Jump to content
  • Tax increase lightning rod for those unwilling to accept election results

    Judith Lavoie

    Langford’s municipal political scene is not alone in being “ideologically diverse”—some might say “toxic.” Is there a way to move towards constructive conversations?


    FOR MOST BRITISH COLUMBIANS, last October’s municipal elections are a fuzzy memory likely to provoke little more than a yawn.

    In Langford, however, where the election of a new mayor and, with one exception, a rookie council, that election is regularly revisited and bemoaned by passionate supporters of the previous council, led for almost 30 years by former mayor Stew Young.

    Regular demonstrations outside City Hall demanding council step down or be recalled (there is no municipal recall process in B.C.), a handful of people pushing time limits for speaking to council, a smattering of conspiracy theories, a forum provided by a Facebook group, and a Victoria radio talk show host who some claim is fanning the flames, are creating volatility as the new council deals with unprecedented financial pressures.

    Online posts on the Our Langford Facebook site blame the new council for everything from killing development—even though this council has not, so far, turned down any projects and in fact Langford has experienced the highest number of housing starts for the first four months of the year since incorporation (CMHA)—to homeless people moving into the area. 

    “Under Stew Young’s council we felt safe in our community,” says a post accompanied by a photo of a bike pulling a tarp-covered trailer of possessions.

    Our Langford describes itself as “a group that is appreciative and grateful to previous councils historical 30 years of monumental achievements in the City of Langford.”

    Several startling posts, such as comments that Lillian Szpak—the only survivor from the previous council—should be in jail or encouraging in-person or on-line trolling of councillors, were recently removed, while others, such as those speculating about Mayor Scott Goodmanson’s business acumen and unflattering photos of councillors, remain.

    Former councillor Denise Blackwell, who was defeated in the last election, said she is appalled at the vitriol directed at the new council.

    “It’s terrible. It’s like they are in some sort of a cult and nothing will do but getting Stew [Young] back. They are not giving these new people a chance at all….  The new people seem quite calm and reasonable,” Blackwell said, adding that many problems the new council is experiencing, such as the need to raise taxes “can be laid right at the feet of the old council.”

    Blackwell, who opposed many of Young’s initiatives during the last mandate, said the over-the-top opposition seems to stem from five or six people and others “just pile on.”

    Mayor Goodmanson said in an interview that the antagonism is disconcerting, especially when it slides into personal attacks, but he emphasizes that everyone is entitled to their political opinions and council aims to address genuine concerns while correcting misinformation.



    Langford Mayor Scott Goodmanson


    “People can have a difference of opinion and we can still have a respectful dialogue. I want people to come to City Hall and feel that they are listened to, understood and respected,” Goodmanson said.

    But, a small group that predicted before the election that Langford would be destroyed if the old mayor and council were voted out, remain a vocal presence.

    “They’re still fighting the previous election,” Goodmanson said.

    “There have been references to us being a political insurrection and we are occupying City Hall and lots of references that they think we are an illegitimate council and there is no proof that we were elected,” said Goodmanson, adding that he is particularly concerned about comments attacking City staff.

    “We have an awesome staff. They are virtually the same staff that ran for years under the previous administration,” he said.

    Goodmanson does not attribute the criticism to any one person or group, but social media posts, even when inaccurate, are difficult to counteract.

    For example, the Our Langford masthead shows lit windows at City Hall with the initial post claiming there were secret, late-night budget meetings.

    But Goodmanson said the photo shows City staff poring over information from Engineers and Geoscientists B.C. about structural problems with the RidgeView apartment building. The next morning the 11-storey building was evacuated because of safety concerns.

    “My awesome staff got together late at night on Sunday working on a plan so they could hit the ground running on Monday,” Goodmanson said.

