In a tense athmosphere at the Prestige conference hall on Tuesday night, four candidates waited patiently for critical questions from a visibly-concerned Sooke audience.
At the candidate table sat Cathy Noel, Liberals, Maurine Karagianis, representing John Horgan for New Democrats, Brendan Ralfs, Green Party, and William Nelson, Vancouver Island Party. Missing from view was Libertarian Party candidate Scott Burton, who was unavailable “due to exams” that night.
Unsurprisingly, the first question to be fired off was about Highway 14 and Sooke’s woeful transit system, a theme that would go on to dominate the rest of the evening, with lacking housing and healthcare services close behind.
Noel was first to answer, stating the $7.2 million improvements done so far to Highway 14, and that the province will continue to work with local levels of government to make it safer, a comment that nonetheless gathered whispered chuckles and murmur across the room.
Karagianis and Ralfs both agreed their respective parties will do what it takes to improve the controversial corridor and reduce the Colwood Crawl. Nelson echoed the Vancouver Island Party’s objective of a light rail transit system connecting Sooke to Langford and the rest of the South Island region. To fund all that, Nelson added this should come from a “proportionate amount” of provincial infrastructure money, of which the Island sees just 2.7 per cent of.
“What we need is a transportation authority of some kind, one that can coordinate things like HOV lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and commuter rail,” Karagianis said, adding the transit system as a whole needs more robust investment.
Regardless of what the transportation solution may be, an answer to the Highway 14 problem has been ignored for too long, noted Mayor Maja Tait in her address to the candidates that night.
“We’ve lost our rural standing for both jobs as well as medical services, and with an expanding population, services to our community continue to decline … we’re separated from services by a ribbon of a highway that’s poorly maintained and dated given current demands,” Tait said, turning point-blank to all four candidates asking how, if elected, will they work with the municipality to get appropriate services delivered here.
“How will you engage with us so that our voice is heard at the provincial level and that we don’t keep receiving dismissive letters acknowledging our comments,” asked Tait, whose calls and letters to the province to rectify standing issues such as transit, healthcare and housing in Sooke have largely been ignored.
Noel took the opportunity to fire at the NDP and Horgan, rating efforts in his constituency as “not good enough.”
“I’m not sure he’s really fought for your community,” Noel said, questioning whether or not Horgan has been relaying Sooke’s problems to the province. “Transport Minister Todd Stone said he has not received a single request in regards to Highway 14 improvements from John Horgan … if you don’t ask the question, you don’t get the answer.”
The evening ended with a somewhat-positive finale, with all four candidates firm in their race to get the Langford-Juan de Fuca MLA seat on May 9.