Scott Goodmanson, the mayor from thin air

How a mild-mannered landscaper snatched the election to become Langford's new mayor

How did this landscaper become the new mayor of Langford? (📸 Zoë Ducklow)

On a mid-November evening, Scott Goodmanson sat for the first time in the seat that had been dominated for 30 years by one man: Stew Young. He ran the first regular meeting of the new council, flanked by councillors—all new, save for one—and city staff.

The agenda for that first regular meeting was light, the main item being a recommendation from staff to reduce development cost charges allocated for stormwater projects. It may not have sounded like a revolution, but for Langford, it was the result of one.

After adjourning, Goodmanson extricated himself from the centre chair and moved to the back of the room, where a few people lingered.

A plate of baking had been set out at the entrance. He picked it up and went to introduce himself.

“Hi, I’m Scott,” the new mayor said. “Would you like a cookie?”

The first time Shelli Fryer met Goodmanson, he had come to visit the Hidden Valley Seniors Mobile Home Park to see for himself the source of residents' frustrations. The park, tucked in the shadow of Skirt Mountain at the north end of Florence Lake, has the look of a vacation property rather than a stereotypical trailer park. Narrow roads curl up the steep foot of the mountain, leading to clusters of carefully gardened homes spread out through the forest.

Until last year, it was surrounded by a tall, lush forest.

Fryer thought she had done her due diligence before buying her trailer in September 2020. She visited Langford City Hall to ask about planned development in the area, and remembers seeing a map with a thick boundary of open space between the top edge of the park and the planned development, where she understood the trees would remain.

“I thought I’d found a sanctuary,” she said. “I move in in late September 2020 and wake up five months later and it's being cut down.”

The South Skirt Mountain development over the hill has crept steadily closer. In early 2021 contractors denuded the steep slope above the park. They left a scant 15 metres of forest—just a few trees deep—rimming the top corner of the park.

“In May, the first tree fell down,” Fryer said.

When the wind came that spring, newly exposed trees started to fall. From May 2021 to November 2022, at least 22 trees have fallen into the park, eight of them landing on homes. Three homes were demolished and one woman was badly injured when a tree fell onto her trailer—a branch punctured her lung as she sat in her living room chair. At least three families have left the park because their homes were so badly damaged.

In the 19 years Pat Singleton has lived in the park, she only remembers six trees falling, and they were mostly dead or rotten. Now when storms blow through, some residents who live on the newly exposed slope will leave to sleep in their vehicles or go to a family member’s home until the wind calms.

Fryer, Singleton, and many others blame Langford for failing to consider the downhill impacts of issuing the development permits above them on the mountain.

Goodmanson, a landscaping business owner, heard about the seniors living in fear of falling trees at Hidden Valley—and how they couldn’t get people to even answer the phone at City Hall—in September of 2022.

Days later, he announced his intention to run against mayor Stew Young—a longshot by any standard. Young had been in power for 30 years and rarely faced any serious opposition, whether from outside challengers or his councillors.

Goodmanson says his motivation to challenge the unbeatable mayor was bigger than just the issues faced by residents of the park, but they were the final complaints that pushed him to action.

“Seeing people in their 70s and 80s just feeling absolutely lost because no one will talk to them, that isn't right. City Hall is supposed to be there to look after and defend the rights of the residents, not ignore them and hamstring them,” he told The Westshore before the election. “I'm tired of the community being ignored by the people that they voted in.”

When he visited Hidden Valley this September, Fryer recalls him drawing a small crowd.

“Well, the first thing that comes to mind is Jesus,” she joked. “He's just got this gathering of people, and people are asking him questions, and he goes, ‘Hi, I’m Scott, I'm running for mayor.’ He was so open and told people he had all day to answer their questions.”

He spent two hours at the park, listening to residents' concerns and seeing the physical changes since clearing began. Singleton came out to meet him, and was struck by how much Goodmanson wanted to hear everyone’s thoughts.

“He actually stopped talking to listen to me. Not often that happens, right? Politicians will talk over you,” she said. Goodmanson didn’t try to minimize or dismiss her concerns like other people had done, and he really seemed to care. Goodmanson told Singleton and the rest of the gathered crowd he knew he wouldn’t win.

“‘Don't discount your chickens,’ is what I said. Don't, because we're so sick of Stew. We need fresh blood,” she recounted.

Scott Goodmanson went to Belmont Secondary School where he developed a passion for rowing. (📸 Zoë Ducklow)

‘Blatant disrespect’

Goodmanson had never been involved in politics before this year’s election. He grew up in Langford not far from the Hidden Valley park. He was an air cadet, a competitive rower, and a budding horticulturist.

