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Five-term councillor announces bid for mayor of Metchosin

Kyara Kahakauwila launches mayoral bid

Kyara Kahakauwila announced this week she will run for mayor of the rural district, after serving 17 years as a councillor—and losing once in a campaign against longtime Mayor John Ranns, who has said he will not run for re-election this year. The Westshore caught up with Kahakauwila to learn about her vision for Metchosin. Our interview has been edited for brevity.

You’ve worked with Mayor John Ranns for five terms, and he’s been the mayor for much longer. How will your leadership differ from his?

Our leadership styles are different. He definitely likes to have consensus, where I'm more about collaboration, about openness and transparency. I don't mean that negatively against John, but that was one of the reasons why I ran against him previously. People said he would do backroom stuff. Nothing illegal or anything like that, it was just his way of working through ideas. I'm different. I like to be forward and upfront with the community.

One of the things that I would like to work with with the next council is creating an open space to go through ideas in a public format, without any repercussions. [Such as, she suggested later, a committee of the whole, which Metchosin doesn't have.] I also want to encourage mentorship to bring more people into this role. I've spent 17 years as a councillor, but at 44, I'm still the youngest at the table. So how do we encourage a diverse or diversified group of people putting their name forward? Part of the challenge is from how vitriolic and nasty it’s been over the last couple of years. We need to find a way to end that, because why would anyone want to put themselves out there to be personally attacked when they're trying to do good for the community?

What are the main issues facing Metchosin right now?

One of the most pressing is policing. Contract negotiations are in process, so that’s imminent. [Editor's note: Metchosin contracts service from the Westshore RCMP detachment, and the contract is up. Plus, Metchosin’s population passed 5,000 in the last census, and is now on the hook for 70% of its own policing costs.]

Broader issues that I think will come up during the campaign will be things like bylaw enforcement. Do we want to [stay] with our current model of subcontracting from CRD? People are always concerned with maintaining the rural atmosphere of the community, and we just had a presentation in regards to tiny homes and the homelessness issue. So I suspect that will come up during the election.

Mayor Ranns has been known for trying to preserve Metchosin’s rural farming characteristic. Meanwhile, property values are among the highest on the South Island. What's your approach on whether Metchosin needs to stay rural, or start to develop a little?

In that regard, I guess you could say that I'm aligned with Mayor Ranns. What makes Metchosin unique is the fact that we put so much priority on our rural values, on large, open green spaces, on farming.One of the things I am concerned with is our larger farmers: they’re all aging, and there's not a lot of new people coming in to pick up after them. So what happens when they retire? We need to have a discussion as a community about how we are going to support our current farmers and attract new farmers. I don't have a silver bullet for that, that’s a discussion to be had with members of council, the farming community, and the community at large.

It seems like an age ago when you went to Mexico during a pandemic-related travel ban. The public reaction was strong, and you weren’t alone. Matt Sahlstrom in Langford and Sharmarke Dubow in Victoria also traveled internationally. Dubow has decided not to run again, at least in part because of the racialized backlash he got. How did that factor into your decision?

The trip to Mexico was a whole combination of things. People were angry and stressed and I became a focal point, and so did Sharmarke. I don’t know what his reasons are for not running again but for me, I made a misstep. I’m not perfect, and I held myself accountable. I stepped down as deputy mayor, and there were other repercussions, too. The personal toll it took was extreme. I did debate whether to put my name forward again because of the vitriol.

Ultimately, it happened and I can’t take it back. I have done what I can to make amends with the community and continue to work forward. If people want to hold it against me, that’s their right. But I hope my record of being a conscientious councillor for 17 years will stand on its own. We’ve all made mistakes we regret, and all we can do is learn from them and take responsibility.