Karen Harper has won the byelection to fill the seat left empty since the death of Vic Derman

UPDATED: Harper wants a more “responsive” Saanich after winning byelection

Harper, a critic of the EDPA, wins narrow byelection against Rebecca Mersereau

Saanich’s next councillor says the municipality needs to become a “more efficient” and “more responsive” organization.

“Saanich needs to start listening better to its residents about the issues, particularly about budget and land use planning issues,” Karen Harper said in an interview, when asked about what message her election sends.

Harper won a narrow victory over Rebecca Mersereau in Saturday’s Saanich byelection to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Coun. Vic Derman in March. Harper finished with 2,340 votes, ahead of Mersereau with 2,238, followed by Nathalie Chambers with 1,856, Michael Geoghegan 863, Ned Taylor 597, Rob Wickson 577, Shawn Newby 465, Marsha Henderson 334, Keith Davidoff 163 and Art Pollard 83.

A longtime council watchdog with experience at the community association level, Harper joins council with little more than one year left until the 2018 general municipal election and immediately confronts two issues that constituted central parts of her platform: the fate of the controversial Environmental Development Permit (EDPA) bylaw and financial accountability.

Harper’s victory comes after she had openly campaigned against the EDPA, one of only two candidates to have done so.

While Harper said she could not be sure what role her firm opposition to the EDPA played, people can expect the same kind of clarity once she is on council. “People knew with me what my position was,” she said.

The EDPA is a flawed bylaw that has divided and distracted Saanich from more pressing issues, she said. Saanich needs to rescind it, then start afresh, she said.

Harper said she is “modestly optimistic” that she can achieve this goal, while acknowledging that not all of her future council colleagues share her agenda, at least not now.

That process begins later this fall once council starts receiving public input on a long-awaited report into the future of the EDPA. Council received the long-awaited report from Diamond Head Consulting in July, but delayed public input on it until after the byelection.

“This is something that should be debated and decided on by a full council,” said Coun. Fred Haynes at the time.

A second, less immediate, but perhaps equally pressing issue is next year’s budget.

Harper will join council as a former senior vice-president of the B.C. Pension Corporation and a member of a federal committee that helped the Canada Revenue Agency create savings in their business processes and pension plans.

Harper stressed her financial credentials during the campaign and will get the chance to put them on display as council sets out to reconcile competing demands.

This year’s budget raised property tax revenues by 3.53 per cent after council was trying to cut overall expenditures, while reconciling requests for additional staffing – the financial equivalent of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

While the budget process has not yet formally started, council last month once again asked staff to prepare a report setting two scenarios for cutting the overall budget, a path that has raised the prospect of service cuts.

Yet the subject of financial accountability has gained prominence after the public heard less than two weeks before the election that Saanich paid Chief Constable Bob Downie $378,790 following his retirement on July 31, only to rehire him as a contractor for two years (plus an option year), with an annual salary of about $222,711 plus benefits, vacation, leaves of absence and expense reimbursements.

Mayor Richard Atwell has defended the payment, which has drawn considerable criticism from the media and the public.

More broadly though, he has advertised himself as a defender of public finances, and gains an ally in Harper, who has been critical of Saanich’s financial management through her work as a director of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Victoria and Amalgamation Yes.

In fact, Atwell endorsed Harper during the campaign. “Yes, I was happy to provide an endorsement in her flyer because she is highly qualified and has been greatly involved in the community and at council these past few years,” he said. “Now, she also has the confidence of Saanich voters and I look forward to her swearing in on Oct.16,” he said.

For Mersereau, Saturday’s second-place finish marked her second narrow defeat. During the 2014 municipal election, she finished 30 votes behind Coun. Leif Wergeland, the eighth and final councillor elected.

A geographic breakdown suggests that Harper received most of her winning margin in the Gordon Head area, where the polling station at the Gordon Head Recreation Centre showed her having won 144 more votes than Mersereau.

The Gordon Head Recreation Centre was also the subject of criticism from at least one caller to the Saanich News, who complained about long wait times for casting her ballot.

Just Posted

UPDATE: Saanich police turn up no weapon, no person after morning call

Police event ends, residents return to their homes, shortly before noon, Friday, Feb. 22

Malahat snow-covered as flakes fall across Greater Victoria

Snowfall warning in effect for parts of Vancouver Island

BC Housing remains open to modular housing in Saanich, but acknowledges slow regional up take

Only one project with 21 units underway in the Greater Victoria

West Shore lands Pan Am Cross Country Cup

Event coming to Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort Spa in February 2020

Pacific FC to face off against HFX Wanderers FC at inaugural match

First game at Westhills Stadium on April 28

Fashion Fridays: Must have wardrobe basics

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

POLL: Will you be wearing pink to take a stand against bullying?

Schools and workplaces across Greater Victoria and around the province will be… Continue reading

Guards protest firing of fellow officers charged with assault at B.C. prison

Corrections officers demonstrated in Maple Ridge on Friday afternoon

Skier dies at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

Cause of death for young man has not been released

R. Kelly charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse

R&B star has been accused of sexual misconduct involving women and underage girls for years

More sailings coming to 10 BC Ferries’ routes

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the sailings were originally cut in 2014

National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

Next step includes cabinet voting on the controversial expansion

Cryptocurrency exchange CEO who suddenly died leaves Kelowna house in will

Gerald Cotten, holding the keys to money tied up in his virtual currency exchange, died in December.

Regulator’s report, coming today, unlikely to settle Trans Mountain pipeline battle

The Trans Mountain pipeline will remain a controversial topic both in the political ring and out

Most Read