Home Editorials Langford saga: former mayor and ‘defacto’ mayor

Langford saga: former mayor and ‘defacto’ mayor

Stew Young's team rallies around him as Lillian Szpak capitalizes on seniority.

Saturday October 29, 2022 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated 3 pm November 1, 2022]

by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends

As the dust begins to settle following the seismic results of the Langford municipal election, some new political phenomena are emerging — just in time for Halloween!

We’ve got a former long-time mayor attempting to reboot his public image afresh with a brand new Facebook group, and a long-time re-elected city councillor circulating around town as ‘the defacto mayor’.

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After 30 years as mayor, Stew Young lost to a candidate who doesn’t live in Langford. [Oct 15, 2022]

Both of these are unusual political formats — bizarre recreations of what was, trying to become what might be, but not quite.

While Stew Young’s “vision” that is being honoured and promoted by the Facebook group (organized by or with his long-time team of former councillors) is admirable for recognizing his 30-year contribution to the community, the high-energy promotion of Lillian Szpak in media and social media (over and above promotion of the rest of the newly elected council of first-time politicians) plays on her seniority among the current elected ranks.

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The full-sweep loss of Stew Young and his hand-picked team of six councillor candidates sent shock waves through the Greater Victoria municipal circuit on election night Oct 15, 2022. [Twitter]

Young’s Community First Langford team sent out a thank-you email to supporters and community this past week that read like a government memo, outlining the various campaign activities that were undertaken on behalf of the team. Szpak’s use of social media is a bit more jazzy, not surprisingly with more celebratory energy.

For several years — including during the 2018 election cycle — then Mayor Young was aware and cautious of the political ambitions of Szpak who had served on his council since 2002. Szpak continued to try and maintain a high profile over many years on Young’s council, including by chairing the Protective Services Committee. Earlier this year Szpak’s performance on that committee was put into question by council, and she resigned from that post.

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Something of a sign war emerged during the 2022 municipal election in Langford. [Oct 8, 2022 | Island Social Trends]

Just prior to the October 15 election, Young told Island Social Trends that he could see the newcomer political momentum coming months ago. But it seems he felt helpless or unaware of how to stop it. His campaign approach was to rely on decades of past business connections and to swamp city boulevards with team campaign signs; there seemed a bit of political fatigue in choosing to use might over creativity.

All of the folks who served on what was essentially a 30-year run of the same council from 1992 to 2022 under then-Mayor Young, were strong community leaders in their own right. Lanny Seaton undertook parks and trails with lively interest, Matt Sahlstrom kept a firm hand on the budget through the administration committee, Roger Wade invested much of his time in the transportation file, Denise Blackwell carried pretty much the full weight of the development file including affordable housing, and Norma Stewart provided a cheery social face to the team in her four years on council.

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“Team Langford!! 👍 Part 2 of our Council Orientation at Gorge Pavilion” ~ Lillian Szpak on Facebook, Oct 28, 2022. [Selfie photo by Keith Yacucha]

Hindsight and foretelling:

But the chaffing between Young and Szpak can be seen — in hindsight — going quite far back, even into the previous decade when Langford was rebounding after the 2008 economic crash. Few could argue at how Young’s business savvy pulled Langford out of the economic mud and gave thrust to the last 10 years of construction that have made Langford (for all its flaws) a shining city on the hill. In that context, Szpak’s grumblings seemed misplaced.

During the election period in October, even one journalist in the daily newspaper in Victoria essentially pre-declared a sure-fire win by Stew Young and his first-picks for council (which included two Langford political newcomers Shirley Ackland and Shannon Russell-Willing after Szpak and Blackwell went rogue… two women who were earlier this year floated out in front of cameras as the lead organizers of the Langford Supports Ukraine committee).

langford councillors, oct 2022
City of Langford Councillors-elect taking part in planting a boulevard with native species, at Millstream Elementary, Oct 26/22 (from left): Kimberley Guiry, Colby Harder, Mary Wagner, Satinflowers Nursery worker Abby, and re-elected Lillian Szpak. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Election night:

Indeed, the election night shock on October 15 rippled hard like an earthquake through the entire Greater Victoria region. If Stew Young could fall hard (in addition to other long-time mayors not achieving re-election), then what was really going on?

On election night and for a few days to follow, mainstream media blithely described the phenomenon as voters wanting change. But it runs deeper than that. It wasn’t just about changing the faces at the various council tables, it was a statement about how entrenched political power has become in the last 20 or 30 years. The idea of democratic replacement at the ballot box had been foiled over several election cycles.

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This election cycle proved that there is power at the ballot box. But not without other powerful forces at play — forces beyond the power of the individual voter.

While Stew Young’s team had run as an official electoral slate (Community First Langford), as did the five new Langford councillors who ran as Langford Now slate, some candidates in other campaigns (e.g. SD62 Belmont Zone) skirted around the edges by campaigning collectively without being an official slate (but being quietly backed by larger political forces in an effort to cement a win).

Leading up to election night:

In the case of Langford’s race, it was Langford Now aiming to knock out Stew Young’s team (what became known as Community First Langford).

Young held his Community First Langford campaign launch in a crowded meeting room in an office building on Peatt Road on September 8. He also took that opportunity to promote his pick for school board (Ravi Parmar, Russ Chipps and Christine Lervold — who were in the room).

