A town hall was held at the Nanaimo Hornets rugby clubhouse Monday, with city council candidates Jim Turley, left, Ben Geselbracht, Erin Hemmens, Tyler Brown and Don Bonner. GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin

Five-candidates’ meeting held in north Nanaimo

City council candidates Turley, Geselbracht, Hemmens, Brown and Bonner hold town hall

The all-candidates’ meetings haven’t started quite yet, but tonight there was a five-candidates’ meeting.

A town hall was held at the Nanaimo Hornets rugby clubhouse Monday, with city council candidates Jim Turley, Ben Geselbracht, Erin Hemmens, Tyler Brown and Don Bonner.

All the questions came from members of the public in attendance, and a few of the topics of conversation were taxation, downtown revitalization and tent city.

Candidates also shared some of their thoughts on the role of city council.

“We can look at it as a decision-making body with ultimate authority, but we could also maybe start to shift that perspective a little bit and start to look at council as a body of collaborative leadership,” said Brown.

Hemmens raised a similar point, suggesting that there are many knowledgeable members of community groups with whom councillors can consult on a range of subjects.

“I have no illusions that city councillors know everything about anything; actually, I think it’s quite the opposite,” she said. “I think city council is only as strong as the community organizations that are doing this important work.”

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Though Monday’s meeting was in the north end, much of the discussion was about the downtown. Turley said downtown was in much worse shape in the early ’90s. He said the municipality needs to keep the area safe and secure, the property owners need to keep it clean and he favours a new downtown business improvement association to spark activity there.

“[Bringing] downtown Nanaimo back, I’m fully confident that it will happen,” Turley said. “Sometimes things need to get worse before they get better when people start to see, well, we used to have this, why don’t we now?”

Hemmens mentioned that Terminal-Nicol revitalization is important in refreshing “the doorway into our downtown,” Brown talked about tactical investments at key sites and better utilizing other spaces, and Bonner said arts and cultural events bring people downtown.

Hemmens and Brown suggested more housing downtown will also help. Geselbracht, too, talked about the importance of densification, and pointed out that it has implications on taxation.

“In the development of our city, we need to focus on densification so that the ratio of the tax base to cover the cost of services increases,” he said. “If we continue with expanding out, to replace the costs of the roads and sewers and all that for areas that aren’t dense, it’s very expensive, and if you don’t have the proper asset management behind that, you can bankrupt a city.”

RELATED: Not-all-candidates’ debate organized with voters in mind

The evening’s only rebuttal came when Hemmens praised some of the City of Nanaimo’s planning documents and talked about the importance of executing those plans. Brown said good plans need to have a budgeting schedule that can fit into long-term financial planning.

“Maybe when we adopt too many plans there’s a reason why they don’t ever come to be, because the feasibility and the reality is that they just cannot all be achieved because we cannot tax that much,” he said. “So if we do proper planning that includes, yes, how long it’s going to take, but more importantly, how much it’s going to cost, we can translate that into budgets.”

Bonner added that he likes the city’s affordable housing plan, but pointed out that affordable housing can also be achieved by paying people more.

“That comes down to the economic development of our city,” he said. “As we bring in more higher-paying jobs, high-tech jobs, full-time jobs that people can do, they can afford houses and so that puts less pressure on the need to build social housing.”

On tent city, Turley said the camp should be broken up into smaller camps to better provide targeted services for mental health and addictions issues, and Geselbracht and Hemmens raised a similar point about identifying people’s needs.

“I know that there are plans in place that will keep things orderly, make sure people have proper services and set up a transition so that we can eventually move people into housing when that comes,” Geselbracht said.

Hemmens said she believes human beings have a fundamental right to a safe place to sleep.

“Keeping people warm, keeping people dry and … understanding what the population’s needs are is vital, because if we don’t understand the problem, we’re not going to get the solution correct,” she said.

Bonner said the city should set up and manage temporary shelters with an eye to building something more permanent.

“If we go down to the folks at tent city and we cannot provide them a better solution that what they have right now, then they will all pick up and move somewhere else and set up another tent city and we’re right back to where we were,” he said.

About half a dozen other council or mayoral candidates from Nanaimo and Lantzville observed Monday’s meeting.

Upcoming voter information events:

Nanaimo South End Community Association will hold an all-candidates’ meet and greet on Wednesday, Oct. 3, from 6-9 p.m. at Harbour City Theatre at 25 Victoria Rd.

United Way Central Vancouver Island hosts an all-candidates’ meeting on affordable housing and homelessness on Thursday, Oct. 4, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Beban Park social centre.

Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association hosts an all-candidates’ debate for school trustees, Oct. 4, 6:30 p.m., Dover Bay Secondary School.

Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce/Our Nanaimo all-candidates’ fair, Oct. 9, 6-7:45 p.m., Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce/Our Nanaimo mayoral candidates’ debate, Oct. 9, 8-9 p.m., Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce/Our Nanaimo council candidates’ forum, Oct. 15, 6-9 p.m., Vancouver Island Conference Centre.


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