Q&A with Colwood's mayoral candidates

Coun. Doug Kobayashi v. Mayor Rob Martin

Doug Kobayashi and Rob Martin are both running to be Colwood's mayor.

Doug Kobayashi

Why do you want to be the mayor of Colwood?

I thought about this long and hard because last fall, I had announced to my fellow councillors, I wasn't going to run for council again. It wasn't until I was approached by several people with a petition asking me to run as the mayor. The reason I wasn't going to run again is that we stopped listening to the public. We weren't engaging the public, and that just disturbed me so much. I just felt we just lost touch. We are not smarter than the people in our community, and we should be engaging them. Our job is to listen to them and reflect the will of the community.

Is that something you feel changed over your four years on council?

I was a brand new councillor, and I thought it was going to be different than what it was. Over the years, you start drinking the Kool Aid and they say, “Well, this is the way it runs, and this is the way we work things.” The normal way that municipal government works is you get an agenda on Wednesday before your Monday meeting, which doesn't give you a heck of a lot of time. I'm one of these people that I hate looking at plans, you know, the 30,000 foot plans because you really don't get a feel for what the neighbourhood is. You got to go out and take a look. If you don't, shame on you. I’ll go there and knock on a few doors. I'm a little old fashioned when it comes to that

But what's one of the biggest challenges or issues that you've been hearing from people that are facing Colwood?

I think it depends on where you live in Colwood. When I decided I was going to run, I broke up Colwood into eight distinct areas and then I knocked on 100 doors in each area. And I asked them, “What's on the top of your mind?” It's interesting because it is so diverse. I would say there isn't really one top issue, but if I had to pick one it would be infrastructure. People are worried about infrastructure.

And there are some areas of Colwood where younger families are worried about—someone always used to say that, there are people that are $200 away from deciding if they're gonna feed themselves, or pay the rent. Well that exists, it really exists.There's a lot of concern with some young homeowners that are renewing their mortgages within the next two years. And they're frankly saying to me, “We can't afford to pay our mortgage on our house with the new interest rates.” How would I battle that here at municipal hall? Well, I'll try to keep the taxes low while we go through this hurt period.

In the last Council meeting, you recused yourself from a vote related to an Olympic View over a perceived conflict of interest? Do you stand by that decision? Do you think that was the right choice?

It was, because it is a perceived conflict of interest. People say it was political, but no. You've got to understand what happened is that someone listed everyone that received contributions from developers. There was one name on my list, for $200. I had told my financial agent, no money from any developers, because I don't want to ever get myself in a situation where this perceived conflict of interest. Well the person that donated the money just said he was an employee of X, but then I found out he's not just an employee, he’s the managing director.

There were two votes about Olympic View, and you recused yourself from one but not the next one. Why?

The other one had nothing to do with, you know, if I was doing a favour for them. The other one is making sure that we put the cost of index charges on the CACs that were going to be applied, and I wanted to make sure that passed. So it was not in favor of the developer.

This time around, I've got an even better financial agent, and we have not taken one bit of money from any of these developers that are doing work in Colwood. I can tell you that 100%. So I get a fresh start.

What can Colwood at a municipal level do to influence the shortage of healthcare?

This is an all hands on deck approach right now. I think we can do something. First is that we can at least try to force these developers to ensure that we get a community amenity [charges] for family medical practice facilities. That is totally in our control, and totally legal. The second thing, and I’m not too sure about the legal implications of this, but if we could provide housing, short term housing, of some sort for doctors and nurses. Thirdly, we can look at property tax exemptions for the facility for X number of years.

Last question is how would you differentiate your leadership from Mayor Martin if you were elected?

I can't comment on his style, I can just tell you how I am. People know me very well here, that I tend to be a very good listener. I listen a lot, and I consult. If I'm going to have some crazy idea that's going to affect all the municipalities within the Westshore, I wouldn't start by having staff go plan it all out only to have it shelved because it's supported by neighbouring municipalities. I'm the type of person that will pick up the phone and consult with them. “Here, this is what we're going to try to do. Can I get some tacit support from you on this?” If they told me to go jump in the lake? Then it’s a dead deal. We've had a few of these things that have happened here in my four years where some ideas were brought in, and my first question at council was, “Have we consulted with the neighbouring mayors?” “No.” That's kind of a crazy way of doing business.

Rob Martin

Why do you want to be mayor again?