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Szpak did organize for years with the five candidates who won alongside her to become the 2022-2026 Langford Council. As Szpak is the only one with council experience (and lengthy experience at that), she is calling herself ‘the defacto mayor’ (as told to Island Social Trends this past week).

Szpak revealed early in 2022 to Island Social Trends that she had been essentially shaking the bushes for years to find candidates — particularly women, who could lead Langford in a new direction. But she did not reveal any names. Though the upcoming slate was obvious by whom from the public was phoning-in to participate in Langford Council meetings over the past two years (as in who might be running or who was backing them), during the campaign Stew Young indicated that it was no surprise.

stew young, council team, sept 2022
Mayoral candidate Stew Young on September 8, 2022 presenting his team for re-election (from left): Shannon Russell-Willing, Matt Sahlstrom, Norma Stewart, Shirley Ackland, Roger Wade, Lanny Seaton). [Island Social Trends]
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Langford councillors-elect promoting their meetings as a team. [Twitter – Oct 27, 2022]

New council, working with staff:

The new Langford Council is comprised of a mayor who ran almost as a lark, five councillors who during the collective campaign professed that they are not politicians, and one re-elected councillor with an axe to grind (in addition to the positive contribution she clearly wants to make): Mayor Scott Goodmanson; new councillors Kimberley Guiry, Colby Harder, Mark Morley, Mary Wagner and Keith Yacucha; and re-elected councillor Lillian Szpak.

No doubt Szpak will naturally serve as a mentor to the other councillors for whom elected office is entirely new. There is an unusually delicate but heavy load on Langford senior staff to guide the new council into place. Essentially the machinery of running a large city falls almost entirely on staff now (starting during the campaign period) and for several months to come. Some senior staff have filed their intenion to resign (such as Director of Engineering Michelle Mahovolich, who posted her news on LinkedIn over a week ago).

The new council has been posting group meeting photos all over social media, including one image with senior Langford staffers including Chief Administrative Officer Darren Kiedyk, Corporate Officer Braden Hutchins, and Financial Officer Mike Dillabaugh. All smiles — to show a collaborative, friendly approach to governance. They are working hard to demonstrate ‘transparency’ in the public eye.

There are some municipal governance rules about councillors not meeting as a full group outside of a formal council meeting (something to do with undue influence on council decisions), which we’ll look into for a future article.

Social media profile:

It was plain to see in the past few years that a City of Langford profile was absent from Twitter, where most municipalities and politicians have had accounts for years. The City seemed to eschew the workload and transparency that sort of profile would have entailed and produced.

What comes next:

For all the voter interest in this election cycle (some higher voter turnout percentages than in previous years), the results offered little in the way of a sense of accomplishment on the part of independent-minded voters. This could very likely lead to voters feeling disenfranchised the next time around, which would be an unfortunate outcome for the lofty goal of maintaining a freely active democracy.

mapleline business centre

Meanwhile, west shore voters are left with a bit of a soap opera to watch as the new political trajectories of Stew Young and Lillian Szpak unfold.

Young has backed (officially or otherwise) many a BC Liberal candidate in past provincial elections and has some relatively deep ties with federal politicians in both Conservative and Liberal camps. Mostly he’s interested in business (particularly the business of organized sport) and could end up recycling in that direction, while maintaining his powerful foothold in large local business enterprises in Langford and the region.

Szpak will be the ‘poster gal’ of Langford leadership for the next four years; who knows, perhaps it’s something that should have happened sooner as part of the cycle of change in an evolving community, and thereby the cosmic timeline is simply adjusting itself. She indirectly observed this past week that some businesses flourished under the previous council and others that might now safely emerge under a fresh new leadership in Langford.

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Szpak will carry her seniority to the Capital Regional District (CRD) board table where she will likely have significant clout for west shore interests (she previously chaired the CRD’s Juan de Fuca Water Commission), especially as former Langford Councillor Denise Blackwell will no longer be on the CRD board. There will also be a bit of catch-up time at the CRD board with several new mayors and councillors (as alternates to the CRD board) coming on stream in the months ahead. Rob Martin was not re-elected in his mayoral bid in Colwood (where council had a good shakeup) and neither was David Screech in View Royal (though his council remained intact, plus two new councillors in an expanded number of seats from four to six).

No one is expecting calm waters in the next few months in Langford. There is much that will transition about city hall and more broadly around Langford in the months and years ahead.

Inaugural council meeting:

The swearing-in of the new Langford council and inaugural City of Langford council meeting will be held in a new location — at the Belmont Secondary School auditorium (instead of Council Chambers) on Monday November 7 starting at 7 pm (doors open 6:30 pm).


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mary p brooke
Mary P Brooke, Editor, Island Social Trends

Mary P Brooke is a long-time west shore journalist and entrepreneur. Ms Brooke started her series of news publications on the west shore back in 2008 with MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), expanding that into a weekly print newspaper Sooke Voice News (2011-2013), which further branched out as the colour print/PDF weekly newspaper West Shore Voice News (2014-2020) based in Langford. In mid-2020 the call to a fully online news portal was heeded, and Island Social Trends emerged at islandsocialtrends.ca .

Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Cert PR ran as a school trustee candidate in the October 2022 election (therefore not doing any active municipal election news analysis during the campaign period in Sept/Oct 2022). As a trustee candidate, to the broader west shore community (Langford, Colwood, Metchosin and Highlands) Ms Brooke brought forward her long-time interest in good governance, along with a Vancouver Island food security theme in her campaign.