It’s admittedly a classic David and Goliath battle.
A one-time Spencer interchange tree sitter and social activist who lives in Port Renfrew is challenging Langford’s six-term mayor, a lifetime resident of the city he has transformed.
Their respective platforms, not surprisingly, take different tacks — incumbent Stew Young is focused on keeping taxes low and growth steady. Challenger Chris Johnson wants to see more public consultation and a stronger environmental focus.
Johnson, 38, wants to bring a deeper sense of public engagement to Langford council, while taking a closer look at the rate of development in the rapidly transforming city.
Many people are happy with how Langford has changed and grown over the past 20 years, he said, but certainly many aren’t, and they feel shut out or alienated by council. For him, political decision making isn’t so much about the outcome as the process.
“People I’ve met in Langford or hitchhiking to Port Renfrew, some are happy for sure, but some feel they’re not being consulted or informed about the rate of development,” Johnson said. “I want to give voice to that in particular.”
The public process can often be confusing or seen as overly bureaucratic, he said, which pushes people away from engaging in the civic life of the community. “I want the process to be more accessible, more interesting and more relevant to them,” said Johnson, who works on food security projects in his spare time. “This has been the No. 1 issue of people I talk to.”
Johnson admits the odds of defeated the entrenched incumbent seem remote, even more so operating on a zero dollar campaign budget. Unlike the 2008 civic election where Young was acclaimed, voters need a choice, Johnson said, even if just to take a measure of community opposition.
“It’s not just about Stew Young. People deserve a choice either way,” he said. “I would definitely take the job, it’s what I want to do. You can’t just run when you’re guaranteed to win.”
For Young, the economic formula is simple: encourage business and developer investments to keep property taxes low and infrastructure improvements coming.
The combative, 51-year-old six-term mayor said Langford’s council and staff worked relentlessly to keep the local economy rolling, amid the doldrums of the recession.
“Three years ago the economy was in dire straits. Fortunately Langford had projects in the pipeline. It helped keep people busy and employed,” Young pointed out, referring to new sports fields and the Sportsplex at City Centre Park. “Langford came out of the recession healthy and vibrant. On recreation facilities we spent $30 million in three years with no increase to taxpayers.”
Young expects this term, if he’s re-elected, he’ll refocus on finishing the Spencer interchange, a $25 million project funded by Skirt Mountain landowners.
Highway interchanges, Young said, may be expensive, but they promote hubs of economic activity, such as the big box stores and commercial area near the Millstream overpass.
Getting the Spencer interchange open is one part of the solution to traffic congestion, he said. The other is refurbishing the E&N rail line to help transport people through the city, and freight over the Malahat — he calls the region’s light rapid transit project too expensive and too soon.
“The E&N was important 100 years ago and it’s important now,” Young said. “The E&N is a job creator, LRT is not. The train is at the heart of our economic infrastructure.”