More than 350 Nanaimo residents attended an all-candidates meeting at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre Thursday, the first opportunity to hear directly from candidates running in the upcoming municipal general election.
Voters had a variety of issues on their minds, but many focused on the subject of job creation and an improved economy.
The first five questions, written down by audience members and asked through a moderator, included generating job opportunities that keep pace with cost of living, what kind of industry Nanaimo can attract, how to attract large-scale employers, what future economic drivers might be, and how the city might attract more tourists.
First-time candidate George Anderson said by diversifying the economy and keeping young people in Nanaimo with job opportunities, Nanaimo can become a better place to live and work.
“We have to work with the new Economic Development Corporation and show that Nanaimo is open for business,” he said. “We also have to work with Vancouver Island University to develop skill sets that can put people to work here in Nanaimo.”
The forum, hosted by the Nanaimo and District Chamber of Commerce and Vancouver Island Real Estate Board, featured a format that gave each candidate two minutes to introduce themselves followed by a question period.
Twenty-eight questions were asked in total, followed by a brief wrapup by each candidate. First-time candidates Trent Snikkers and Chris Ouelette-Croucher were not present.
While the format provided an opportunity to put names to faces, at least one attendee said she was leaving not much further ahead than when she arrived.
“I found out who the better speakers were, but there wasn’t the time or opportunity to really get into the issues,” said the woman, who asked not to be named. “I’m aware now of who I won’t vote for, but I’m having difficulty really matching what I think is important to a candidate.”
First-time candidate Chris Cathers fielded the hot button issue of low-barrier housing and the controversial Housing First strategy.
“Nobody should go without housing needs,” he said. “Shelter and food should be provided for everybody. But we need a strategy that doesn’t create polarization and infighting. We need a strategy for people who want to help themselves and find something that meets the needs of the entire community.”
How to make the conference centre more profitable, how aquaculture fits into Nanaimo’s economic future, thoughts on the Occupy Nanaimo movement, council’s recent 24-per cent pay raise and how to deal with aging infrastructure were other questions fielded by candidates.
Twenty-two people are running to fill eight positions on council, while four, including incumbent John Ruttan, are looking to fill the mayor’s chair.
The general municipal election takes place Nov. 19 with 12 voting stations provided across the city.
Advance voting opportunities are available in the Bowen Park Auditorium from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 9 and Nov. 16. Any qualified elector is allowed to vote at an advance voting opportunity.
Another candidates’ forum takes place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 10), sponsored by the Coalition for a Democratic Nanaimo, at the Beban Park Social Centre.