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Cowichan Tribes member could hold critical vote on new North Cowichan council

Debra Toporowski — a member of Cowichan Tribes — has the potential to cast a decisive vote on a split North Cowichan council.

Toporowski was re-elected to North Cowichan council Saturday after running a quiet, no-frills campaign in which she supported protection of water, land and air, while appreciating the need for balance with the economy.

The mayoralty race wasn’t nearly as close as some had predicted.

Rob Douglas won handily with 3,503 votes, replacing the outgoing Al Siebring, who announced he is moving to Alberta.

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Right-of-centre candidate John Koury and former councillor Rosalie Sawrie — endorsed by Siebring — finished with 2,747 and 2,195 votes, respectively.

Going forward, might Douglas, re-elected incumbent Christopher Justice and newcomer Chris Istace vote along similar lines?

Istace ran unsuccessfully provincially for the Green Party and Douglas for the NDP in 2020, in different ridings. Toporowski lost her seat on Cowichan Tribes council in February 2022.

Over the past four years, Toporowski has often (but not always) voted with Douglas and Justice on issues, including approving the new Official Community Plan.

On the right-of-centre side sits Tek Manhas, a re-elected incumbent, and Bruce Findlay, a developer and publican elected for the first time.

Pro-development forces during the election campaign supported Manhas and Findlay, but also Mike Caljouw, whose father, also Mike, used to sit on Duncan council.

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Caljouw topped the voting among councillor candidates Saturday, but it remains to be seen whether he aligns with Manhas and Findlay on critical votes. During the campaign, he described himself as a calm, reasoned listener who can work with anyone on council.

Note that none of the candidates ran on an anti-development slate; it comes down to how much, where, and what type.

Meanwhile, Charles Borg and members of the United Independents — Adrienne Richards, Joseph Enslow, and Chris Shaw — went down to defeat. At an all-candidates meeting, all stood up to indicate they believed the new Official Community Plan was influenced by the World Economic Forum and/or the United Nations.

Among those also defeated: long-time councillor Kate Marsh and former councillor Joyce Behnsen.

Despite a hard-fought election campaign, including on social media, voter turnout declined from 35.1 percent in 2018 to 32.5 percent in 2022.

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(Photos: Debra Toporowski, Rob Douglas, Mike Caljouw).

— Larry Pynn, Oct. 16, 2022

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