In BC the mayor of a community is not a very strong position, there are only very limited things a mayor can do without the direct consent of the majority of the council. For the last three years we have seen in North Saanich what happens when the mayor is in the minority on the council. It makes for a bad governance situation.
Richard Atwell comes in as mayor as very much an outsider. For Richard Atwell to be an effective mayor he will have to be skilled diplomat in building support from among the new council otherwise there is a danger of having a divided council with the mayor in the minority.
On the new council the centre left has a clear majority. Dean Murcock, Judy Brownoff and Colin Plant have personal ties to the NDP. Vicki Sanders and Vic Derman are left of centre but not New Democrats. That is five members of council and enough to control what is done in Saanich. I can not think of a time in the last generation where the left has held the majority of the seats on Saanich council. For this group to work cohesively much well depend on how Vic Derman interacts with the other four.
It is not clear to me what is the group of councilors will be the most supportive of Richard Atwell as mayor. Of the eight elected only Fred Haynes was moderately close to Richard Atwell. At least five of the six incumbents that were re-elected felt targeted by the Atwell campaign which is unlikely to make them ready to rush in and support his program. I have trouble seeing Susan Brice or Leif Wergeland being there for the new mayor.
There are clearly issues or changes in policy where all of the new council will agree but most of those are basic motherhood issues. But will happen beyond that? What happens if the mayor and council do not agree?
Here are some things to consider
- Richard Atwell raised a number of issues of actions that were taken by Saanich that the communities involved with were not happy with. I am not sure if this means that the mayor will seek to defer to local interests at all times. It could mean that Saanich may be seen as anti-development and lose new projects.
- Taxation levels were an issue for Richard Atwell. It will be interesting to see what he proposes for the budget and how he will get the public interested in the process and how he will get a majority on council in favour of his budget priorities.
- Richard Atwell has left me with the impression that he wants to make some heads roll at City Hall - he will need the support of council to do that. It could also make it hard for him to build a sense of trust between staff and himself.
- How will Richard Atwell move forward on the amalgamation issue for Saanich?
We now come to the CRD. Of the five CRD directors from Saanich, three of them will be the same ones as before, only Colin Plant and Richard Atwell will be new. Will this be enough to change the dynamic of the CRD? Richard Atwell will be one voice at the CRD and may have to live with the CRD sewage treatment direction even if it is not what he wants.
It becomes very important for the new mayor to build good relationships with the council and we will quickly see if Richard Atwell can do this or not.