As a teenager, he towered over his classmates at Belmont Secondary School—he’s more than six feet tall—and pursued rowing competitively for another 20 years afterwards. He started his business, Good Ponds Landscaping and Gardens, 16 years ago, and it was his full-time job until this October. Somewhere along the way he took ball dancing lessons, which led to swing dancing, which led to him founding the Swing Dance Association of Victoria—where he met his wife, Katy Earl.

Goodmanson says his wife jokes that they can’t go anywhere without running into someone he knows. But politically, he was an unknown quantity.

Politics wasn’t a particular goal of his, but he paid attention to what was happening in Langford even after he moved to Saanich (where he currently lives), and some things really bothered him. What really raised his ire was the tone of council meetings.

Goodmanson was disappointed by the lack of respect for the public he observed at the meetings.

“When a councillor swears at someone calling in, there's no place for that. When the mayor rolls his eyes or huffs, or someone in the gallery yells over the person talking and the mayor doesn't say anything, that shows blatant disrespect,” he said.

Noticing a problem is only the first step in Goodmanson’s eyes, though.

“My dad would be like, ‘Don't complain to me about it, kid. Fix it or don't complain.’”

Still, entering politics stayed buried in the back of his mind as he watched Langford city council from a distance. A year ago when someone asked if he’d considered running, he answered, “Well of course I've thought about it. If you disagree with what's going on, you've thought about it. But are you the person for it?”

Sarah Campden thinks Goodmanson's exactly the person for it.

“When I heard he was running for mayor, I was surprised—but then I really wasn't,” Campden said. “Looking back at his qualities, I understand why he spoke up.”

Campden's known the new mayor since high school, where she was a few years younger. They became friends in air cadets where, she said, Goodmanson advanced quickly through leadership.

“We all looked up to him—not only physically, I mean, he's a very tall individual—but because he was always that kind, compassionate individual.”

She described him as a quiet, in-the-background kind of leader who people gravitated towards—perhaps because she remembers him as the antithesis of an attention-seeker. His collaborative nature will make being mayor a natural fit, she said.

Goodmanson ran his election campaign from a camping trailer in his parents’ front yard, the same place he grew up, on the north side of Langford Lake.

He knew he was the underdog, and didn’t expect to win as he went door to door, hearing people out. He couldn’t accept letting Young be acclaimed. All those people who wanted an alternative would have no voice.

“I said all along, win or lose, as long as people have a voice,” Goodmanson said.

What 37 years of Langford development looks like from space. (Google Earth)

Out of the Dogpatch and into the world

The first time Young ran for mayor in 1992, after Langford was incorporated, he says he did the whole yard sign campaign. But since then he’s hardly spent a dime on elections. In 2014, public records show he received $60 in campaign contributions, which cost him $6.04 in bank fees.

He didn’t have to spend. Many longtime Langford residents revere Young as the mayor who built the city. And fairly so: under Young’s leadership, the Westshore’s so-called “dogpatch” became one of the fastest-growing communities in the country.

Even people who voted against him this year remember Young being a great early politician.

“He came in with big guns 30 years ago. He was gonna do wonders—and he did do wonders. But as politicians, unfortunately… they go the big way of the big politician,” Singleton said. “That's all. Stew grew into being a politician.”

Young lived in that same Hidden Valley Mobile Home Park in the ‘80s and worked as the park manager for a few years before he started his waste-management company, which grew into the regionally ubiquitous Alpine Group of Companies.

Young’s Langford council opened the way for development by inviting density and doing its darndest to cut any and all red tape—something he has said he experienced as a business owner. That was one of his motivations for entering politics in the first place. Langford staff have a reputation for being quick and efficient when it comes to permits and applications.

The population more than doubled from 22,000 to 47,000 in 15 years, and almost all of those new Langford locals are living in homes built under Young’s leadership.

Longtime Langford resident Annie Graham said Young did amazing things for Langford—but somewhere along the way, something shifted.

“When he started out as mayor, I mean, this was Dogpatch. Come on, I mean, everybody had a car in their backyard up on cinder blocks. When he took office, he was amazing. He was just awesome. The first 15 years he was always awesome. We were behind him 100% because he was bringing us out of Dogpatch into the world,” she said.

“They made Langford beautiful. And then, I don't know, in the last five years…” she trailed off. Graham can’t point to the moment or the cause, but she feels Langford lost itself, and Young with it.

Maybe it was the speed of development, the size of the new complexes, or one too many forests cleared. Maybe it was the lack of walkability in the car-dependent suburb, or the way amenities always seemed to be a step behind the population growth. She hated seeing the Westshore Speedway go, and feels Young should have done something to stop the sale of that property.

“The Western Speedway, that was Langford,” she said, emphatically. “And now it's going to be apartment buildings. What the fuck? Who cares? We have enough apartment buildings.”

Despite Graham’s disappointment, she voted for Young this time around “on principle,” though she admits she didn’t vote for any of his councillor slate—all of whom were defeated in October.