    Attempts by Focus to contact someone involved with the Our Langford site were met with a refusal from one member, as well as an email to Focus editor Leslie Campbell from another complaining about biased and inaccurate coverage of the former mayor and some council members. That member complained of being targeted on line by people they believe to be part of Langford Voters—a Facebook group that usually supports the new council.

    “Frankly speaking, I am tired of being BULLIED and harassed online and in person, it has been detrimental to my health and my wellbeing. Thus, I would hope that you would neither condone nor support such behaviour nor inflict further harm and/bullying upon myself or others in our group, by publishing such an article otherwise I will have no choice but to seek legal advice immediately,” the person wrote.

    Community members on the “other side” were also somewhat reluctant to talk with Focus on the record, but in an email, one person referred to an “intense backlash”  against the “greener” turn in local government, adding “one of the key rallying cries of the Our Langford movement is that ‘our city has been taken over by those woke outsiders from Victoria and Saanich’.”


    12.4 % tax increase provokes rage with some

    While opposition to the new council has been simmering since October, the unprecedented property tax increase functioned as a new lightning rod. Langford, which previously enjoyed tax hikes of under three per cent, is now looking at 12.4 per cent, provoking howls of outrage from some residents.

    Reasons for the increase include spillover from the previous council using amenity accounts (funds charged to developers as a condition of rezoning) and surplus funds to keep taxes low, something described in the 2023 budget presentation as a policy that, although legal, has “significant challenges to its sustainability.”

    The figures show borrowing from surplus and reserves dramatically increased in 2020, 2021 and 2022 to keep taxes low during the pandemic.

    The aim now is to “bring tax revenues back up to a level that can fund ongoing operations”  and build up depleted accounts as a financial bulwark, according to the City’s financial plan.

    In addition to the overarching problem of inflation, major expenses include an additional $950,000 subsidy—equivalent to a 2.5 per cent tax increase—to keep the YMCA-YWCA recreation centre operating under a contract negotiated by the previous council in 2013.

    That contract means that, even if the Y pulls out, the City remains on the hook for the building lease, at a cost of $2-million a year for the next 18 years, which is why negotiations are underway to borrow $30-million to buy the building.

    Some of the increase is directly related to growth of the city. Langford’s population grew by 31 per cent over the last five years, with census figures showing the City had 46,584 residents in 2021. Four additional RCMP officers are needed to bring the police-population ratio up to 1.750, which, at a cost of $700,000 amounts to almost two per cent of the budget. Nine additional firefighters and six additional city staff, are also needed to cope with the demands of Langford’s rapidly growing population.

    Even with the 12.4 per cent tax increase—amounting to an average of $240 per property—Langford residents will still pay taxes significantly below those of most BC municipalities of a similar size, including Victoria and Saanich. Property taxes for the average home in Langford were $1,858 last year. In Victoria they were $3,322; $4,638 in Oak Bay, and $3189 in Saanich (see page 27 of the financial presentation).

    Councillor Keith Yacucha, one of the new council members, who teaches economics at Camosun College, described the 2023 budget as a no frills, operational budget.

    “The analogy is that, for a homeowner, you know that, at one point in your house’s life, the hot water tank is going to go. At some point you’re going to have to redo the roof and you’re going to have to paint. You have the option to put aside a little bit of money each month or you can just wait until it happens,” he said.

    “Unfortunately, here in Langford, our hot water tank went, our roof went and we needed to repaint in the same budget cycle.”



    Langford Councillor Keith Yacucha


    The decision to use amenity funds to keep property taxes low in previous years was a valid policy choice, but it is money that could have been used to provide public amenities, such as parks, for all Langford residents including the many renters, Yacucha said.

    Yacucha, like other councillors, is anxious to ensure council hears legitimate concerns from residents and said he does not want to marginalize any group.

    “But, the difficult part is being able to differentiate between legitimate outrage and the rage farmers,” he said.

    With approval of the tax hike, criticism on the Our Langford site hit the stratosphere, with comments peppered with attacks and accusations of “fake public meetings.”

