One-term councillor now a mayoral hopeful in Metchosin
Marie-Térèse Little running for mayor
Mayor John Ranns will vacate his seat after 30 years at the head of the table, and two current councillors are vying to take over. In September The Westshore interviewed Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila, who has served on council for 17 years, tried once unsuccessfully to oust Ranns, and will try again in his absence. Coun. Marie-Térèse Little is also running for mayor of Metchosin. The Westshore caught up with Little to find out what her vision for the community is.
Why do you want to be the mayor?
I see that we are going in a trajectory that I don't like to see. What we need is good governance. And we need to focus on our priorities. I have the leadership skills. I've got the education. I've got experience at boards in various organizations, both nationally and internationally, and now four years on council. And Metchosin is so special, it's worth fighting for, it's worth saving.
When you say ‘a trajectory you don't like,’ what are you referring to?
I’m referring to the loss of trust that we have had within the community regarding our governance structure. What we really need is to work towards respectful debate and tolerance, and understanding of diversity and differing perspectives. We need to focus on transparency, openness, and accountability, and we need to adhere to those municipal governing rules and the law.
Are you suggesting that the Local Government Act or Community Charter has been violated?
I'm suggesting that we hold way too many in-camera [closed-door] meetings. There's only very specific instances where we must hold in-camera meetings; there’s other instances where we may, but that is definitely abused in Metchosin. I understand that it's easier to do it in camera because you don't have anybody watching, but it breaks trust. And then anything else you say, people are dubious. My commitment to the community is that we will only hold in-camera meetings when we must.
What would you say are the main issues facing Metchosin right now?
We're surrounded by development on all sides. We are a rural community and we must remain a rural farming, small business, low-density community. That's one of the challenges. Another challenge that we've had was bylaw enforcement, and then what has come up in the last few months is affordable housing, and asking if it’s suitable for there to be affordable housing in Metchosin.
Probably the biggest issue everybody's worried about is our finances. We need to shift our priorities because we have a certain amount in surplus, but we have policing costs now because we are 5,076 people instead of below 5,000. So we are responsible for 70% of the policing costs and that's probably to the tune of about $1.1 million per year.
Do have ideas on where that financing can come from?
We can't just say okay, “We've got policing costs of $1.1 million, we're going to shove that on the back of the taxpayers.” That's completely unfair and uncalled for. What we can do is shift around our priorities in the short term. For instance, do we need to repave road roads to the tune of a half a million dollars for a small stretch of road? I say no, the roads are good. Why can't we just maintain some of those roads that are wearing a bit thin with a crack sealer? For instance, Rocky Point Road didn't need to be repaved. And now people are going faster than ever on that stretch. We could have saved $500,000. And that's half of the policing costs.
In a small community like Metchosin disagreements about what direction to go can—and have been—divisive. How do you manage the need to make a decision while still maintaining community cohesion?
For one thing, communication is key. Another thing that's of vital importance in a small community is engagement, listening to what they are saying, and then acting on not only what council wants, but what the community wants. I've worked on many teams to solve very complex issues, and I've never had a problem. The level of vitriol and verbal abuse that I've experienced in the last two years at council would never have been tolerated in any other modern workplace. I always do my homework. I'm a scientist. And then I ask very pointed and probing questions, but always done in a respectful way, to get out the information that is required to make a very good decision. That sometimes irritates some people on the outgoing Council who would rather not consider the matter in depth.
How would you characterize your working relationship with your fellow councillors?
It's a good working relationship, but it has been strained since the councillor went to Mexico. I will admit it has been difficult and strained.
[Editor's note: Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila went to Mexico in December 2020, a trip she later admitted was a mistake, and stepped down from her role as Deputy Mayor. She was heavily criticized by Couns. Little and Sharie Epp. To solve the disagreement, Metchosin council worked with a mediator to make sure council would be able to work together through the end of the term.]
There was an incident this summer when you phoned the RCMP on the mayor. Now that it's been a few months, how are you feeling about that situation and your response to it?
Yeah, that was very unfortunate and that was the culmination of many situations in camera where there was active bullying and harassment and many unfortunate words. There was this violent outburst in a very small office with five people. I thought I took control of the situation. I stood up, I said, “This is unbecoming of the mayor, this is unacceptable.” The CAO was so stunned, everybody was so stunned. I said “I'm out of here.” So I left. The mayor continued to yell and scream behind closed doors, and I just thought that this needs to be reported.
So your call to police was more to document the incident than for your own protection?
It was more for documentation, and I wanted to let it be known that this should not continue.
Metchosin is known for wanting to preserve its rural farming heritage, which means keeping land open, but Metchosin property values are also among the highest in the South Island and there is a housing crisis. What's your approach on how to balance those needs for Metchosinites?
Yeah, this is a difficult one. So Metchosin is a rural community; under the regional growth strategy, Metchosin and other rural communities are expected to provide 5% of the housing for the district. Metchosin Land Use Bylaw 259 allows for a secondary suite within an existing residence, or a detached suite within parameters. So Metchosin actually has been quite progressive in its housing challenges. Anecdotally, we know there are difficulties for volunteer firefighters and farm labour workers, and local enterprises that say they can't find affordable housing. We need to have that conversation, whether a tiny home could be a type of secondary suite. It has to be safe not only for the residents, but also safe with septic and we have to figure out where the water is because the 606 aquifer is a very fragile aquifer that many of us draw water on. But we also want to make sure that tiny home is safe for our first responders that go out there to respond to that. I've knocked on hundreds of doors now, and not one person has told me that we want to develop. One way we've been able to keep rural is by not allowing sewer, because you can’t have large housing projects with septic systems.