Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Voter's Association Gains Momentum

Another voters group has been formed, this time in North Saanich. I am trying to find out more about the North Saanich Voters Association. They seem to be a group countering the NIMBYism that has been running rampant in North Saanich.

The one that comes to mind is the waterslide at Panorama Rec Centre. The issue stuns me - people actually spent money on lawyers because the height of the tower may have been marginally too tall, the sort of mindset it would take to do that is one I can not even fathom. Do they really have nothing better to do with their lives? They must have more money than they need, would have been nice to see it given to a good cause, but I digress.

I can not tell from their materials what they are planning on doing in the municipal elections, I assume they will come out to endorse a slate of candidates. They may also be a platform for a defacto local municipal party, they formed just in time to be able to get their name onto the ballot for candidates they are backing. I will pay attention to what they are doing.

At this point they look to be more active than the Saanich Civic League which launched over three months ago with a big meeting and media coverage.

I will say I have not heard about who is running in North Saanich, not even a decent rumour. If you know anything, please let me know.

The next meeting they are holding is Tuesday Sept 23rd at the Mary Windspear centre at 7:15 pm


New group focussed on municipal accountability

With the municipal election coming up, a group of North Saanich residents has come together to create a new group intended to represent the interests of the municipality’s voters. But the North Saanich Association of Voters isn’t intending to just throw their weight behind a group of candidates and then disappear from the political landscape.

“This isn’t for the short term,” said Ellen Wells, one of a small group that has stepped forward to guide the association into existence. In fact, while the association intends to host an all-candidates’ meeting, their main work will come after the election, as they seek to bring accountability, transparency, and good governance to the municipality.

The association began on August 7, when a group of residents met and expressed their desire to see changes in the way that things were done in North Saanich.

“The issue really started with the process of the [Panorama Recreation Centre] waterslide and the [Supreme Court] lawsuit,” said John Wells, the acting chair of NSAV. “It was a pivotal event; there was a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction with the way things had gone.” Out of that discussion came the idea to form a group to represent what John calls “the average, normal voter” in North Saanich. John volunteered to chair to begin; he thinks he has something of an advantage because while he and Ellen own property in North Saanich, they’re not currently residents. “It gives me a unique perspective; I have no history or issues with particular personalities.”

The 50 people at that first meeting wanted to establish what the NSAV would do, and how it would do it. They didn’t want it to become simply a “bitch session,” as John described it; it was there that they decided the focus would be on accountability and good governance. The focus was not, John emphasized, on battling or attacking any other North Saanich groups.

“A lot of people [in North Saanich] want to get into a fight,” he said. “It’s like there are two gangs, grey-haired gangs, that fight with words and opinions instead of sticks and stones. Our purpose is not to build a bigger gang; it’s to ask questions, and address a lack of accountability.”

By the second meeting in August, NSAV had 115 people, and had found that most had come out because of two hot-button issues: the waterslide and the housing strategy. According to John, the major issue around the waterslide was the decision by council to refuse the originally-requested variance, and the costs that accrued for taxpayers because of that. “Four councillors went against staff and the overwhelming majority of North Saanich voters,” he said. “Somebody has to say, you voted against it, you’re responsible.”

Michael Shoemaker, another member of NSAV, said he feels that the waterslide, and the contentious meeting that led to the variance being refused, has raised awareness of political issues in many residents who previously were not involved. “The waterslide crystallized previous concerns,” he said. “A group appeared for the first time, and to their amazement, the matter had been pre-judged, and they were completely ignored. That group married up with people who were more [politically] experienced.” He said that those experienced with North Saanich politics had seen the same pattern that applied to the waterslide, with delays, indecision, and lack of representation of what they say is the majority opinion, in other issues: the OCP, the housing strategy, Sandown, the sewers, Kelset school.

“If you read the [minutes] of the council meetings, you see they delay and send things back and forth. There’s example after example, where they could have made a decision.”

“A delay is as good as a denial,” said Peter Kerr, another member. “It’s a ploy, rather than a decision. People want to move forward, not to rehash and disinter old bones; to restore positivity to North Saanich, and end the climate of negativity.”

As to housing, the group said they support a range of housing options for families and seniors. “I don’t want to be here at 95 and working at the Mac store,” said Ellen. “We need to make a continuous population that can be keeping North Saanich alive.”

John agreed that he didn’t condone the idea that people should have to move away to downsize. “We’re not bad people if we want selected higher density.”

With the election looming, the group said they do not currently have any champions on council and will be deciding at their next meeting how they want to approach the election — whether by supporting a slate or individual candidates. “We’ll hold an all-candidates meeting and the candidates will come and be tested against our principles,” said Shoemaker.

“Too many times, people make a statement, and when they vote, it goes the other way,” said John. “We want to make sure they’re accountable for what they say.”

The next meeting of the North Saanich Association of Voters will be held on Tuesday, September 23, in the Bodine Family Hall at the Mary Winspear Centre, from 7:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.; all are welcome. For more information about the group or to join the mailing list, contact northsaanichassocofvoters@gmail.com or visit their website at www.northsaanichav.org.


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