Saanich’s newest councillor took her seat Monday, but Karen Harper had to wait a few minutes longer.
Some last-minute administrative details delayed the swearing-in of Harper by Justice Geoffrey Gaul for several minutes. Mayor Richard Atwell, wearing the chain of office, had actually started the meeting, when it became clear that the swearing-in ceremony could not start on time.
Once Gaul had administered the oath of office and the oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, Harper received congratulations from her mother, then took her seat between Atwell to her right and Coun. Fred Haynes to her left.
“I would like to congratulate Ms. Harper,” said Coun. Colin Plant in welcoming her to her post, when council received a report detailing the results of the byelection that elected Harper.
Harper last month won 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 had 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 had made Harper a familiar figure at council meetings. By her own accounts, Harper had 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 received several briefings from District staff before she took her seat.
Speaking with Saanich News before Monday’s ceremony, Harper sounded realistically about what she is able to achieve, noting that she is just one voice on council. This said, Harper also sounded 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 said.
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.