Saanich’s Mayor Richard Atwell expects several new faces around the council table after what will likely be a competitive municipal election in October 2018.
“I expect there will be many candidates vying for the eight council positions,” he said in an interview. “Last general election nine incumbents ran, and six were re-elected. I predict that the public will elect at least three new council members in 2018.”
Atwell, who said he would run again in 2018, did not say which of the current councillors he does not expect to return. Nor did he say who would replace them, or who might run against him as mayor. “Who won’t be back is up to the electorate,” he said. “Who might run against me is just hearsay at this point.”
Atwell’s prediction about the municipal election came as he was looking forward to 2018, while looking back on 2017, a year marked by the sudden death of Coun. Vic Derman, and a contested byelection to fill his seat that Coun. Karen Harper eventually won by a narrow margin of 102 votes to serve out the remainder of the term.
But if the composition of the future council remains a mystery, the current one will have to deal with a range of pressing issues.
For Atwell, they include the 2018 budget and efforts to minimize future tax increases , the environmental effects of the McKenzie Interchange Project, and large rezoning projects, such as the Nigel Valley Housing Project on Darwin Avenue, the Cordova Bay Village proposal, and the Trio development, also in the Cordova Bay neighbourhood.
This list of items points to one of the 2017 issues, which Atwell thinks will continue to make headlines in 2018: housing.
And despite council’s repeal of the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw in November by a narrow vote of 5-4, the bylaw will not go away as a subject of conservation and controversy after Saanich resident Lynn Husted filed a legal challenge against the repeal.
“A public hearing on the repeal of the bylaw will take place in January, and I expect the petition filed by Lynn Husted to be concluded by the courts within six months,” said Atwell.
In short, the EDPA issue will not disappear any time soon, with the potential to impact the election.
But if the state of local housing and the EDPA are familiar topics among Saanich residents, Atwell also expects that they will start seeing the regional sewage project impact their lives, starting with their utility bills.
“Escalating sewage treatment costs, and construction activity will become more noticeable to residents as the Hartland facility and 18km pipeline construction ramps up over the next three years,” said Atwell, a long-time critic of the project.
As for greatest accomplishments in 2017, Atwell points to an independent, citizens-led governance review that wrapped up last month. Despite some initial reservations from the members of the public, it yielded a series of recommendations that could pave the path towards greater service integration in areas such as policing, if not outright amalgamation among the communities of the Greater Victoria region.
As for the biggest mistake of 2017, Atwell points to the handling of the new contract for Saanich’s top cop.
The public heard last September that Saanich paid Chief Constable Bob Downie $378,791 following his retirement on July 31, only to rehire him as a contractor for two years (plus an option year), with an annual salary of about $222,711 plus benefits, vacation, leaves of absence and expense reimbursements.
The figure of $378,790 includes Downie’s retirement allowance of $126,781 for his 35 years of service and $252,010 in unused banked hours.
News of this arrangement caused a public outcry and its handling has sparked a perhaps unprecedented public row between Atwell and the other members of council, who questioned both the substance of the contract and its announcement in a letter out sent last week through Saanich’s public relations department.
“Clearly, as a member of the police board we should have anticipated the interest in the chief’s contract and prepared more background material to make it clear that the contract was cost neutral,” said Atwell, a consistent defender of the deal.