The gym at the Tsawout First Nation was full on Tuesday night as residents gathered to see District of Central Saanich councillor and mayoralty hopefuls at the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and Peninsula News Review All Candidates Forum.
Questions to the candidates were submitted by members of the public and read by Louise Hartland, the night’s mediator, from CTV Vancouver Island.
The questions ranged from topics that have been election issues in the past, like the access to Keating X Road from the Pat Bay Highway, to new issues that have come up in the last year like the District’s possible acquisition of land in Maber Flats for a drainage facility.
Ten of the 11 declared councillor candidates (William Moodrey did not attend) were in attendance as well as two of the three declared mayoralty candidates were present (David Shebib, a candidate declared in all 13 CRD municipalities, did not attend.)
The question of the acquisition of land in Maber Flats drew similar responses from many of the candidates.
“I feel we need a second appraisal,” said Susan Mason, a former councillor with the District, about the price of the land.
Her sentiment was echoed by most other candidates, many of whom also raised questions about a report from the District’s Agricultural Advisory Committee and commented that it should be looked at further.
“Council will need to respond to the AAC about their concerns, the first step is to hear what the committee has to say about the project,” said Bob Thompson.
Niall Paltiel — a first time council hopeful — Chris Graham and John Hannam all said they felt it was time to do something about the drainage issues in the area and that the project should move ahead in some form.
“I’m in favour of taking action but I agree the price is too high for the land. What we need is a fresh set of eyes on the project,” said Paltiel.
The question of the District’s historical non-participation in the CRD’s Arts Development Service was raised, and candidates were asked whether or not they would support the fund which is currently contributed to by eight municipalities in the CRD: Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, View Royal, Metchosin, Highlands and Sidney.
Mayoral candidate Ryan Windsor said he was open to looking at the possibility of paying into the fund but would “need to hear more from the arts community” on whether or not it would be a good use of funds.
Mayoral candidate Jack Mar said it was something he had heard requests for in his past terms as a council member and mayor and that he supported the idea of putting a small amount into the fund with a review to take place the following year as to how the fund was beneficial to the district.
Both Paltiel and Alicia Cormier were supportive of the idea. Carl Jensen said he felt the district is already paying into the arts by way of the district’s grant-in-aid funding.
“Just because we don’t pay into the CRD’s fund doesn’t mean we don’t support the arts,” Jensen said.
The question of Woodwyn Farms was posed, with many candidates agreeing they felt the idea behind the therapeutic community was sound but that the location and the not-for-profit organization’s flaunting of municipal bylaws were a problem.
“I feel like they should have to obey the bylaws and farm the land as any farmer would,” said Mar during the forum.
“This has been a long, drawn out issue and the society needs to look at cooperating with the district and council. I don’t think it’s a healthy relationship,” said Graham.
Not surprisingly, the question of farming, farmland security and taxation rates came up. Forum attendees were asked by a member of the public if they would consider changing the mill rate for farm land in the district.
“For big farms, no, but for the smaller hobby farms, yes,” said Baldev Lalli.
“The farming community is challenged in its viability,” said Cormier.
“We do need to look at the taxes and rates and maybe look at incentives for high value crops.”
Zeb King said he favoured looking at other ways to encourage farmers.
“It’s a difficult business to be in,” he said. “We should be looking at ways for farmers to save money on things like water prices…We need to find ways to make farming work,” he said.
Shawn Munro said he wouldn’t support a tax rate increase but supports farming in the community and Jensen said that until the tax bases in Saanichton, Brentwood and Keating are maximized he wouldn’t want to purse farms. Thompson, and mayoralty candidates Windsor and Mar both also said no.
The evening was wrapped up with closing comments from all of the candidates.
The general election takes place on Saturday, Nov. 15. Advance voting opportunities will be held on Nov. 5, Nov. 8 and Nov. 12 at Central Saanich Municipal Hall. For more information see centralsaanich.ca.