The pace of development, the level of public engagement and housing divided Sidney councillor candidates during Thursday’s all-candidates forum at the Mary Winspear Centre co-sponsored by the facility and Black Press.
Back-to-back statements from incumbent Chad Rintoul and former mayor Steve Price — who also sat next to each other on the stage — captured this dynamic.
When moderator Stasia Hartley asked the candidates why they are running, Rintoul said he is running in 2022 for the same reasons which propelled his run in 2018.
“I felt a palpable sense of anxiety in 2018 about how much and how quickly our town was forecast to change with some of the development approvals,” said Rintoul.
“So I decided my best course of action was to participate and I ran for council to have a voice on future development. Now, we have had to live with the (new) buildings and construction. We have got a lively Third Street now and credit to some of the opportunities that are there, but I don’t know if it needed to be six storeys tall.”
Many of the new developments now dotting downtown Sidney came under Price’s mayoralty between 2014 and 2018, who answered the same question immediately after Rintoul.
“The councils that I was on in 2008 and 2011, 2014, you can see that basically the whole town has been transformed into what is today, into waterfront walkways, parks, streetscape, everything like that,” he said. “So it’s important that we move the town forward and this next council continues to do that.”
Price, who had lost the race for mayor against Cliff McNeil-Smith by some 80 per cent in 2018, had earlier said that he is running because he wanted to make sure that young families have the same opportunities to thrive like his family did. “That takes leadership at the local level to make sure those opportunities are still there,” he said. “And the other reason is that I wanted to make sure that our town prospers and thrives.”
This contrast between a more deliberate approach toward development as advocated by Rintoul and Price’s signalled preference for more growth ran like a thread through Thursday’s discussion with incumbents Sara Duncan, Scott Garnett and Terri O’Keeffe favouring Rintoul’s side of the argument.
O’Keeffe had said earlier that she doesn’t want Sidney to look like West Shore communities, while Duncan and Garnett echoed Rintoul’s comments about wanting to round out the work on the OCP through a review of Sidney’s zoning bylaw and balancing growth. Comparable comments also came from non-incumbent candidates Richard Novek and Steve Duck.
The four incumbents — not surprisingly — also praised to varying degrees their council’s level of public engagement, a move which the public can read as a critique of the perceived low level of public engagement during the previous council under Price.
He in turn frequently used his time to highlight past accomplishments as mayor such as the provision of emergency funding to Shoreline Medical or pointing out what Sidney missed by not going through on projects such as the Gateway project, which did not go ahead after encountering large public opposition.
Price made this point in answering a question about the proposed roundabout on Beacon Avenue near the Amazon facility, which he also used as a pivot to attack the outgoing council.
“I’m glad you brought this up, because back when we approved the Gateway project, there was a contract in place with Victoria International Airport, the Town of Sidney for the rezoning of that property,” he said. “What was included was a pedestrian overpass, a roundabout, realignment of Sterling Way, all of the roads, sidewalks, street-lighting, landscaping, the whole bit. That was something I negotiated with the airport authority. I am still trying to figure out why we are paying for this roundabout in the first place.”
Cam McLennan, who served with Price on Sidney council between 2014 and 2018, used his opening statement to critique efforts to create what he called workforce housing. “I feel like I have been watching a slow-motion train wreck. Eight years have passed and there has been little action taken on the issue.” He also later criticized council’s decision to downzone Sidney’s downtown.
All candidates promised to do something about housing through financial incentives to create more rental housing and encouragement of alternative housing forms among other measures with Duck opening up an argument likely to raise some eyebrows in North Saanich.
“One of the challenges Sidney has with affordable housing is that we are surrounded by North Saanich,” said Duck. “We need to work with our partners across the municipal lines on how we can find housing for everyone in this area. It’s a regional problem we can help solve together.” He later added that Sidney lacks land. “We have to look abroad.” This statement drew agreement from Novek and Rintoul, but disagreement from McLennan.
“I don’t think we are going to have too much help from our friends in North Saanich and I don’t think we should be looking to them for the help we can start doing here through zoning and density,” he said.
Candidates also weighed in on measures announced by David Eby, who is running to replace John Horgan as premier. They broadly promised to increase density and speed up housing construction, while punishing speculation. Eric Diller said the measures threaten to render the OCP moot in promising to use whatever tool the province makes available to increase the supply of housing.
“The devil is in the detail, but basically he just dropped the bomb right into small communities,” said Price, when asked about measures to increase housing. The province, he predicted, will take a much more active role.
Thursday’s forum was the last known one before general voting on Oct. 15 and candidates used the occasion to make their final pitches to voters with Diller offering perhaps the most memorable one. “My wife quipped to me the other day, the worst thing that could happen to me from a financial perspective was to get elected,” he said. “So if you want to punish me, also vote for me.”
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