We have a really clear path on where we're going. We're focusing on active transportation. We're focusing on how we're building houses for people. You know, I can go through a whole list, but the work still needs to keep going, and I don't feel like I'm at a point right now where I feel like things have been completed—more that we're sort of in the middle of it. And I'm up to the challenge of us continuing to look at, "How do we build up families in Colwood?” And I'm excited about this opportunity for the next four years.

What would you say are Colwood’s biggest issues?

We need to continue to focus on, “How do we create green space?”— especially if we're going to look at densifying areas.

In Colwood it's really clear that nature is really important, and when you talk to people about why they love living in Colwood what they will say is they love the ocean, they love the parks, they love being able to be connected with the land. I believe that we can build and we can build housing for people and still accomplish creating green space. So that's one. The second would be transportation. Transportation is a lot more complicated than we just need to look at how we move people. I can talk to you about rapid bus lanes, I can talk to you about light rail transit, I can talk to you about a ferry. But the very first thing that we have to do is figure out, “How do we change people's mindset and not make the single vehicle the most attractive option?” And as long as we continue to make it the most attractive option for people, people are going to continue to choose that over public transportation.

During the election campaign, and even before the election was called, some people have been saying that there's been a challenge with consultation with constituents. What do you make of allegations that Colwood has not been meaningfully consulting residents?

I disagree. I'll give you a great example. In regards to remuneration for council, we had five public meetings to engage the public, to have them come. And not only could they have come in person, they could have come and provided written submissions. And we actually publicized it. We actually paid for ads. And we try to engage the public as best we can. And the public just was not interested in attending. So could we do better? Absolutely. How we do better, I'm not sure. I mean, we provide the opportunities. The issue I think, for us, is more that people are choosing not to participate.

There's been some talk in other municipalities about the frustration of the public hearing format. I know that's regulated provincially, but are there other ways that you see that you could consult with the public?

I’m not sure how to do that. Whatever subject matter you pick, you will always have a roomful of people who are opposed to that subject matter. People who are supportive of that subject matter don't normally show up. Because they go, “Well, they’re approving something I agree with, so I don't need to go to the meeting and say that I agree with you. I only need to go when I'm in opposition to it.” And so what happens is, it becomes really confusing for a council, because the room is always full of negative. You're trying to figure out, “Does this voice represent the majority or is this a small subgroup that is opposing this specific subject?” Trying to figure that out is a real challenge. And I think most jurisdictions have recognized that the problem with public hearings is that you don't get a fair representation of the opinion of the community. What you get is the negative.

In an ideal world, what does meaningful consultation look like to you?

It would be that people feel heard. Feeling heard is feeling like your opinion has been respected and listened to. But it doesn't necessarily mean that just because we've listened to you and we've chosen to go in a different direction, that you haven't been heard. It does seem to me that people don't feel as though they're being heard. And I'm not sure how to change that perception. Because being heard and being in agreement aren't the same thing.

What are some things that you've learned about Colwood during the campaign period as you've been going about the campaign?

It's been reinforced with me about how invested Colwoodians are in their community—that people sincerely love the place they live. I would say even the people who, perhaps you would classify as being negative—or aren't actively supportive of the direction that council has gone in the last four years, I don't think it's that they're negative to it—I think what they're afraid of is that they're really happy today, and they're afraid that some decisions are going to make them enjoy their community less. And they don't want that risk. And so they go, "Well, I've got a great thing going right now, so let's just not wreck it. Let's just stay static, because I'm really, really happy right now.”

It sounds a little bit like NIMBYism to me.

I get it, though. I understand that and it's about, “How do we make those people feel happy and content, as well as people who are energized by things evolving and changing?” That's something I think this next council is really going to have to be conscious of. And no matter what side you pick to be on on a subject, how do you ensure that the other side feels at least heard? We'll focus more on that.

One of the last things I'm curious about is the healthcare crisis. What in your mind can a municipality do to try to alleviate some of this healthcare worker shortage?

I think it doesn't really matter who the next elected council is. I have 100% faith that they will do whatever they can. I do want to be clear, though. I feel very, very strongly that this belongs to the province. The province is responsible for healthcare and they cannot be financially downloading that responsibility off of the province and onto the municipalities. And so I'm supportive of whatever we can do to support workers and to do whatever we can, as long as it's not costing the municipal taxpayer additional dollars to do it. A really important aspect of this is we need to hold the province responsible and accountable. And especially as a group of municipalities within lower Vancouver Island, we can send a letter together and say, “Listen, this is an expectation.”