Coun. Fred Haynes (left) and Mayor Richard Atwell (right), seen here appearing with Rudi Hoenson in August 2017, are so far the only two candidates running for mayor in Saanich. Saanich News file photo

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell welcomes challenges from Coun. Fred Haynes

Members of council not caught off guard by Haynes’ announcement

Mayor Richard Atwell said he is not surprised Coun. Fred Haynes has chosen to run against him.

“This is probably the worst kept secret in Saanich as [Coun.] Haynes has been actively campaigning since he was elected,” said Atwell.

Atwell made these comments in response to a series of questions sent to him, as well as the other members of council.

Haynes announced this candidacy for mayor last week, but declined to say how his mayorship will differ from Atwell’s in policy and governing approach.

“It is very important that we continue with good governance of Saanich,” said Haynes at the time. “I expect to be asked that question a lot, and I will decline answering that question until the campaign starts. Once the campaign starts, it will be clear the differences I will draw attention to between myself and the current mayor.”

Atwell, for his part, appeared to welcome the coming contest, noting that nobody challenged former mayor Frank Leonard in 2002 and 2005.

“We need healthy debates at election time and it is very good for our democracy every time a candidate runs for office,” he said.

In fact, had it not been for Harald Wolf, the 2008 race for mayor would have remained uncontested as well.

In 2011, Leonard faced two challengers: David Shebib, who won 173 votes, and David Cubberley, who finished with 9,529 votes. Leonard won that race with 11,151 votes.

If 2011 signalled a changing public mood, Atwell benefited from it in 2014, when Atwell beat Leonard by just over a thousand votes – 14,178 to 13,152. Leonard had served as mayor of Saanich from 1996 to 2014 after serving as councillor since 1986. Haynes won his current seat on council in 2014 with 13,492 votes – the fifth highest total among the eight candidates elected councillor.

While not readily comparable, their respective vote totals point to a potentially close race between the two candidates declared so far, provided no other credible candidates come forward.

Coun. Dean Murdock – who gathered the most votes of any candidate running in 2014, but has not yet publicly declared his own intentions for 2018 – said he expects a “spirited campaign” from both declared candidates so far.

He also considers it likely that additional candidates for mayor will come forward between now and the actual nomination period, which opens Sept. 4 and closes Sept. 14. General voting day is Oct. 20.

“I hope it will lead to a vigorous debate about the kind of future we want for our community,” said Murdock.

Coun. Colin Plant, who finished with the second-highest vote total of all candidates, said he was “not particularly surprised” by Haynes’ announcement. “My initial reaction was one of respect because it takes courage to run for mayor against an incumbent, and indeed, to run for any elected position,” he said.

This said, Plant hopes electoral politics (which is competitive by nature) won’t get in the face of governance (which requires some measures of co-operation).

“I hope that the dynamics on [council] do not become politicized now because of the announcements,” he said. “We have nine months of work to do before the election, and many important issues to address for the residents of Saanich.”

Coun. Leif Wergeland expects a different dynamic between Atwell and Haynes. “They both know that only one of them will be sitting at the council table next year,” said Wergeland, who was not surprised by Haynes’ announcement.

“As for council as a whole, I do not believe it will have an impact in any way. We will continue doing what our residents expect of us – good governance,” he said.

Coun. Susan Brice declined to answer the questions. “Actually, I wouldn’t want to comment on the election at this time,” she said.

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