For Singleton, the shift was “a gradual realization, because as we drive to Walmart or Goldstream, or wherever business takes us, we started realizing there was less and less treed land left. And then one day you go out and there's an entire forest gone. It was like overnight.”

Langford Mayor Scott Goodmanson at City Hall. (📸 Zoë Ducklow)

‘He wasn’t Stew’

By 2022, Langford was at a political crossroads. A new Facebook group that started in 2021, called Langford Voters for Change, was putting pressure on council to listen, explain, and slow down.

Core members of that group told The Westshore they tried to work collaboratively with the city to help communicate questions and feedback after normal routes of communication shifted during the pandemic. City staff were receptive at first, the group said, but the friendly tone vanished after they started asking hard questions, publicly, at council meetings.

Langford was one of the last municipalities to make its council meetings accessible during the pandemic when chambers were closed to the public. Almost a year after the pandemic began, Langford started sharing audio recordings, then added video in March 2021. Once the public could watch and rewatch how council meetings were conducted, they had some complaints.

Residents were coming to the meetings to share frustration at the pace of development in Langford. Were they glad to not be a dogpatch anymore? Of course. But it was too much, too fast. People were asking for more green space. They wanted the city to push developers to include more community spaces on the properties. They pushed back against the height and density of new proposals, saying their existing neighbourhood infrastructure couldn’t handle the increase.

Langford council meetings cover a lot of ground, and have been as fast as seven minutes. While other councils deliberate at the table, asking questions of staff and each other, Young’s council rarely debated in public, and could zip through 300-page agendas with unanimous approval in minutes. Decisions seemed to have been made before the meeting opened.

Young resisted the surge in digital civic interest. He often said, “It’s always been this way,” when someone complained. He didn’t like the idea of changing how council and staff operated and defended staff vehemently in meetings, feeling that a change to the process was an affront to their efficiency and capability. He publicly and repeatedly brushed off naysayers, including his political challengers, saying anyone who’s unhappy with Langford can leave.

Goodmanson disagreed with this approach. He spent most of his campaign listening to what residents wanted.

“I don't feel there's any room for autocratic rule in politics, especially civic politics,” he said. The way he saw Young’s leadership was, “Council makes decisions and says to the public, ‘This is what we're giving you, take it or leave it.’”

He wants to take the opposite tack: “The public tells us what they want, and we take that back to City Hall and make it happen,” he said.

His core approach is to talk with people, ask them what matters, and listen. It’s how he ran his campaign, and how he approached staff when he took the reins.

Young has charisma, a strong personality, and a commanding presence. He naturally manages a crowd, and does not hesitate to take charge. He takes so much pride and ownership in the city that Langford, City Hall, and council are synonymous with his identity when he speaks.

By contrast and despite his height, Goodmanson could not be less imposing.

Several times before the election he overheard people saying, “‘That's our new mayor.’ I'm like, no, no, let's not put that out there.” In interviews—in the middle of an election campaign—he’d demur and say he didn’t want to be biased or promote himself.

Young, on the other hand, found himself properly campaigning for the first time in 30 years. He was advised he needed to use his political clout to help get his slate elected. The launch of the slate, Community First Langford, was wall-to-wall with supporters, other politicians, developers, business owners, and family members. His campaign team set up social media accounts for the slate, something Young had never done personally or for the city. Expensive, several-page-long ads ran at the front of the Times Colonist more than once.

For the first time since 1992, Young peppered the city in lawn signs.

But it wasn’t enough. Goodmanson won Langford with 4,483 votes to Young’s 3,796.

Throughout the campaign and in the first month of his new job, Goodmanson has been careful to critique gently, and he repeatedly gives credit to Young for his accomplishments.

In the eyes of some voters, Young’s final act as mayor may have been, effectively, to get Goodmanson elected. In the mobile home park the following week, neighbours were still asking themselves how the landscaper in Saanich became the mayor of Langford.

”Let me put it like this: he wasn’t Stew,” Graham answered.

None of the residents of Hidden Valley I interviewed are giving Goodmanson a free pass, but they do feel hopeful he’ll come through for them. Singleton expects it will take a lot longer for Goodmanson to become “a politician,” a word she uses with derision.

The damage has already been done on the bare mountain behind them, with the wind still whipping through the remaining trees and threatening to crush more homes. But the city is still growing, and over Goodmanson’s time in office, she has high hopes for him to make different decisions than Young would have.

“He's a landscaper by profession, so he understands the nature and the value of trees. So maybe things won't be cut down so badly in the future. Because Stew told us that this whole project, Skirt Mountain, had been approved 20 years ago. Well, 20 years ago was different than now,” Singleton said.

“The world is burning. It's on fire, honey, and they're still cutting our trees down.”