New look for Victoria city council

Lisa Helps, Ben Isitt and Shellie Gudgeon were elected for the first time on Victoria city council on Saturday

Victoria councillors-elect Shellie Gudgeon

Victoria councillors-elect Shellie Gudgeon

Past elections have demonstrated it’s no easy feat to defeat an incumbent councillor seeking re-election in Victoria.

In fact, it’s happened only twice before in the past dozen years: In 2002, David McLean lost his seat on council; in 1999, Chris Coleman temporarily lost his seat.

The history highlights the significance of Saturday’s municipal election results.

Despite the fact that all incumbent councillors sought re-election, three lost the race. Lynn Hunter, John Luton and Philippe Lucas have been replaced by Lisa Helps, Ben Isitt and Shellie Gudgeon.

And they didn’t just squeak by. Helps placed third followed closely by Isitt. Winning 8,523 and 8,419 votes respectively, they were elected with more support than any other newcomer to council dating back at least five elections. Incumbent Geoff Young, who proved most popular, beat them by only a few hundred votes.

On Sunday, Helps and her campaign team plan a debrief, to figure out just how she won so many votes.

She’s been told its her warmth.

“That’s not a political strategy,” she said, laughing. “I have a genuine way of actually sitting down or standing with someone, looking them in the eye, and saying, ‘what is it that you want?’”

Helps, who led the creation of Community Micro Lending, said innovation is needed on council.

“One of the things that happens at City Hall … is everything is vetted through the city’s lawyer (to determine liability). … I think this is one of the things that prohibits change.”

The city is missing revenue-generating opportunities, Helps said, adding ideas can be tested on a small scale and grown city-wide if successful.

As one example, a city-run, green-energy corporation could dole out grants for solar panels in a single neighbourhood.

“See if over five years …  people are saving on their energy bills and generating extra electricity that could be sold off to their neighbours,” she said.

Isitt’s win can be attributed in part to the 25,000 doors he knocked on during the campaign.

The overhaul on council represents a call for change, he said, qualifying that “unfortunately, three progressive (councillors) were defeated.”

“What was missing at the old council table, I think, was an independent stance,” said Isitt, a historian who lost the mayoral race to Alan Lowe by 1,500 votes in 2005.

Council’s uncritical acceptance of city staff recommendations on issues, such as the Johnson Street Bridge, shows they’ve been out of step with voters, he said.

Isitt, who campaigned on issues of social justice and the environment, was also voted to join the Capital Regional District as a director. He attributes this to his activism against urban sprawl, listing developments at Bear Mountain and Juan de Fuca.

Regionally, he would like to see a $25 levy imposed on all households in the CRD to build housing for homeless.

“The burden of housing is falling disproportionately on the City of Victoria when there is so much wealth in Oak Bay, in North Saanich and elsewhere,” he said.

Gudgeon also interprets the election results as a call for independence.

There is no room for slates in municipal government, she said, pointing to the “Dean Team,” meaning Mayor Dean Fortin’s official endorsement of four councillors, including Luton and Hunter.

“The team is nine voices on council,” she said. To have a team of five is “very divisive.”

Gudgeon, a restaurateur, will be the only business owner on council, once sworn in.

Her campaign platform to build strong neighbourhoods resonated most with voters, she said. “People understand the importance of community.”

While she did little door knocking compared to others, she drew on her 20 years of involvement building community both where she lives and where she does business.

Taking action to remove the derelict boats in the Upper Harbour will be a priority for her once her council term begins.

Fortin was re-elected with 60 per cent of the vote, well ahead of his nearest contester, Paul Brown, who won 25 per cent. Fortin points out that by winning 10,080 votes, he garnered more support than any Victoria politician in history.

“I’m really excited and honoured to get a second term,” he said. “What I get from that is people are happy with the direction the city has taken over the last three years.”

Fortin has no explanation for the changeover on council.

“My instinct is I don’t know,” he said. “The three incumbents did a lot of amazing and great work … There are three new faces on council and that’s exciting.”

The newcomers’ priorities include community, affordable housing and green economy, Fortin said.

“These are things that this council has (focused on), so to a certain extent, all those new faces are reaffirmation of the direction that the city wants to go.”

Elected to council

• Geoff Young

Charlayne Thornton-Joe

Lisa Helps

Ben Isitt

Marianne Alto

Pam Madoff

Shellie Gudgeon

Christopher Coleman

 

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