Friday, November 04, 2011

Seeing the Esquimalt Race from Tim Morrison's Eyes

With a number of the municipalities in this region there is virtually no coverage of what is going on.   I do not have time to pay attention to it all so I have asked some candidates to tell me what they think is going on.   I like what I am seeing as it is much more interesting than any of the newspaper coverage I have seen.


For those of you that feel this might be biased in some way or unfair, keep in mind that this blog is my space that I use to express thoughts and opinions on the region in my spare time.  This is not a newspaper.

An Inside View of the Esquimalt Election Campaign: 
A Candidate’s Perspective – by Tim Morrison
Esquimalt’s 2011 election campaign is a stark contrast to 2008. Three years ago, there were 14 competitive candidates for Council, an engaging debate over the future of the Archie Browning Sports Centre, and a highly dynamic mayoral race between incumbent Chris Clement and challenger Barb Desjardins. Desjardins impressed (and surprised) many observers after rising from underdog candidate, galvanizing the community, and winning a resounding upset victory over Clement.


This time around in Esquimalt...not so exciting. Desjardins has been acclaimed for a second term, resulting in no mayoral race that would attract media attention. Prior to the election, many predicted that Desjardins could not be beat. Her work ethic and commitment to the community are held in high regard by many Esquimalt residents. Her approach has been to be a “full-time Mayor”, regularly available to meet with concerned residents on any issue. Hence, she is unopposed in her re-election bid.


Esquimalt: The Candidates
Meanwhile, there are six seats to fill on Council, but only a mere eight candidates have come forward. Only two incumbents, Lynda Hundleby and Meagan Brame, are seeking re-election. The majority of the next council will be new. Hundleby, a retired pharmacist and health public servant, is a two-term Councillor, who uses careful deliberation before casting votes. She has an independent streak and her positions are not always predictable. She is best known as a passionate advocate for public libraries. Brame is completing her first term after being elected as part of the grassroots wave to save the Archie Browning Centre. While Brame’s politics lean left, she is also a small businessperson who owns a local childcare centre. Her passion is children and youth advocacy. Her eldest son is also a respected youth leader in the community.


Of the newcomers, three candidates including myself (Tim Morrison), Dave Hodgins, and Bob McKie have the strongest connection to the community. For the past two years, I have served as Co-Chair of the Esquimalt Residents Association and as founding editor of EsquimaltReview.com, a blog about community affairs in Esquimalt. I am also a member of the Esquimalt Parks & Recreation Committee. My background is in government communications and I currently coordinate communications for the BC Assessment Authority. I have previously been a journalist, educator, and school trustee. Dave Hodgins has perhaps the most impressive background. He is a former Assistant Deputy Minister for the B.C. Ministry of Solicitor General & Public Safety as well as previously serving as the province’s Fire Commissioner, a community fire chief, and currently operating a national consulting service on emergency preparedness. Hodgins and I regularly attend Council meetings together, which would make for a smooth transition on Council if we are elected. Retired small businessperson Bob McKie is a well-known community volunteer who has a long service record with the Esquimalt Lions and is Co-Chair of Esquimalt’s legendary annual Buccaneer Days. He was the first runner-up in the 2008 election, having lost by only 50 votes.


As for the other three candidates (Sandra Dixon, David Shinbein, and Josh Steffler), very little is known about them. They don’t have much community involvement, don’t attend Council meetings, and their campaigns have been virtually invisible. Dixon has lived in Esquimalt for 41 years and previously promoted student pedestrian safety awareness in our local schools. One media report described her as “unemployed” while another indicated she was “retired”. I met her once briefly and she came across as a soft-spoken and pleasant person. Shinbein only moved to Esquimalt five months before the election, but has municipal government experience as a former Councillor in a small Ontario town. He currently works in security for the Commissionaires. Steffler works in the local Country Grocer bakery and is an organizer of the Occupy Victoria camp protest downtown.
You can read more about all the candidate profiles at this link: http://www.vicnews.com/news/132747633.html


In terms of the School Board election, I am only aware of one candidate that has made a concerted effort to reach out to Esquimalt voters: David Bratzer. He is also a VicPD officer who has spent a lot of time working in the Esquimalt community.


Esquimalt: The Issues
In terms of issues, the number one topic that voters mention when I’m out door-knocking is policing. Irony is also playing a role. The incumbent Council seemed determined to not make policing an election issue. They approached this strategy rather clumsily by first announcing that they were bound by provincial government-ordered confidentiality to not release the municipality’s report on their recommended future policing service provider.


But, by trying to keep this issue so secretive and away from voters in the election, they actually resulted in achieving the opposite. The public and media outcry has been relentless. Everybody wants to know the details of the report, but Municipal Hall is not budging. After immense pressure and having clarifying that the municipality was “mistaken” about province’s confidentiality orders (it turns out that condition never existed), Mayor Desjardins opened the doors just a crack to announce that the RCMP were the successful bidders over the incumbent VicPD in providing the future policing of Esquimalt. But, then, the door slammed shut again as the public were not allowed to know any of the details or the contents of the report.


I have been talking to a lot of voters and they all tell me that this whole saga is a perfect example of how Esquimalt operates: closed doors, lack of information, and breakdown in communications. And, I agree. As an Esquimalt resident, I am actually quite embarrassed how horribly this issue has been handled. Our community is outraged and we continue to be ignored. Major changes need to take place.


Another issue at play in the election (but being drowned out by all the talk on policing) is the referendum question on the future development of our now vacant community-owned lands surrounding Municipal Hall. The controversial question is whether or not voters support developing density on the site with two proposed condo towers, one ranging twelve stories and the other eight stories. The camps are divided between those that want to maintain our community’s small-town appeal (“No” side) and those that want a revitalized community (“Yes” side). Mayor Desjardins is championing the latter, but much suspense remains on which side the community will lean.


In short, Esquimalt’s election is all about a stable Mayor, a major turnover on Council, uncertainty and secrecy on policing, the need for openness and better communication, and whether or not we will have future private development of Esquimalt’s public lands.


Esquimalt Residents Association Co-Chair Tim Morrison is an EsquimaltReview.com blogger who has recently gone “from keyboard to candidate” in the Esquimalt municipal elections. Visit Tim’s campaign website at www.TimMorrison.ca
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