In one of the largest municipal election turnouts in the province, Gibsons voters gave Wayne Rowe a resounding victory on Nov. 15, re-electing the incumbent mayor for a second term and sweeping his entire slate of “young, fresh” candidates onto council.
Rowe was returned to office with 1,419 votes, compared to 807 votes for Suzanne Senger, whose slate of council candidates also met defeat.
Topping the polls for four seats on council, former school board chair Silas White finished first with 1,529 votes, followed by Jeremy Valeriote with 1,325 votes, incumbent Charlene SanJenko with 1,244 votes and Stafford Lumley with 1,117 votes.
Not elected were incumbent Lee Ann Johnson with 925 votes, incumbent Dan Bouman with 849 votes, former mayor Barry Janyk with 832 votes and Katie Janyk with 698 votes.
“What a great night, what a great night,” Rowe told dozens of cheering supporters at the Gibsons Legion Saturday night, arriving about 20 minutes after outgoing councillor Gerry Tretick announced the results to the jubilant crowd.
Rowe pointed to the voter turnout of 62.5 per cent, up from 57.3 per cent in 2011 and ninth highest in the province.
“In my concluding remarks at the all-candidates meeting, I urged our residents to exercise their right to vote in sufficient numbers to provide as clear a direction as possible for this next council. They’ve done that,” he said.
“Given the results, I believe that our community has made it sufficiently clear that it chooses progress over status quo, critical analysis over dogmatism and hope over despair.”
In an interview later that evening, Rowe said he also got the message that Gibsons residents don’t want to see progress at any cost.
“What I certainly heard from the voters is they are prepared for and do want to see progress in this town, but at the same time they want us to be alert to make sure that it’s progress that still fits with the nature of our community,” he said.
Rowe admitted he was “a bit surprised” by the outcome.
“I really didn’t think we might be able to pull off all the council seats, so from that point of view, I’m surprised. I’m surprised, actually, probably more so, by the very clear spread. A statement has been clearly made by the residents of the town that they are prepared to embrace a young, fresh group of councillors that will hopefully move us in a positive direction.”
White said he attributed his win to a lot of hard work.
“I knocked on almost every door in Gibsons, maybe a handful I didn’t catch,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always done in campaigning for four terms now, including as school trustee in Sechelt as well as Gibsons. And hopefully my reputation as a school trustee has helped me.”
Rather than the relative youth of the winning candidates, White said he believed voters responded more to their individual credentials and backgrounds.
The election, he said, “basically came down to a message of hope versus fear, and I think all our candidates stuck with being positive and putting forward a vision of hope for Gibsons. Unfortunately, I heard a lot of fear from the other candidates who didn’t get in and a lot of fear mongering, right up until the last day, today. It just grew and grew. Clearly that didn’t work out for them, and I’m glad for that. I’m excited about the fact that Gibsons chose hope.”
Valeriote said the huge turnout was “really great for the whole process” and described the campaign as “pretty positive” and respectful.
“In the end, people made a fairly clear choice,” he said. “There’s still a lot of viewpoints to incorporate into the discussion. I want to make sure to keep those lines of communication open.”
In keeping with the Local Government Act, Valeriote said he had tendered his resignation with the Sunshine Coast Regional District, where he was manager of solid waste services.
As the only incumbent to be re-elected, SanJenko said she felt honoured.
“It’s interesting to go from being the new kid on the block to the senior councillor,” she said. “So I have some big shoes to fill, and I’m just starting to make that adjustment.”
SanJenko said many voters felt the town had “sat stagnant” for too many years and saw the election as an opportunity “to start swinging a little bit in the other direction,” a process she said started in the 2011 election.
“What we kept hearing was that people wanted to see progress, and that’s what this team offered: non-stagnation. I think attitude went a long way in this, and I think it was healthy.”
Lumley said he was “more relieved than surprised” by the outcome.
“I think that a message has been sent by the town that it’s time for change and they’ve pointed to us for leadership and some youth and energy to direct the town,” he said, predicting it will be “really easy” for the new council to work together.
“More will get done. There’ll be no delaying. People will make confident decisions based on intelligent communication with each other, without emotion or anything like that. Trying to find solutions, I think that’s what everybody has in the back of their minds, so it’ll be easy.”
Among the defeated incumbents, Johnson acknowledged the new council received a “very strong mandate” but said the test of a democracy is how the majority treats a minority.
“I hope they can be thoughtful and responsive to the community,” she said.
After nine years on council, Johnson said she would like to devote some time now to creative activities, such as art and writing. Asked if she would run again in four years, she said: “No, no.”
Bouman said this election marked a break from the past for Gibsons.
“Historically the townspeople have been pretty independent and they’ve never gone for a slate before,” he said. “But this campaign was entirely different. The Rowe campaign had a large, professionally coordinated operation.”
By “branding” candidates and invoking a sense of urgency over the town’s infrastructure needs, “they were doing that classic thing you see in federal elections,” he said.
Senger also said she was surprised that voters went with one slate of candidates, rather than a mix from both sides.
“I really didn’t expect Stafford Lumley to take out Lee Ann Johnson,” she said. “Clearly slates work.”
She contrasted her team’s campaign to Rowe’s as “the difference between grassroots folks” and a “sort of big campaign machine.”
On a personal level, Senger said she was “quite thrilled” by how the campaign went for her. “I was able to have some excellent conversations with folks and dispel the myth that I’m against everything.”
One of her concerns is that Rowe will use the election outcome “as a rationale to say he’s got a green light” on the George Hotel proposal.
“That’s not what we heard at the doorstep,” she said. “I hope the people will continue to put the pressure on the politicians to do what is right and to honour the plans.”
The new council will be sworn in on Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Gibsons Public Market.