It shapes up to be a very different municipal election campaign for White Rock this October – as opposed to October 2018.
Back then a new grass-roots slate – Democracy Direct – had arrived on the the scene to sweep away most of the remnants of the previous pro-development administration of Mayor Wayne Baldwin (who did not himself seek re-election).
But this election, so far, is being characterized by a complete absence of registered electoral groups in the city, including Democracy Direct, which is now classified as defunct, according to the Elections BC website.
In their place, the field of candidates has refocused – so far – on loose alliances of kindred spirits, all of them technically running as independents.
Incumbent Mayor Darryl Walker is returning as an independent candidate for the mayor’s seat, with former NDP federal candidate Stephen Crozier – formerly Democracy Direct president, running for councillor.
Couns. Anthony Manning and Christopher Trevelyan, also formerly of Democracy Direct, are also running as independents, but also in a loose alliance reflecting their similar voting record.
Other former Democracy Direct members Couns. Erika Johanson and Scott Kristjanson, however – while they have voted similarly in the past – say they are running strictly as independents.
“Scott and I aren’t running as a team even though, fundamentally, we agree on many of the issues,” Johanson said.
Veteran Coun. David Chesney, a voice of dissent on the Baldwin council, along with his late friend and colleague Coun. Helen Fathers – who died in office earlier this year – is returning to the hustings as an independent.
Other candidates who have announced they are running as independents are Ernie Klassen and local arts and community advocates Michelle Partridge and Elaine Cheung.
Candidates have until Sept. 9 to file with the City of White Rock.
Walker, while acknowledging that he and Crozier are “the last vestiges of Democracy Direct’ said that it was clear by the beginning of this year that the time of the electoral organization had run its course.
“We ran a slate to beat a slate,” he summarized it.
“It did its job and defeated all the Baldwin incumbents – but I don’t know that we all knew each other as well as we thought we knew each other.”
At the same time, he believes, the agenda may be different for White Rock, going forward, than it was in 2018.
Although he did not mention Johanson and Kristjanson by name, Walker said there “are a couple of other council members I hope do move on, because I don’t believe they have the flexibility in outlook that’s needed.”
Johanson said she believes the demise of Democracy Direct started late last year.
“Democracy Direct started as being a grass-roots organization, but it stopped being that when the NDP took over,” she said.
“Two members of the NDP (Walker and Crozier) claim that they were responsible for the platform and agenda of Democracy Direct,” she added. “But Dennis Lypka and I were the ones who wrote it.”
Walker countered that he and Crozier never made any secret of being NDP members when they joined Democracy Direct, but joined “with open minds and open hearts to listen to what people wanted.”
Within a couple of weeks, he said, he had been invited to chair the meetings, which he characterized, at the time, as “griping sessions,” and said he started insisting on some kind of program and agenda at that point.
An independent third-party workplace investigation, commissioned by the city, found in March that city staff had legitimate concerns of bullying and harassment by Johanson, who had been blocked from communicating with staff last year.
But Johanson claims that transparency will continue to be a major plank of her campaign platform – including asking tough questions of staff.
“We have transparency now with politicians, but it needs to apply to staff equally,” she said. “How can we make decisions as councillors when we’re not allowed to talk to staff?”
Kristjanson said he has become alarmed that Walker’s ideas have become increasing in favour of “density, density, density” in approving housing, of going away from local neighbourhoods, and of being willing to embrace the provincial government’s abandoning of public hearings for projects that meet the right zoning criteria.
Walker said he stands by his record that, during the last four years there has been no new project approved of more than six storeys.
He said, however, that there is a learning curve when elected to city office in looking at and assessing what kind of development may be appropriate for the city.
“We’re all in support of affordable housing, although nobody seems to be able to land on just what that looks like. But it looks to me that if you have a lot of old three-storey walk-ups of a certain age, and the OCP permits a building of four-to-six storeys in that location, that might be the way to go.
“What worked for the city in 2018 may not be the same thing that works for the city in 2022,” he added.
“You need to be adaptable as a politician – you need to be flexible for the best interests of the city.”
Walker said he feels that there isn’t the same level of discontent there was in the city when residents packed public hearings on developments during 2017-18.
“My sense is that people are comfortable – everything is quiet,” he said.
And he added he welcomes the other independents who have entered the race for council seats, including former Democracy Direct Members Anthony Manning and Christopher Trevelyan.
“Chris and Anthony have worked very closely together and built a strong relationship – they care about the city, and that’s what we’re looking for.
“Michelle Partridge and Elaine Cheung have demonstrated they have the interests of the community at heart and Ernie Klassen would do a great job, I think.
“And Dave Chesney has a great deal of experience with the changing nature of our community. Each and every one of them have the best interests of the city in mind. We don’t always have to agree about everything; everyone has a right to their own opinion.
“I can’t think of anything better than to have a mayor and council who can work together like that.”