A town hall in Chase River this afternoon provided opportunities for city council candidates to offer their takes on a range of topics.
Eleven of the 40 candidates for Nanaimo city council participated in Sunday’s meeting at the Loyal Order of Moose lodge. There was much discussion of the city’s relationships, partnerships and community engagement, including a question about the failed Chase River supportive housing project.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said Nanaimo council was originally told that the Chase River housing would be for people who had “graduated” from the Uplands Walk and Wesley Street complexes, and she didn’t find out that wasn’t the case until the day of the community consultation.
“We weren’t given the opportunity to do the communication. However, that being said, we should be starting that now…” Armstrong said. “We have to set definitions [about social housing] that every single service provider’s using so there’s no mixed messaging, and we start that communication now.”
Candidate Erin Hemmens said when it comes to public engagement, she thinks trust has been eroded between Nanaimo residents and city council.
“Community engagement is not about a program, it’s not about an open house, it’s not even about special meetings. It’s about creating a culture where residents feel inspired to participate in the democratic process,” she said.
Hemmens added that working with neighbourhood associations could allow council to really understand what’s going on in different neighbourhoods.
Candidate Ben Geselbracht noted that with the coming official community plan review, there could be an opportunity to empower neighbourhood associations.
“We can more formalize the structure of our neighbourhood associations and have planning processes there that are integrated – with input – into the official community plan,” he said.
Candidate Peter Kent suggested that part of building the relationships and partnerships with those associations is by respecting and utilizing the neighbourhood plans.
“Once you create those plans and you have that public consultation, you need to sit down and make them actionable by putting them into a budget or into your financial plan…” he said. “We may not bite off massive chunks of this, but at least we have to start somewhere.”
Armstrong said she thinks the city has made “lots of attempts” at communication and public engagement, and said it’s gotten a bad rap in some ways.
“I have to say quite frankly, one of the reasons we have a lot of bad publicity around that is one individual, who is no longer with the city, that created a lot of the concerns, that got rid of a lot of our committees, that changed everything. There was one individual that stopped a lot of the meetings…” Armstrong said. “I agree there’s relationships that have to be repaired.”
Candidate Wendy Pratt said the city wasn’t “doing the right things” with consultation the last four years.
“Even the consultation was meaningless when we did it,” she said. “So definitely, we need to up our game a lot.”
As far as working with First Nations, Armstrong said there is no duty to consult, but said proper consultation is good business and a way to build on reconciliation and work to develop the city together. Several candidates expressed similar views.
“Even though we may not have a legal duty to consult, I think we have a moral duty to consult in all the work we do,” said candidate Don Bonner.
Candidate Fred Statham said, “When you co-operate and facilitate and work with First Nations, things get done. When you keep fighting with them, nothing gets done. We have a great opportunity over these next four years to really heal and reconcile with Nanaimo’s First Nations.”
Pratt said the city should always be thinking of its First Nations partners in any sort of planning work, for example, and suggested the relationship is beneficial.
“The opportunity to highlight that culture and make it a part of the fabric of our community is limitless, I think,” she said.
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A lot of good questions and answers at today's candidates' town hall in Chase River. Council candidates Armstrong, Bonner, Brown, Geselbracht, Hemmens and Kent hosted; Kornberger, Loos, Pratt, Statham and Thammanna were invited to participate… #Nanaimo #nanelxn pic.twitter.com/PfC2H9meHH
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) October 15, 2018
Sunday’s town hall also included discussion of the official community plan, visions for the city and branding. Candidate Brian Loos said the city’s planning documents don’t reflect what the city has become in 2018.
“We all recognize that Nanaimo was structured to be a town and we need to grow it differently,” he said. “We need to bite off little pieces of it one by one … these little pieces need to start coming together because if we don’t start moving pieces together in these four years, I can’t even imagine what Nanaimo’s going to look like.”
Kent said the OCP needs to be “regenerated” but not overhauled.
“It doesn’t need to be gutted and you should never gut it, because there are pillars in there that the community still respects and still work,” he said. “But I think the vision piece needs to come back and everybody needs to sit down and ask, what do we see ourselves as in the next century, and work towards creating what we want to see as a vision for the town. It’s a lot different than it was 10 years ago.”
Candidate Tyler Brown said branding involves working with tourism on an identity to express to the world.
“It has to be something that every single person in Nanaimo believes, and when there’s that authenticity to it, all the branding’s going to come very easy,” he said.
Hemmens said branding can be a simple reclamation that “we like this place and we are proud to live here.”
Pratt said she liked the energy and the ideas she was hearing at the town hall about visions for Nanaimo.
“Every person here that is running for council has a lot of good ideas and a lot of enthusiasm around what our city should look like,” she said. “But we have so much work to do to begin with, just to regain where we were four years ago.”
The Chase River town hall was hosted by Armstrong, Bonner, Brown, Geselbracht, Hemmens and Kent. Other candidates who showed up and were subsequently invited to participate included Rae Kornberger, Loos, Pratt, Statham and Balakrishna (Viraat) Thammanna.
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.
Previous voter information events:
Upcoming voter information events:
Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce/Our Nanaimo council candidates’ forum, Oct. 15, 6-9 p.m., Vancouver Island Conference Centre. For a list of the 25 invited candidates, click here.