The three-horse race for mayor of North Cowichan is down to the wire and appears too close to call.
Without any specific polling data to draw from, it seems Rob Douglas, John Koury and Rosalie Sawrie are running neck-and-neck heading into the finish line for the Saturday, Oct. 15 municipal vote. Douglas and Sawrie are both current councillors while Koury was a councillor in 2014 before losing a bid for mayor against Jon Lefebure.
The last elections in 2018 resulted in just a 10-vote margin of victory for Al Siebring over Lefebure.
Chemainus and Crofton polling is often significant in the eventual results and the three challengers were primed to make their best impression during an all-candidates meeting last Thursday night at Chemainus Secondary School.
There have been numerous meetings during this campaign, including one in Crofton the previous week.
The contentious Official Community Plan is a frequent topic of discussion for the three hopefuls and Douglas immediately addressed it in his opening remarks.
He said the OCP was highlighted by extensive community involvement during what’s essentially been a four-year process.
“Now is not the time to open up our OCP for another costly review,” he said. “It will only delay other important work at the municipality.”
Koury cited his previous two terms on council and service as chair of the Economic Development Committee as significant in shaping his plans for the municipality.
“We are going to bring more opportunities for our community,” he said. “We are going to make our community more affordable.”
Koury is making reducing taxes and addressing development delays as a priority. “We need to correct this ship, we need to get it back on track, we need to get out of the way of businesses,” he said.
Sawrie mentioned she’s shifted more to the middle after previously having a heavy emphasis on the environment.
“I made the change to focus on poverty and housing while keeping environmental impacts in mind,” she said.
Siding with Douglas’ comments, “a great deal of staff time and community member time went into building that plan,” Sawrie said of the OCP. “I’m not interested in reopening the OCP.”
The candidates were asked for their thoughts on opening up the Municipal Forest Reserve to logging again.
Douglas said the UBC team conducting the review has developed four scenarios that involve the status quo, conservation and a couple of options in between.
“These are going to go out to you folks for review in November,” he added. “Eventually, that’s going to come back to council.”
“It’s a very complicated issue,” noted Sawrie. “There’s our cultural and economic options that we have to take into play. We’ll really hear from the public, how you think our forests should be managed and I respect that process.”
Koury said he didn’t understand “why we had to shut down forest operations and lose all revenues.
“We have our ability to come up with the economic program ourselves. We have the expertise and we have people who know what they’re doing.”
Chemainus businessman Ward Yeager asked why there had been no discussion on holding the line on taxes below the rate of inflation.
Koury said one step he’d take is to get rid of the climate change tax. “It’s a slush fund for community groups to apply to for environmental activism and we can’t afford that right now.”
“There’s a few immediate steps we can take,” said Douglas. “We go through the budget cycle every year. We bring it down to 2.9 per cent and everyone feels good about themselves because we’ve shaved down those additional costs.”
One way to help minimize the blow is to attract more light industry and commercial businesses, he added.
“I definitely see how increasing taxes and all of our expenses now is making it unaffordable for people and we need to work on that,” said Sawrie.
Economic development from recruiting new businesses and not expanding current services would definitely help, she added.
Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day, Oct. 15. Voting for Chemainus residents is at the Chemainus 55+ Activity Centre and at Crofton Elementary School for Crofton residents.