(Updated to correct population comments)
A challenger for the mayor’s seat in North Saanich has emerged early in the new year, months before the 2018 civic elections on October 20 in B.C.
Businessman Stephen Weller has announced he plans on running for mayor of the District of North Saanich, following weeks of testing the waters informally throughout the community.
Weller owns a variety of commercial properties in Sidney and sold a pair of auto body businesses last year. At 46 and with a 10-year-old child in school in North Saanich, Weller said he has been talking about local politics for years and decided this year’s election was the right time for him to seek the mayor’s chair.
North Saanich’s current mayor is Alice Finall, who has held the position for three consecutive terms, starting in 2008. She was also a councillor from 1993 to 1999. Finall has not yet decided if she will seek a fourth term of office.
Weller told the PNR he feels he has a good chance to unseat Finall, citing changing demographics in the community.
He said there needs to be more discussion about how the community can support younger people who, for the most part, are doing the catering. Weller added he has also served the older population of North Saanich for around 20 years, through his various businesses — so he expects blancing the older vote with the younger, should not be a problem when election day comes.
“The demographics of North Saanich are changing,” he said. “It has always been a great place to raise your kids.”
That doesn’t mean he wants to see more residential development in North Saanich. Weller said he would like to see improvement in how the municipality supports businesses that serve the community.
“My own businesses grew five, six, seven per cent a year,” he said, “and I learned to manage growth along the way. There needs to be a long-term focus and planning.”
Weller added he doesn’t necessarily envision large growth spots within North Saanich, but wants to see council manage growth by creating more options for commercial development, which in turn could lead to further housing options, such as smaller lot development and carriage houses on larger lots.
At the same time, he said North Saanich doesn’t have “to go crazy” on increasing density.
“North Saanich is significantly different than Sidney, for example.”
As well, Weller said he sees a need for North Saanich’s existing commercial areas to be better served by the District.
Weller said any growth has to be balanced with the District’s agricultural areas. Yet, even here, he’d like to see some growth.
There could be an increase in agricultural activity on the former Sandown race track land once the District decides what to do with the land. Yet Weller was critical of the deal, saying the District is now saddled with it, leaving people wondering what will be done there.
“What will it look like? what will North Saanich get from it in the long term? I don’t want it to become a white whale.”
Weller said he thought Sandown was North Saanich’s opportunity to get some mixed development — commercial and residential growth/
“It was an opportunity to add a commercial centre for North Saanich, which we don’t have.”
The District entered a deal to maintain 80 acres of the land as agricultural property and have conducted studies to determine what to do with it. The remaining 12 acres was retained by the owners as a commercial site. Canadian Tire has already spoken for a portion of that area along MacDonald Park Road.
The municipal election takes place on Oct. 20, 2018.