This year’s municipal and regional government elections in some places are truly a challenge for voters. Slates, multiple candidates and a myriad of signs and slogans make the choice for voters a difficult task. Many residents are asking “Whom do we vote for?”

One of the best ways to learn about candidates is through the ubiquitous All Candidates’ Meeting. A variety of neighbourhood or citizen-based groups (think neighbourhood and community associations) are usually active during election cycles, hosting voter information forums and all candidates’ meetings. They do a great job, especially here in Oak Bay.

I attended two important All Candidates’ meetings in the past week, one hosted by the University of Victoria Student Society and Martlet newspaper and one hosted by the Community Association of Oak Bay.

While the audience at UVic was small, the three young women who organized the process and the questions did an excellent job. The questions posed were some of the most stimulating, thought-provoking and substantive that I have encountered thus far during the campaign. The topics ranged from student mental health to housing and from Indigenous relations to student involvement in local government. It’s worth noting that UVic is a leader in Indigenous education, opening the first Indigenous Law program on the continent and possibly internationally. The nearly two hours sped by and was video taped.

The last All Candidates’ meeting was hosted by the Community Association of Oak Bay (CAOB), founded in 2006. This group has been active in Oak Bay, tackling a variety of community issues and projects. The Oak Bay United Church provided the meeting venue and it was packed with about 300 people, with standing room only. Moderated by Dr. Michael Prince of UVic, the meeting opened with a one-on-one conversation with acclaimed Mayor, Kevin Murdoch, followed by an all candidates’ panel. Questions were written and submitted by residents and candidates took turns answering. This session was also live-streamed.

It has been an election focused on Council candidates, given that there is no Mayor’s race in Oak Bay. While an intense campaign, the opportunity to meet face-to-face once again with the public has been a gift. The pandemic blew a hole in public engagement so restoring this important experience after two+ years has been a significant and meaningful turning point for me.

Thanks to the scores of residents who attended these meetings and to the organizers who put a lot of time and effort into them. Supporting healthy local democracy and keeping voters informed and engaged is key to electing strong Council members who will create an equally strong local government over the next four years.