    Former Mayor Young did not return calls from Focus, but previously told Black Press Media that he would resign if he had to hike taxes to that extent.



    Councillor Lillian Szpak


    Szpak, who often opposed Young when she sat on the previous council, said taxes were kept low in previous years for political gain and now supporters of the previous council are responding with deeply personal misinformation and distortion of facts.

    Despite the negativity, the attacks are not affecting council’s work, Szpak said.

    “We focus on all the positivity that we’re hearing from the community, because it’s a very small group that is waging this letter writing and email campaign,” she said.

    “What this council wants is to always take the high road….We have a mandate from the electors and, the fact that this faction is not accepting it, is just so Trumpian,” she said.

    Social media and talk radio provide fertile ground for conspiracy theories and thrive on pitting people against each other, Szpak said.


    So, how to deal with it?

    “We have to protect democracy…I don’t want to over-simplify it, but I think it really does come down to making sure we can give facts and write responses that are respectful to these residents even if they are full of hyperbole and all sorts of accusations—and that is what this council is doing,” Szpak said.

    Langford plans to start its own Facebook page (“Let's Chat at Langford”) in the near future to try and ensure that people can obtain accurate information, she said.

    Kim Speers, assistant teaching professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Administration and chair of the Victoria chapter of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, said Langford is not the only community facing such problems.

    “There are some communities that are very ideologically diverse in terms of what they think the role of government should be,” she said, adding that the anonymity of social media complicates the discourse and the pandemic seems to have exacerbated divisions on what people believe governments should or should not do.

    “I wish we could all just take a course on how to interact with each other again because I think we are all a bit rusty and crusty and we are seeing this in the local government world,” she said.

    “It does seem that the election has not ended, and it’s OK that people disagree, but it [should be] disagreeing in a respectful, constructive manner and not being threatening or degrading. It’s having a constructive conversation on how to come up with solutions to address problems,” Speers said.

    “You might not agree with the outcome, but, hopefully, you can agree with the process,” she said.

    Other B.C. communities facing problems with local government—often with disagreements between councillors or issues with a small group of residents—include Tahsis, Lions Bay, Harrison Hot Springs and Kamloops.

    Last year, the president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, Laurey-Anne Roodenburg, described a “period of extreme toxicity in public life,” partially fuelled by misinformation on social media, with councillors and staff facing coordinated attacks. 

    Ontario requires municipalities to have an integrity commissioner, who helps with relationships between the public, council and administration, and it is an idea that could be considered locally, Speers suggested.

    The balance usually involves ensuring there is a good public engagement process, with protection for minority rights, but for the public to appreciate that councils are elected to make decisions, Speers said.

    Sarah Plank, who worked on the campaign to elect the Langford Now slate of new councillors, said change is hard for people who have strong beliefs and loyalties, but the political atmosphere in Langford is not healthy.

    “People spoke with their votes and now we have to find a way forward. That’s how democracy works,” said Plank, who has lived in Langford for 20 years.

    “I think we should be able to join together in a way that is constructive and creates the kind of healthy, thriving community that we all want,” she said.

    Freelance journalist Judith Lavoie has spent over 30 years as a reporter in the Greater Victoria area, including 20 with the Times-Colonist. She has won four Webster awards and has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award and a Michener Award.

    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    Thank you to Focus for paying attention and finally bringing your objective reporting to Langford. Please continue to keep an eye on these issues. Good journalism and reporting ate needed.

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    It's refreshing to read this article. Your reporting is thorough and accurate, and you successfully managed to refrain from outright calling out the crazies. They are disturbingly vicious and have caused a lot of people a lot of pain since their chosen politicians lost the election. The bullying and outright, provable, abject lying has been intense. You still managed to uphold journalistic integrity where I fear I would not be able to. 

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Well researched and well said - as always, Judith! The new council is working hard and needs our support and constructive criticism,  not the vitriol. 

