He’s cycled the globe, skipped across the Rocky Mountains, and chosen Nanaimo.
Balakrishna (Viraat) Thammanna is one of 40 candidates running for council in this week’s municipal election.
A lot of candidates have taken a winding path, but for Thammanna, that’s especially true. In 1989, as a cadet, he and a friend cycled around the world, travelling to five continents, in an effort to promote healthy activity as an alternative to narcotics addiction. Two years later, Thammanna skipped rope all the way from Canmore, Alta., to Vancouver, also promoting physical fitness along the way.
The Canadian Forces veteran bought a condo in Nanaimo 13 years ago, but being in the military, wasn’t around much, with postings in places like Kingston, Alert Bay and Esquimalt.
“I see the same Nanaimo it was 13 years ago and the same Nanaimo now,” Thammanna said, adding he would have expected more skyscrapers, cruise ship visits, tourism and bustle downtown.
“I have dedication to serve our city and our community. This is instigating me to step in as a former soldier with my discipline and organizing skills and my go-getting skills and enthusiasm,” he said.
Thammanna talked about a few priorities including public safety, the environment, economic development and tourism, as well as affordable living, including for seniors.
Thammanna said when it comes to business development, he thinks that red tape, staffing shortages and council’s distractions have held up projects. He said companies need to be offered “cookies” such as tax breaks, and said the city needs to create a business-friendly environment by ensuring that a range of properties are serviced, zoned and ready for investment, while at the same time, ensuring the landscape is fair for existing businesses.
“Don’t make our local business hard and then invite other people to come and start a business – that’s a no-no,” he said. “We have to strengthen our home, first.”
On the tourism file, he mentioned a lot of opportunity for capitalizing on outdoor recreation, giving Mount Benson as an example of a potential tourism hub for hiking, mountain biking, dirt biking and ATVing and even mentioning ideas such as a gondola, zipline and mountaintop services. Beautifying the downtown, he said, is also key to tourism. Thammanna said the city needs business development and tourism development committees that have a willingness to meet and meet frequently.
Public safety is a foundational priority, he added.
“As long as we safeguard our people, everything can be happening,” he said. “Otherwise, if people are finding that our homes are broke-in, cars are broke-in, people are not happy. They will be disturbed. A disturbed city is not a healthy city.”
Thammanna worked for two years in parliamentary affairs and has some background in politics that way. He said his abilities, discipline, organization and public relations skills qualify him for the work of a councillor.
“An effective manager can handle this job…” he said. “Councillors have the same roles, responsibilities and duties as a CAO, but councillors are elected, that’s all the difference. We have to make things happen by taking community feedback, the managers’ and CAO’s and CFO’s feedback. We have to govern. We have to manage.”
Thammanna said he intends to serve Nanaimo no matter the outcome of Saturday’s vote.
“If I win, I’ll work directly, if I don’t win, I’ll work indirectly because me working for our city will not stop,” he said. “I was a soldier and we soldiers don’t give up.”