Hopefuls for mayor and council of North Cowichan stayed away from revealing underlying personal political agendas during an all-candidates meeting Wednesday night at the Crofton Community Centre.
A vehicle was parked right at the front door decorated in Canadian flags that would have normally been considered extremely patriotic, but implies something else today.
People in attendance could only judge the books by their covers, with no questions from the floor. Submitted questions were encouraged, but only three were selected and posed to the three mayoral candidates – Rob Douglas, John Koury and Rosalie Sawrie – to keep the meeting within the two-hour time limit.
It was a similar format the previous night for an all-candidates meeting in Maple Bay.
The 15 candidates running for six councillor seats had three minutes each to provide details on their backgrounds and state their best cases. They were selected to speak in random order and include: Mike Caljouw Jr., Peter W. Rusland, Joseph Enslowe, Chris Istace, Kate Marsh, Bruce Findlay, Dana Arthurs, Tek Manhas, Charles Borg, Adrienne Richards, Joyce Behnsen, Christopher Justice, Elizabeth Croft, Debra Toporowski and Chris Shaw. You can find out about each of their platforms at their respective websites or through social media.
The mayoral candidates were all given five minutes to introduce themselves and touch upon their perceived important issues. All three acquitted themselves well, saying the right things to resonate with their supporters and give the undecided voters some food for thought.
The usual issues were front and centre in everyone’s address – affordable housing, homelessness, crime, taxes, the economy, development and the environment. But there are also some lingering matters for debate within North Cowichan – specifically, the Municipal Forest Reserve Review and the recently-completed Official Community Plan.
Koury, who spoke first, said next year marks the 150th anniversary of the municipality and “we have an opportunity for a new era for affordability and security.”
A former councillor who also ran for mayor previously in 2014, Koury proposed a 90-day plan if elected.
“We have to stop the delays, end the endless meetings that are going on and bring business back to this community,” he said. “Our taxes have doubled since I left office in 2014.”
With the 90-day plan, “you’re going to get immediate results,” Koury said.
He added this involves going through the ‘need to do’, ‘must do’ and ‘wish list’ matters before council.
“We are going to reduce that residential tax burden.”
Douglas is a two-term councillor and making his first pitch to become mayor.
“I’ve built a reputation as somebody who works hard, does his homework and is accessible to local residents,” he said.
The tools are there, Douglas added, to tackle the big issues like the housing crisis, defending the environment and responding to the effects of climate change and taking a regional approach to economic development.
It’s important to maintain the rural nature of North Cowichan, he indicated, and “we can do that by moving away from sprawl.”
With the extensive involvement from local residents on the OCP, “it allows us to manage all that significant growth and development,” Douglas said.
Sawrie is completing her first term as a councillor and decided to also run for the mayor’s chair.
“I’ve learned a lot by listening to different people’s perspectives,” she said.
An affordable housing strategy is awaiting approval “which I believe we desperately need,” Sawrie indicated.
With the OCP that has been met with mixed reaction, “a great deal of time from staff and community members went into the development of that plan,” she pointed out. “What irks me is we didn’t get to sit down as a community to talk about these neighbourhood maps.”
Sawrie is anxious for a special mayor’s committee to hear from the development community.
“We need to know what the challenges are and what changes need to be made moving ahead. We need to be building bridges to get the work done.”
Each of the mayoral candidates then had the opportunity to answer the same three questions pulled from audience submissions.
One of the questions asked what services each of them proposed could be cut to reduce property taxes.
“It’s important to me we all have affordability in our lives,” said Sawrie. “Cutting our taxes is a tough one because we’re all comfortable with the services we receive.”
“We struggle with it every year to try and manage it as best as we can,” said Douglas.
Pointing to the recently-completed North Cowichan satisfaction survey, “there wasn’t a lot of appetite for cutting back on municipal services,” he added.
Koury said when he was last on council, the table was being set for economic growth and development, but things came to a stop with the OCP being opened up again. “What took its place was a turnstile of consultancy, we chased away the business. I will lower the tax burden in the first 90 days. We don’t need to tax you for climate change any further.”
There are additional all-candidates meetings at the Maple Bay Fire Hall Saturday, Oct. 1 at 10:30 a.m. and at Chemainus Secondary School Thursday, Oct. 6 at 6 p.m.