Candidates took the stage tonight to try to show they should be part of the make-up of Nanaimo’s next city council.
A select candidates’ meeting was held Monday night at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, with 23 council hopefuls broken down into small groups for discussion of five themes.
About 650 people were there at the start of the event, and chairs kept getting added as more voters arrived to look in.
“We are almost at the end of this long and pretty exhausting journey…” said Fred Pattje, president of the Our Nanaimo voter engagement group, which co-hosted the debate along with the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce. “Do your homework. Think critically. Vote with purpose and please vote with wisdom, for the future of our great city depends on the choices you will be making this week.”
The topic of budgeting and taxation ended up producing some of the liveliest debate. Council candidate Gary Korpan talked about the importance of a “proper management team” at city hall leading the budgeting process.
“It’s been eviscerated by the current council using your money to oust people prematurely. A professional staff that was once the envy of Western Canada has now been made a mockery…” Korpan said. “If we get the staff that’s professional, objective and non-partisan, we will get a budget that we can rely on and we can act upon with some confidence.”
Korpan told voters they need to elect candidates who will question spending.
“There’s a lot of waste. We’re getting ripped off by a number of unworthy recipients of your subsidies and we haven’t had the backbone on council to stop it,” he said.
Candidate Tyler Brown challenged Korpan about the rip-offs, but had his own criticism of the past council’s financial planning, questioning arbitrary limits on tax increases.
“Trying to achieve a certain number with no real consideration of how they got to this number, other than just trying to axe anything that could be approved, that’s not appropriate or responsible taxation,” Brown said.
Candidate Peter Urquhart said he doesn’t support taking money out of reserves to limit tax increases.
“When they say that we need to put aside this money and keep it … for rainy day funds, these rainy days come. We’ve seen it here,” he said.
Candidate Bill Manners agreed, saying the reserves are maintained for a reason.
“Our last council, for example, has had low tax, low tax, low tax, and for 2019, your tax rate’s going to go up,” he said. “And the reason that is is because they are not going to be there to be responsible for it.”
The topic of homelessness was another one that particularly engaged the candidates.
Candidate Jeet Manhas said social housing needs to be spread around and suggested people experiencing homelessness at Discontent City need to be treated as individuals.
“Take charge of who they are, what their needs are, what their requirements are, because there’s 300 people there. They’re not all the same. Some of them need more assistance than others,” Manhas said.
Candidate Rae Kornberger said in building supportive housing, consultation needs to start at the beginning, not in the middle or at the end.
Candidate Peter Kent said the squatting incident at Rutherford Elementary School this month, for better or for worse, put sharper focus on Nanaimo’s homelessness problem.
“I think it’s time to step up to the province as soon as we get the chance and start to demand some of those monies…” Kent said. “We have to start building, we have to start putting lands aside and that is either through rezoning or it’s rededication or by whatever means, even if we have to purchase it. But we need to have our ducks in a row. We need four or five different locations, because the province will then come in and say, we will put this here or we will put that there.”
City council candidate Brian Loos stressed that all levels of government need to focus on preventative measures and not just spend money without long-term plans in place.
“If you are not taking drug addiction and homelessness and mental health out of the picture and re-integrating them, what are you doing?” he asked. “Are you going to spend money here and put them on the outskirts of society? Are you going to spend money there and put them back on the outskirts of society? That is not a plan. Spending money is not a plan.”
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Nanaimo city council candidates Erin Hemmens, Lloyd MacIlquham and Alexis Petersen at last night's select candidates' debate at the VICC. Full story here… https://t.co/Apov9Ew2Li #Nanaimo #nanelxn pic.twitter.com/HY4rDjs07Y
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) October 16, 2018
The first topic discussed Monday night was around city council’s working relationship. Candidate Lloyd MacIlquham said councillors can deal with one another with integrity while setting out their positions.
“This isn’t a game where one councillor wins and another loses, but a team effort, listening to all groups, especially the people, where the outcome is for the good of everybody…” he said. “It is not whether you get everything you want, but whether we all get something we can live with.”
Candidate Trent Whaley added that “citizens should expect and demand lively debate from their council, but also expect and demand that that debate be debate, not arguments, posturing and name calling.”
Candidate Erin Hemmens said her decision making will start with her values at the foundation, and she will layer other information and opinions on top of that.
“You can be a critical thinker who works well with others,” she said. “This isn’t revolutionary – it’s actually the baseline of being a good leader.”
Candidate Alexis Petersen said she would rely on a range of voices in her decision-making.
“I guess I see it as a process of research and investigation,” she said. “It is probably one of the hardest things to do, to represent everybody in a fair way without being influenced unduly.”
Next came debate about community planning. Candidate Pelé Gouda suggested the city needs to stay true to the ideals set out in the official community plan, but other candidates felt there should be flexibility. Guy Beaulieu said cities can’t think of everything when they create planning documents.
“So we have to look at the case that’s brought to us as councillors and decide, is it consistent with the community plan? Has something changed in that area? And we do that through consultation and finding what the best solution is, not just rejecting something out of hand,” he said.
Candidate Don Bonner had a similar view, saying that when developers come to the city with rezoning requests, there are opportunities for negotiation.
“I would welcome the idea of renewing our official community plan and looking at our zoning opportunities and our bylaws on zoning as ways of channelling the development of our city, but giving flexibility to developers,” he said, adding that planning requires a lot of community engagement, which will be key.
The evening ended with discussion of regional district representation, mostly around public transit. Candidate Michael Ribicic said he’d like to see better transit connections in the region but stressed that it’s most important to first fix what’s broken.
“If there’s a route out there that’s not sufficient, we have to actually work towards adding more hours and more sufficient services to that first, before we start expanding outwards,” he said.
Candidate Ben Geselbracht made a similar point, saying the region is currently using a “coverage model” for public transit.
“I think that we need to switch more to a ridership model that focuses on the major routes and increases the frequency of rides along those routes to improve ridership,” Geselbracht said.
Candidate Kevin Storrie mentioned transit, too, and the importance of improving it for seniors, but also listed a range of other areas of potential regional co-operation.
“We can co-ordinate services between the cities and the regional district,” he said. “We should be co-ordinating economic development, co-ordinating a building code.”
The 23 candidates who participated, and their groups, included Hemmens, MacIlquham, Peterson and Whaley; Beaulieu, Bonner, Gouda, Zeni Maartman and Wendy Pratt; Kent, Kornberger, Loos, Manhas and Jim Turley; Brown, Korpan, Manners and Urquhart; and Geselbracht, Darcy Olsen, Ribicic, Noah Routley and Storrie. City council candidates Sheryl Armstrong and Ian Thorpe declined invitations to participate due to a conflict with a council meeting.
Election day is Oct. 20, with advance voting on Oct. 17. Nanaimo voters will elect a nine-member council – a mayor and eight city councillors.
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