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Civic vote: Oak Bay mayoral candidates offer different styles

Nov 16 2011

Everything from deer to public consultation to secondary suites is crowding the agenda as two experienced Oak Bay councillors square off for the opportunity to fill the mayor's chair left vacant by a retiring Christopher Causton.

On the surface, there's not much to differentiate mayoral candidates Hazel Braithwaite, a Coast Capital Savings senior learning adviser, and Nils Jensen, a Crown prosecutor, both of whom are council veterans. But there's no mistaking the difference in style.

With an overflowing crowd looking on at the Oak Bay municipal hall this week, Jensen garnered applause when he said the $80-million remake of the Oak Bay Lodge was too important to be decided in haste by the outgoing council. He said the council chambers were inadequate to accommodate all the people in attendance and recommended tabling the item until after the election and after a new council was brought up to speed.

Braithwaite never spoke a word, and instead quietly voted with the majority to delay a decision a week - after the election but before the new council is sworn in - in a bigger hall so all could participate.

In interviews, both Jensen and Braithwaite say their management styles would be similar to Causton's - something that makes the outgoing mayor laugh.

"There's a clear divide between the two of them. There's a different style to each of them," Causton said.

"I think the fact that there is what appears to be such a tight race going on, in that people see they are two different characters and they can't both be like me."

Braithwaite said, like Causton, she's a collaborator and a consensus builder.

"That's a big skill that I have - bringing different sorts of groups together."

Jensen said one only has to look at the 12 consecutive years he's been elected chairman of the Capital Regional District regional water commission as evidence of his ability to lead. That type of experience, he said, will prove invaluable with at least three newcomers on council following Saturday's election.

"My style is to gain people's confidence and then to work to maintain it in order to keep a cohesive group of people around the table, and to make sure we're always working toward the same goal," Jensen said.

The average voter can be forgiven, how ever, if he's not particularly excited by the mayoral contest in either Oak Bay or neighbouring Saanich.

"These are the two big mayoralty races in our region and so far they've been fairly safe and fairly tame," says Michael Prince, a UVic Lansdowne professor of social policy and Oak Bay resident.

"Maybe that means in both cases - in both Saanich and Oak Bay - they're both relying on a base they already feel they have and an organization to get out the vote."

In Oak Bay, the policy differences seem to be relatively minor.

Both mayoral candidates are in favour of a review of the 1997-vintage Official Community Plan and addressing the issue of secondary suites within that review.

Braithwaite, on council for six years, said it's time for the municipality to consider hiring a planner to help with that.

Jensen, first elected 15 years ago, said it might be more prudent to look at contracting out certain planning services from a neighbouring municipality such as Saanich - in the same fashion as it already contracts with Saanich to provide some police services such as emergency services dispatch or major-crime investigation.

They both want to make council more accessible but, again, differ slightly in approach, with Braithwaite touting live web-casting of council meetings and Jensen suggesting public participation sessions to open council meetings might be the approach to try.

Both agree something has to be done about increasing numbers of urban deer. Jensen said that deer, like criminals, don't respect municipal borders so a management plan is best done at the regional level.

Braithwaite agreed but said Oak Bay can't wait forever. "If the CRD doesn't move quickly on this, we as a municipality have to push harder and maybe we need to get our own made-in-Oak Bay solution for this," she said.

Community watchers are predicting a tight race and interest seems high, with all-candidate meetings happening before standing-room-only crowds.

Causton, who isn't endorsing either mayoral candidate, does suggest people vote for the three other incumbents: councillors John Herbert, Pam Copley and Tara Ney.

The death of Coun. Allan Cassidy, coupled with two incumbents running to replace Causton for mayor, guarantees at least three newcomers on the seven-member council.

Running for council along with incumbents Copley, Herbert and Ney are: Corey Burger, Bill Carver, Cairine Green, Gregory Hartnell, Michelle Kirby, Colleen Kirkpatrick, Kevin Murdoch and Susan Woods.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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