The Record’s Councillor Choices – Four veterans and three newcomers

Presented in alternating order of incumbents and challengers with quotes from our candidates’ questionnaire.

Note: You can vote for eight councillors or fewer.

Pam Madoff

If we get a new mayor, the first thing he should do is give Pam Madoff an office in the City Hall wing which houses the mayor, city manager, legislative services and other support staff. Or at least put her number on speed dial.

Madoff is known as the heritage councillor, but she is much more. She understands planning in the Victoria context as well as anyone in the city, which means working with the public, especially neighbours, deciding what should be built, how it fits in and what may be added or left out of a building project.

This may seem obvious, but not to those who have watched other council members vote reflexively in favour, or allow themselves to be influenced by developers, city staff or each other, rather than basic principles.

Key quotes from her responses to The Record’s questionnaire: “I believe that the City’s view on neighbourhood planning has been too focused on the need/desire to accommodate population growth while not considering other aspects of neighbourhood planning. Growth projections are best accommodated when each neighbourhood is allowed to define how best to achieve those projections within their particular neighbourhood.” That spells the kind of balance and common sense we’ve been missing at city hall, under the pro-all development majority that often votes 6-3.

Madoff’s strengths do not include campaigning. She gives good information at candidates’ debates, but is less apt to “bother people” as she puts it, on the doorstep. To her credit, she won’t put signs on public property, risking losing ground in the lawn war. But I’ll bet her campaign signs don’t get vandalized.

Marg Gardiner

Marg Gardiner is another urban planning guru, a director of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association for the last 12 years. She will watchdog the development file on city council, which should be job number one for any elected member.

James Bay has particular and challenging neighbourhood issues, like cruise ship traffic and potentially harmful emissions from the future sewage treatment plant across the harbour. Under Gardiner’s stewardship, the JBNA has worked assiduously to protect the community.

Her campaign website is among the best for specific detail about her accomplishments and the challenges of her neighbourhood and the city at large.

She is a tough, no-nonsense woman from the Prairies who has staunch allies and some detractors in James Bay.

In her own words: “Although my role as a Councillor would differ from that of neighbourhood advocate, my knowledge about the workings of the city and residents’ needs will serve me and the community well.

“Victoria needs to move forward while respecting and safeguarding our heritage and way of life. I believe strong neighbourhoods make a stronger city.”

Ben Isitt

Isitt led the polls in 2014 and is likely to finish near the top again unless the tide of reform turns into a tsunami.

He has demonstrated he cares about community and the environment and takes a measured approach to development, as indicated in our Voting Record

Isitt considered running for mayor in this election, but decided to hold back and seek another term as councillor. I wonder if he regrets that decision.

In Ben’s Vision on his website, he steps out of the box with a novel idea that could revolutionize IT in this city: develop a community broadband network to reduce the cost of Internet service for everyone and propel growth in the local tech sector. He gets a gold star for best original idea of the campaign. Ben’s Vision will clarify yours–it’s worth a read.

He did not respond to our three questions, but here’s a sample quote from the council debate on the 83-unit Truth Centre development approved last May: “I can’t avoid the conclusion that it is a glaring missed opportunity to approve development of two acres of land in our built-out urban environment without incorporating a single unit of affordable housing on site in the context of a housing crisis.”

Laurel Collins

Collins appears to be the front-runner of the left-leaning Together Victoria (TV) group, an alliance of Greens and NDPers. To their great credit, they spent much of the summer consulting with neighbourhood groups to build a broad, ambitious platform issues covering the housing crisis, affordability, the environment and other issues.

So the TV candidates have already established themselves as community builders and listeners. This is a good start on a steep learning curve ahead of any of them who are elected.

Collins is an instructor at UVic, a social and environmental activist and a delegate to the Victoria Labour Council. She seems personable, hard-working, even-tempered and open-minded rather than fixed in her certainties.

“Together Victoria will ensure that at least half of all new housing is affordable and also require a minimum number of family-oriented housing units in new multi-unit developments.”

Affordable homes where people can raise a family–what a concept. This is such a departure from what has been built in this town in the last four years, it seems like a dream. But perhaps we need some dreamers on council to take some big leaps forward.

With a strong campaign team behind them, watch for good voting returns for TV candidates. Any who succeed could form a loose alliance with Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday, if those two councillors are re-elected.

Geoff Young

Council veteran Geoff Young burst into the limelight last summer as the only councillor to vote against the Macdonald statue removal.

He tends to be low-key and old-school, but is committed to community and retaining the best of Victoria.

Young nails a persistent problem on council and add a personal admission: “The instinct to group-think is more powerful than most of us realize and we are all, myself included, susceptible to its subtle pull.” If re-elected, Young and his colleagues will have to come up with solutions to that problem, perhaps the occasional council meeting in a community centre, leaving the staff behind, with the public writing the agenda and taking the lead.

On development, he seeks a balance: “Housing affordability remains a challenging issue, and Victorians generally recognize the need for new housing, but we must respect the views of the current residents (some of whom are likely to be negatively affected by change) and ensure that engagement is broad and deep.”

Young has had a long and varied political career, including a run for   Parliament on the PC banner. He maintains a business as a consulting economist from his downtown office as well his duties on council and the CRD board. I wonder who mows his lawn.

Sean Leitenberg

An early mayoral candidate who switched to councillor a month ago, Leitenberg has experience as a property developer, repurposing old buildings into new uses to provide affordable housing, both in Ontario and here. This kind of knowledge will be useful on council.

He raised and converted a rare 19th century single-family home on Fairfield Road into three housing units and two shops below and tried to purchase the nearby Fairfield United Church for another conversion to save the façade of the church. But another developer bought the building, which is slated to be demolished in favour of a controversial condo complex. Over to you, new council.

Leitenberg, who stands out from the campaign crowd with his yellow locks and t-shirt, promises a community-based approach to planning. Of the current council, he says: “I have never seen a city council so easily persuaded to not provide what the residents want. Consultation has been a smoke screen with input from unknown sources and reference made to surveys that do not include names and addresses.”

He also has a novel approach to accountability: if elected, he is offering to commit his salary to escrow, to be paid only if the voters approve of his performance by re-electing him.

He explains: “The voters of Victoria do not have the option of firing their council members and have no recourse for a councilor who favors special interest groups or developers over the residents of Victoria. I promise to listen and represent local residents with my vote at the council table.”

Jeremy Loveday

Elected for the first time in 2014, Loveday admits he’s still climbing the learning curve, which speaks in favour of retaining some experienced hands rather than electing a whole new council.

Part of that process is his realization that council needs a governance review by a third party that would “look at how City decisions are made and how residents’ voices are heard.”

The review would focus on “clear, meaningful and responsive public engagement and ensure that residents’ voices are centered in City decision making.”

Considering the mistrust in the city today, an overhaul of this process seems like a good plan. New councillors should resist the temptation to say, “of course I know how to do this” and blunder down the same old path. Public consultation is crucial–and complicated–and the people who also need retraining and direction are city staff.

Loveday, along with Isitt and Madoff, has pushed for added benefits to accrue to the City from zoning uplifts, but none of these measures were adopted to apply to the developments passed in the current term.

Sample quote: “I bring patience, curiosity and a strong work-ethic to the council table. I believe that my emotional intelligence allows me to connect with residents from all walks of life, empathize with challenges, and work collaboratively to find solutions.”