Central Saanich’s new council will have a mainly familiar look with six incumbents returning. But voters also elected the first woman since 2014. (Black Press Media file photo)

Central Saanich’s new council will have a mainly familiar look with six incumbents returning. But voters also elected the first woman since 2014. (Black Press Media file photo)

Central Saanich councillors identify housing, active transportation as top issues heading into new term

Newcomer Sarah Riddell credits door-knocking for her first-time success

Central Saanich’s new council may look very much like the old one, but that hardly means it will lack issues.

Voters confirmed all five incumbent councillors running for re-election with Mayor Ryan Windsor having won by acclamation. Sarah Riddell joins the six incumbents after having topped the polls.

“I look forward to working with one new member of council and five existing members of council to continue to do what we can for this wonderful community of ours,” said Windsor. He added that he plans to meet with each of the six councillors in the next couple of weeks to discuss committee appointments and start figuring out priorities, a process that will continue in early 2023 through a community-wide survey and council’s internal strategic planning.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear the usual themes and that is a good thing,” said Windsor. Those themes would be active transportation specifically and transportation generally. “Agriculture is obviously a big thing,” he added. Other issues include infrastructure, specifically waste-water management.

While all incumbents won re-election, they still had to campaign hard, said Windsor, who expressed some disappointment about the drop in turnout to 24.9 per cent from 32 per cent in 2018. “That’s at least partially attributable to the fact that there was no race for my position,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s entirely attributable to that. We haven’t had widespread (controversies) in the last few years.”

RELATED: Sarah Riddell tops the polls in Central Saanich

Looking back on her campaign, Riddell attributed her success to a “lot of door-knocking” starting in June by herself with a great deal of assistance from an incredible number of friends, family and people from the community, whom she had never met. “I definitely think that was a contributor,” she said. “I just got to speak to so many people.” Another possible factor was reaching out to past and present community leaders, including all current members of council, in building relationships and receiving advice from them, she said.

As for issues, Riddell heard a lot about the need for more housing among others. “We don’t have a very diverse housing stock and I would like to see us diversify that more,” she said. “We don’t have very much affordable housing for families, for seniors, for people who work there. So that’s a big need.” Purpose-built rental housing appears especially scarce, she said.

Riddell will join council as the only newcomer, but feels “pretty good” about fitting in, having already established contact, even before deciding to run. “I definitely feel that there is space for me to work with each of them on different things, so I feel really positive about joining this group.”

So how does Riddell interpret the overall results, which showed a preference for incumbents with turnout low. “I would only be speculating, but we are definitely struggling with engagement,” she said. “So there is a little bit of that. I think a lot of people just don’t know what’s happening. Things are going well from their perspective. They have a good quality of life.”

On the other hand, she said she also met a lot of people, who wanted to get involved and support her. “That was really exciting,” she said.

RELATED: Voters in North Saanich, Central Saanich and Sidney face different environments

Riddell becomes the first woman whom voters elected to council since 2014, when Alicia Cormier won re-election. Riddell actually pointed this out, when she tweeted about the absence of women elected to council in 2018. “I don’t know how much it ended up mattering,” she said. “I definitely got feedback from people, who said, ‘absolutely, we need a woman’s voice on council.’ There were certainly people who felt that way and I am one of them. I think representation is important and we should be working toward more balanced representation. But I think actually a lot of people didn’t know … and I didn’t think anybody should vote for me because I’m a woman. I think I’m a strong candidate no matter matter, but I thought it might help encourage people to get out and vote.”

Although Riddell said earlier that she does not see herself as the exclusive avatar for any particular group within the community.

Coun. Zeb King said one of his priorities will be public transit. Specifically, he would like to see Central Saanich represent the Saanich Peninsula on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, a spot held by North Saanich for the last eight years. King would also like to see Central Saanich step up actions on climate change, adding the municipality has eight years left to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent to meet its 2030 goals. Finally, he will continue to work on protecting local farmland against urban sprawl.

Coun. Chris Graham said traffic safety and the environment were high on the priority list of voters. “I think we are also going to have to look at maintenance and renewal of infrastructure as a significant priority,” he said.

Coun. Bob Thompson said housing is probably Central Saanich’s biggest challenge on several levels. The first concerns the availability of affordable housing. “It’s a big challenge and I think we need to focus more on affordable housing.”

The other housing-related issue is the supportive housing project on Prosser Road, he said. Community concerns remain and not just in Saanichton, but also in Brentwood Bay as well, he said. Other issues cited by Thompson include encouraging higher-density housing along key transportation corridors and greater public engagement among other things.

Coun. Niall Paltiel said Saturday night that it is clear that council needs to do more to address road safety, housing affordability and quality of life.

Looking more broadly at the results, King said Saturday has made a good council even better. “It is fascinating when you look at the region too. So much change, but Central Saanich not so much. Personally, I think it has been a good council and it’s only going to get better.”

Thompson said the results were not surprising in striking a comparable note. “Council has been pretty stable for a number of years,” he said. “We don’t put on the fascinating things that you see in Langford or Victoria that would attract a lot of attention. We work together well and I am sure with Sarah (Riddell), it will be the same thing.”

Black Press Media also reached out to Coun. Gord Newton.

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wolfgang.depner @peninsulanewsreview.com

Saanich Peninsula