Karen Harper won’t have much time to reflect after she becomes Saanich’s newest council members.
She will take the oath of office, then take her seat next to the left of Mayor Richard Atwell, the seat assigned to the most junior councillor, as council meets to consider an agenda that includes a presentation from the board overseeing the region’s controversial sewage treatment project.
Twenty-four hours later, council will reconvene to receive public input into the controversial Doumac development.
Both evenings promise to be long and contentious, and the question arises: does Harper have any regrets about her choice? “No,” she says, with a laugh. “I have a good sense of what it’s like.”
Harper won last month won the byelection to fill the seat left vacant since the death of Vic Derman by 102 votes ahead of Rebecca Mersereau on a platform that calls for greater financial accountability, reworked local area plans, and abolishing the controversial Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA).
A teacher by academic training, Harper joins council with a professional background in financial management. She has served as treasurer for the Camosun Community Association, and as a director of Amalgamation Yes, a self-described non-partisan, non-profit organization that promotes more effective and accountable government by reforming regional governance. This background has made Harper a familiar figure at council meetings. By her own accounts, Harper has attended three-quarters of council meetings since 2015 as an observer, and all but one meeting about the bylaw, which she would like to see abolished.
Harper, in other words, will have a working knowledge of the issues will confront her. This said, it is one thing to watch council from the audience, another to join the body responsible for a municipality of more than 110,000 individuals. Accordingly, Harper will have received several briefings from District staff, before she takes her seat.
Harper sounds realistically about what she is able to achieve, noting that she is just one voice on council. This said, Harper also sounds deeply committed, when she promises to work with all councillors on issues.
“I have positions, but you can’t realize them, unless you get support,” she says.
Harper joins council against the looming backdrop of next year’s general municipal election and tensions between Mayor Richard Atwell and the rest of council over the new contract for Chief Constable Robert Downie, Saanich’s top cop.
Harper says her focus will be on policy, not personalities.
“We are there to do the business of Saanich on behalf of Saanich and that’s what I’m going to focus on,” she said.