Why are you running for Council?
At 58, I’ve reached a point in my life when I would like to be of more direct service to the community. Running for office is a challenge that takes me outside my comfort zone, offers no end of learning opportunities, and is a great chance for me to walk the talk within the guidelines of the Local Government Act.
My wife Carolyn and I have been Sooke homeowners since 2003. Over the last five years, I’ve become involved in community volunteerism – primarily with Transition Town Sooke and also the EMCS Society and the Sooke Farmland Trust Society. These organizations are integral parts of the larger community web, and I’d like to bring the insights and fresh thinking I’ve encountered in these circles forward to the Council table.
Like many in town, I’m excited about local initiatives like the T’Sou-ke Nation’s solar, aquaculture and greenhouse projects, Sunriver Community Garden, Harbourside Cohousing, the Hope Centre and the Sooke Incubator start-up business concept. How can the District work with these and other local assets to more fully put Sooke on the map as a community brimming with promise and potential?
In recent years, I’ve also grown fascinated with municipal politics and have attended a fair share of Council meetings during Mayor Milne’s term. I’ve witnessed how civic business is hard, grinding, detail-oriented work that requires advance homework, careful listening, intelligent questions and final votes that fully respect the value of taxpayer contributions. I believe I’m up to the task while also capable of playing a positive team role as one among six councillors led by an inspirational Mayor, guided by professional staff and open to community expertise.
What is your previous governance experience, and how will it serve you if elected to Council for 2014-2018?
As a freelance journalist and copywriter for more than three decades, I have excellent listening skills, a quick mind and an ability to communicate. I have no governance experience apart from my role as president of Transition Sooke. The title carries some leadership responsibilities yet the position is a requirement of the Society Act and our group of nine largely operates as a “core team” working in a collegial manner. I’m interested in consensus techniques and Non-Violent Communications – two widely used tools for effective, productive, respectful group relationships of a kind that might well be useful in council chambers.
What are the three main issues affecting Sooke’s success as a community and what would you want to see improved in those areas?
i) We need to more fully recognize that the municipality is, in fact, a mostly successful work-in-progress, that past councils have made significent strides, and that we’re truly blessed to live in this remarkable part of the world. In recognizing the evolving nature of our teenaged municipality, we need to dust off, revisit and honour the vast amount of public input and expertise that has gone into the creation of the District’s library of plans and reports. There’s no need to roll ahead with a different wheel. Sooke’s best hopes and visions have been identified, and they’re ready to be enacted incrementally over time as needs require and funding becomes available. A fresh look at the 2010 Official Community Plan is in order, but patience, focus and continuity are key as we build on achievements to date.
ii) A major issue, of course, is our nondescript (to be kind) town centre, which has developed in haphazard fashion and is particularly unwelcoming for pedestrians. The town’s natural orientation towards our postcard harbour is camouflaged. We lack a village plaza, oceanfront green space or viewpoint, drinking fountain, public washrooms, clock tower or summer tourism kiosk. No wonder we fail to catch visitors as they zip through town en route to French Beach and beyond. These issues and more were identified in Sooke’s 2006 town centre design guidelines report. The good news: Traffic functionality issues are being addressed in the current Corporate Strategic Plan and the first incursions into what will be the town centre south of Sooke Road are primed to begin.
iii) Our somewhat toxic political culture is also an issue. There is, in my opinion, far too much negativity, backbiting, and “we should have done it differently” subjective recollection about what’s happened over the years. Yes, mistakes have been made. Yes, we need a Council that is fiscally responsible and takes care of municipal business in full collaboration with empowered District staff. Yet we also need at the same time an administration that retains a spirit of creativity, imagination and possibility. Let’s learn from the past, live in the present and look to the future in positive, optimistic and proactive fashion.
What can be done to improve Sooke’s local economy? How can small business be better supported in this town?
In terms of existing local business, we need to promote what we have, not what we lack, as a starting point, and the Chamber of Commerce is positioned to do this effectively. We need to improve bandwidth and cell phone reception (but definitely not via a telecommunications tower in the core). We must encourage mixed-use, multi-level commercial development downtown (not, for instance, one-storey bank buildings in prime locations on the south side of Sooke Road). The Mayor’s Advisory Panel on Economic Development is a smart new innovation by Mayor Milne (replacing the existing EDC), however I wonder whether the District can do a better immediate job of actively wooing the kinds of builders, businesses, event producers and, for that matter, residents who’d want to invest in the vision of Sooke’s future detailed in our OCP.
What concerns have you heard about most from voters during your campaign so far?
The voters I’ve spoken with want exactly what’s taken for granted in many communities: sidewalks, streetlights, crosswalks, bike lanes, trail systems, and an effective road network. Pedestrians, cyclists and those in personal mobility scooters want safe passage along a West Coast Road that isn’t choked with boat trailers. Seniors want a gathering place. Soccer players want better drainage at Fred Milne Park and have valid questions about the health dangers of all-season astroturf. Young people want more hometown jobs. And, above all, everyone craves a lively, attractive, harbour-facing downtown of which they can be proud, not apologetic. For their part, the business owners I’ve spoken with want to see parking issues addressed, bemoan the lack of commercial space, and fear that high commercial rental rates will force more business closures.