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    In this article, where all comments represent one side of the discussion, I wonder why the other POV did not feel comfortable participating. More interesting, everyone quoted and named is a municipal politician representing that one point of view.

    "Attempts by Focus to contact someone involved..."; "Community members on the “other side” were also somewhat reluctant to talk..."

    In some cases, pieces like this are strategic, deliberate advocacy, but fail as journalism. (The article does read, chapter and verse, like the Langford council talking points...)

    I can view this article as a nice microcosm of the larger problem. (I have no dog in the hunt; no interest in Langford politics, but fascinated by the dynamics.) Here are some examples of how the article chooses to blame everyone but the sitting council, for everything:

    Section 1 seems to be "last council made everything bad, it's hard to fix it, and a few angry, cruel, immature people aren't happy about our great work": 

    - "many problems the new council is experiencing, such as the need to raise taxes “can be laid right at the feet of the old council.” A new government blaming the last government for their decisions when they upset people is new?

    - "But, a small group that predicted before the election that Langford would be destroyed if the old mayor and council were voted out, remain a vocal presence." A small, vocal group, having an outsized influence, advocating for something different is a new problem in our communities?

    Section 2 echos word-for-word, council's bullet points for a breath-taking tax increase during a growing recession: 

    - "borrowing from surplus and reserves dramatically increased in 2020, 2021 and 2022 to keep taxes low" The term "borrowing from surplus and reserves", one of the best municipal double-speak phrases in vogue today, describes the current strategic and financial failure of current council perfectly to anyone with a basic understanding of finance and tactics. Ask yourself, "What is this a surplus of?", or "Since when are slush funds (which reserves have become) of our tax money not appropriate to use when times are tough?" Of course you would defer the expense to the public as long as you possibly can: taxes deferred are taxes saved."

    - "but it is money that could have been used to provide public amenities, such as parks, for all Langford residents including the many renters, Yacucha said." Comments like this don't sound like leadership, or help a community change, and make me angry. This is an obvious ideological decision/position, which is the point of politics. Rather than own it, he (and council) choose the intellectually safe (lazy, not courageous) excuse of blaming the past council for making this inevitable when it was obviously not.

    Section 3 (3s are important in writing) Compounds the problems of sections 1 and 2 by repeating the terrible, unhelpful idea that the electorate is having emotional problems and needs to do better... beautifully segued by Spzack's suggestion they have a "mandate" (which the electorate read, "to do whatever we want, no matter what!")

    Our local elections are defined by very low turnout, and are therefore easy to manipulate, especially by any existing, organized, well-resourced entity. Lots of folks like to pretend this isn't important, but everyone I've met with this position has something to gain in the circumstances, similar to the issue of amalgamation.

    Even if there was no organized effort by entities in another jurisdiction to bring resources to bear... when only 24% of the community turns out to vote, it doesn't feel like the spirit of democracy to act like you have the support of the community, or pretend you have a strong mandate (any mandate?) That feels like a lack of humility, and/or a real interest in the needs or wants of the community over your own ideas. People should be suspicious, at best, of this attitude and I sure can't blame them for being angry at the hubris.

    Councillor Spzack captures the gulf between her role and the community (unwittingly) in the following comments:

    "because it’s a very small group that is waging this letter writing and email campaign,” she said." (again, when isn't it?)

    “What this council wants is to always take the high road….We have a mandate from the electors and, the fact that this faction is not accepting it, is just so Trumpian,” she said."  (mandate? see above. "Trumpian?" sigh)

    "Social media and talk radio provide fertile ground for conspiracy theories and thrive on pitting people against each other, Szpak said." (pitting people against each other appears to be the only strategy for every municipal campaign, in every one of the 13 fiefdoms, including Langford.)

    I have great respect for the editor of this publication and assume the piece must have landed when she was busy? The real tragedy of this article is that it does nothing to improve the situation and much, including yet more platitudes and motherhood statements aimed at the electorate, to make things worse.

