then they should resign their seat,” said Bennett.
Milne stated that councils tended to abuse the in-camera process and they should be held accountable. The real problem, he said would be if council was abusing the process. He said what was needed was a process which was transparent and in-camera only if necessary.
Sidewalks and the hold up of improvements was a topic posed to Milne and Bennett.
Milne said it was a number one priority with people he talked to. He said the province controls a wide swath and it might be a three-year process as the district was waiting on the bypass and once that was complete the district would get control of Hwy. 14. This could be a seven to 10 year project he said which would be started immediately.
Bennett said we were members of the Communities in Bloom and Hwy. 14 was under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transport. he spoke of the referendum which was turned down more than eight years ago.
Bennett was asked who was running the town over the past three years and whether it was over paid staff? Bennett did not respond.
The last question was about the commercial and residential tax base and what would the mayoral candidates do to bring more residential and commercial base to the community
Milne stated that it was about affordability and said that Langford residents/businesses paid less taxes than Sooke. He said he didn’t think Sooke could build a tax base with industry but rather through a retirement concept combined with eco-tourism and the arts community. He said it was necessary to start with beautification in the downtown core in order to make this the best place to live.
Bennett said the Town Centre Plan was the heart of the community. He said an alternate community and housing was necessary to make Sooke affordable. He said our population was expected to double in the next 20 years.
The meeting ended amicably and the candidates stuck around for a while after to talk to people who attended the meeting.