It’s been a busy campaign for all four candidates running for mayor of the City of Duncan.
With the voting booths opening early in the morning on Saturday, Sharon Jackson, Daniel Helmer, Martin Barker and Michelle Staples are now in their last lap in the race to replace the retiring Phil Kent as mayor after many weeks on the campaign trail.
Twelve candidates are also running for the six council seats on Duncan’s council.
Long-time city councillor Jackson said she had a “great campaign” and had many interesting conversations with voters at meetings and when she was out knocking on doors.
She said she was shocked that so many people had no idea about the referendums that will be part of the municipal elections.
Residents of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, of which the City of Duncan is a part, are being asked to vote in two referendums regarding affordable housing and water supply and management.
“It’s scary that so many people have no knowledge of what these referendums are all about because there’s some big tax implications for the people of Duncan,” Jackson said.
Jackson said she’s also concerned about how big the issues around drug addiction and affordable housing were during the campaign.
“Clearly, these are not municipal issues, but are the responsibility of senior levels of government,” she said.
“They need to stand up to the plate on these issues. We don’t tax to deal with these problems in Duncan.”
Jackson said she intends to keep campaigning right up to election day.
“I intend to continue my efforts right up until the last minute,” she said.
“I do think that I’m the best candidate for mayor, but it will be up to the voters and I encourage them to get out to vote in this very important election.”
Barker, who served as a city councillor from 2011-14, said the most common concerns that were raised to him during the campaign were the issues around crime, drug addictions and homelessness.
He said traffic issues are also a major concern.
“We have to do better,” Barker said.
“We need to provide the police with the appropriate tools to deal with crime properly, and we have to lobby senior levels of government to deal with social housing for addictions with mental health issues.”
Barker said he found the all-candidate meetings that he participated in were informative and the vast majority of the candidates ran great campaigns.
“Only a couple ran negative campaigns, but most did a good job and worked hard,” he said.
“I intend to keep campaigning right up to the end. I don’t know if I’ll win, but I know I resonated with many in Duncan because I live here and will share any pain around decisions made by council with them.”
Helmer, who is taking his first crack at municipal politics, said that after listening to the concerns of many of the citizens during the campaign, drugs and crime issues remain at the top of his list of important problems that must be dealt with.
He said that as a property manager downtown, he sees a lot of problems in the area, particularly at night.
“Drug users always congregate close to where I work, which leads to problems, and most people don’t see this because its usually after hours,” Helmer said.
“The RCMP should do their jobs. I see about 20 to 30 officers every day, but very few at night when these people are out.”
Helmer said he was disappointed by the all-candidate meetings because he wasn’t invited to a few, and those he did attend provided few opportunities for him to get his message to the public.
“I really wish that I had more time at these meetings to explain my platform,” he said.
“I enjoyed them, but I wish they were a little fairer. I’m asking the voters to elect some new people to council. It doesn’t matter who as long as they are new. A lot hasn’t changed in this city for the past eight years.”
Staples, who has served on council for two terms, said she has heard the same concerns around the drug and affordable housing crises, and says there is a role for the city in helping to deal with them.
“We have to be involved,” she said.
“Senior levels of government are not the only ones affected by this; it impacts us all every day. We have to be involved in this conversation. How can we not be when we’re dealing with people living in our community?”
Staples said she found the level of interest in local issues among voters seems to be higher than in past elections during the campaign.
She said that judging by her many conversations talking to people door to door, the issue around amalgamation of Duncan and North Cowichan, which was defeated in a referendum last spring, still seems to be controversial.
“There seems to be a lot of new, young families in the city that don’t know the history and were asking me what brought on the referendum,” she said.
“Even a lot of people that have been here awhile are still interested in this conversation.”
Staples said she’s excited by the support she is receiving by many voters, but, ultimately, the people will decide if she is to be mayor on voting day.
“I encourage everyone to get out and vote,” she said.