    One day, maybe, we could have a real leader, who wanted a better community.

    Change is tough for people, always. "Change is good... you go first" captures the angst, necessity, and risk, but table stakes for a better community, to me, is that change happens with a minimum of people suffering, hating the change, or being more angry at each other than before the initiative started.

    "I don't care about what you say, unless I think you care about me" is foundational wisdom for change. Real leaders make difficult, beneficial change stick, by showing love for everyone in words and actions, because they know their credibility depends on it. Credibility is their resource for change. Leaders specifically use vulnerability, self-criticism, and ruthless honesty about themselves and their mistakes to maintain that credibility. Even more important, doing so sets the table and makes space for everyone to act with the same honesty and respect, while working together to solve difficult problems.

    Selfish, anxious people who aspire and fail at difficult, beneficial change, are certain their "really important ideas" will save us, justify their behaviour with this thought, are deaf to the feelings of the community, do more harm than good. They engage a fraction of the community in the change, find themselves at war with any group feeling disadvantaged, increasingly deny truth, look awkward, waste resources, create division... and are mystified.

    ...and leave us waiting, hoping for a leader in 3.5 more years. (Rinse and repeat.)

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    To S Ison above:

    Given the nature of the story and the refusal of those on Our Langford or the previous mayor and council to talk with Focus—indeed two people threatened us with lawsuits—I believe we did the right thing, i.e. not be intimidated into silence or even ignoring a difficult community conflict. 

    We were very careful with this article. We always are, but in this case in particular, we did not want to cause more divisiveness.

    Judith Lavoie did a great job in my view.

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    You seem to suggest the fact they wouldn't speak with Focus was their problem alone... maybe. I guess I incorrectly understood that journalism, well done, keeps doors open for a conversation specifically for this purpose, so articles won't look like strategic message-management.

    Did the refusers assume Focus would have its thumb on the scale? If they did then theirs is not the failure.

    Or... unless Focus is a thumb on the scale for ... NDP, Greens? If that's true, great, but then I don't need Focus. There are lots of opinions in our community of self-righteous indignation, but little listening, and no leadership. Quite the opposite.

    I'd like more journalism. To me that would be journalism that sees the system, itself, and itself in the system, and reports with the interests of the greater community as its "focus", as opposed to just more advocating for a position. Rags, people, institutions all "advocating", justifying their means with fear and urgency... this is all making it less likely we'll have mature people listening to each other, and collaborating with honesty and respect to solve difficult problems.

    As an aside, along with the CBC, NPR, the Fraser Institute, and so on, looking for balance, I sometimes listen to Adam Stirling. He has his finger on the scale and I like that he points it out. He sees the system, and his part in it, and acknowledges both with more honesty than most.

    Democracy is failing in large part because neither media nor our growing political elite seem able to acknowledge or discuss their part in the failure. Everyone has a part but media and politicians are where leadership for civil society might be found. Instead, the behaviour of both media and politicians increases entrenchment.

    In my opinion, the solution is absolutely not some entity grabbing power, by any means necessary, then forcing change with little/no effort to build consensus other than articles like the above. "Stroke of the pen" dictates ("I say so, so it shall be so") are cynical failures of immature people with no skills for leading. 

    I think there's a chance for a better future if a real leader shows up, is open, honest about the difference between a win and a mandate, and works hard to understand what the community wants, collaborates/communicates hard to build support for their ideas, and can openly admit failure and change course. They'll acknowledge and even encourage critical media as the foundation of their credibility. Most of all, they'll promote and fervently protect the idea that they lead with an even hand (meaning, for everyone, not specific groups) because they know beneficial change is less likely if they don't.

    A leader would not pretend they weren't associated with others, when it's obvious they are, because that would build a foundation on a lie. What a terrible place to start. We all see it and shake our heads.

    S Ison


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

  • Create New...