Improving communication with residents, establishing consensus key challenges for new council

Nanaimo voters stayed with who they knew Saturday.

George Anderson

George Anderson

Nanaimo voters stayed with who they knew Saturday.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan held his seat easily over his nearest rival, Roger McKinnon, with 52 per cent of the mayoral votes and all five council incumbents – Bill Bestwick, Jim Kipp, Ted Greves, Diana Johnstone and Fred Pattje – in the race also held their seats.

Electors voted in newcomers George Anderson, who at the age of 20 is one of the youngest councillors ever elected in Nanaimo, Bill McKay and Diane Brennan, who was absent from council for one term after being defeated by Ruttan in the mayoral race in 2008. They replace three councillors who chose not to run again.

Ruttan said he is looking forward to his second term as mayor and has confidence in who the voters chose to sit on council.

“I really wanted the two-term mandate if I could and it looks like that’s the case,” he said. “I’m a little concerned that our really experienced core is gone. Councillor Merv Unger, who contributed so much, Councillor Loyd Sherry who had 30 continuous years which is amazing, and Councillor Bill Holdom, the voice of calm and wisdom, and they’ll be missed. We’ll have to get up to speed but we’ll get there and we’ll get some good stuff done.”

Ruttan re-affirmed his key tasks to begin his second term will be to seek investors  for a conference centre hotel, a downtown Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver foot passenger ferry, and to secure a future water supply for Nanaimo residents.

Ruttan finished Saturday’s election with 8,815 votes, 3,449 votes ahead of McKinnon. Mayoral candidates Jim Routledge and Dan Didio finished with 2,139 and 546 respectively. Bestwick topped the vote count for councillors with 9,108 while McKay finished eighth with 5,898 votes.

Residents remained apathetic toward municipal governance, however, with 17,222 Nanaimo electors headed to the voting stations unofficially on Saturday, or 27.7 per cent of the 62,000 people eligible to vote. That continues a downward trend of voter participation in municipal elections in Nanaimo.

Pattje said he is looking forward to serving his second consecutive term.

“I think the council that was voted in [Saturday] is a good reflection of what Nanaimo is about right now,” he said. “I am really glad that the so-called division between north and south Nanaimo is not happening, not by a long shot. But we have some repair work to do as far as communication and consultation goes. Those obviously are important and we have repair work to do and we will do that.”

Pattje was referring to concerns from residents in the north end unhappy with council’s approach to establishing a 40-unit low barrier supportive housing project near Upland Drive and Hammond Bay Road, as well as a similar project proposed in the hospital district.

Former longtime Nanaimo mayor and councillor Gary Korpan finished well out of contention for a council seat in 15th position with 4,175 votes while Jeet Manhas, who was also looking to return to council after a three year absence, finished 12th with 4,993 votes.

Anderson finished fourth in voting with 7,450 and said he is ready to represent the city.

“I’m going to go and find out what people want over the next three years and act upon that,” said Anderson. “I’ve already fulfilled one promise and the only promise I made during this campaign and that’s to bring down the average age on city council.”

Eleven years ago, Terry Beech sat on Nanaimo council at the age of 18, the youngest British Columbian ever to be elected. Anderson said he will follow in Beech’s footsteps by “bringing some youthful perspective to city council,” and by working with institutions like Vancouver Island University and the school district to work together.

Holdom, who stepped aside after representing Nanaimo citizens for eight terms, said he felt voters affirmed the work of council’s direction.

“It seems like people were generally satisfied with the way things are going and wanted it to continue. The real interest is in the new people and we’ll see how that works out.”

McKay said he was surprised voters chose to stay mostly with the status quo.

“It’s not the group I expected to be up there. I thought there would be more change,” he said. “We’re going to have to do a lot of collaborative negotiation as a council, I can tell you that, because we’re from very different backgrounds and sides. I’m disappointed there wasn’t more of a business-leaning council, but we’ll work with what we’ve got.”

McKinnon, who was defeated by Ruttan in 13 of 15 polling stations, said he believed Nanaimo  was ready for more change.

“In the last week I really understood what it is. Nothing went wrong [with my campaign], it was is Nanaimo ready? Nanaimo wanted change, the major change that I do, or the status quo? Turns out Nanaimo wanted the status quo. Voters aren’t quite ready to say we need to run Nanaimo like a business, that we need to say we’re an old friend of this guy and what he does with his business, and just etch along and be happy with what we’ve done. We just crawl along. I’ll say that yes, the status quo is bad.”

McKinnon and Ruttan met briefly at the front of the Shaw Auditorium as the excitement died down from the final results. The pair shook hands and exchanged some laughs before going their separate ways.

“No hard feelings,” McKinnon told Ruttan, referring to his open criticism of Ruttan during the campaign.

The current council meets for the last time Nov. 28 to wrap up unfinished business before the inaugural meeting of the newly elected council meets for the first time in public Dec. 5.