Citizens had a chance to hear two dozen civic election candidates debate environmental policy and Nanaimo’s doughnut economic framework.
An all-candidates’ forum hosted by the B.C. Green Party Nanaimo Riding Association brought together 24 council hopefuls on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the Beban Park social centre.
With four mayoral candidates and 20 city council candidates all in a line, answers were limited to one minute, keeping the discussion moving at a fast pace.
The questions were drawn randomly and the very first question posed to city council candidates, dealing with the City of Nanaimo’s doughnut economy framework, garnered the most engagement.
Coun. Don Bonner said the doughnut economy is a way of thinking about how the city operates – “basically the concept of think globally and act locally,” he said.
Coun. Zeni Maartman agreed, saying the concept that environmental responsibility and social responsibility need to go “hand-in-hand with economics” isn’t new, and council candidate Paul Chapman agreed that it isn’t a radical notion.
“This is what our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents who lived through the Depression would recognize as living within our means – living within our ecological means,” he said.
Coun. Erin Hemmens said the doughnut contextualizes city plans “into the global crisis that we’re facing” and Coun. Ben Geselbracht said the framework sets “very concrete” goals to work toward around greenhouse gas emissions targets, waste reduction, vacancy rates and employment numbers, for example.
Some council hopefuls, however, offered criticisms, including Nick Greer.
“The current council has spent a vast amount of time and money on various sorts of woke social issues like the doughnut economy, like climate emergencies and bike lanes to nowhere,” he said. “I think the city should be focusing a lot more on the real issues that are facing Nanaimo including downtown safety, keeping taxes under control and revitalizing the downtown.”
Other candidates had deeper concerns about the doughnut. David Wang suggested it’s a “Trojan horse” that puts citizens on a path to losing privacy and independence and Mike Hartlaub said Nanaimo’s new city plan is a “top-down structure” from the World Economic Forum.
“It’s a group of people from Davos who are deciding what it is that you’re going to be doing while you’re paying carbon taxes while they’re flying around on private jets,” he said. “This was irresponsibly brought in by the city council.”
Candidate Frank Pluta weighed in later in the debate, saying he would put the city plan back on the table, suggesting its scope is larger than what’s needed.
“I really think we’ve overdone it,” he said. “We’ve brought in the wrong people to do the right thing for us and we really need to re-assess and re-evaluate it.”
Environmental policies pitched
Candidates fielded several questions about environmental policy that falls within the city’s jurisdiction such as building codes and energy retrofits, and candidates were also asked to come up with climate solutions that wouldn’t leave people behind.
Candidate Alan Macdonald said solid waste management comes to mind, as he suggested large construction companies or single individuals can do their part, especially if they have more recycling facilities and recycling options.
Greer said considering the coal-fired power plants being built in China, the City of Nanaimo’s approaches are “tokenistic,” which drew a rebuttal from Coun. Tyler Brown.
Brown pointed to the region’s public transit expansion and coming solid waste bylaws that he said will establish new recycling and reuse programs and create new markets for local businesses and local economies.
“These aren’t trivial things. These are very cutting-edge, they’re very practical and they have strong social, economic and environmental provisions,” he said.
Geselbracht said council can be proud of its environmental planning and has put together “forward-thinking” policies that show leadership in taking environmental responsibility.
“We need to elect people to the city council that will continue resourcing these programs so that we can really take responsibility for our environment and juggle all the other responsibilities that we have in a very broad-viewed way,” he said.
Hartlaub rejected some of the premise of the discussion.
“We have declared Nanaimo as a climate emergency – we’re teaching our children that we are evil and that nature’s good and that we are destroying nature,” he said.
Island’s food security cause for concern
On food security, candidate Hilary Eastmure said the city can protect agricultural land by choosing to concentrate development and density elsewhere. She also indicated support for a year-round farmers’ market and said bylaws could be enacted to allow residents to grow food on public boulevards and unused city properties.
Candidate Paul Manly pointed to his work with Growing Opportunities, which has turned hayfields into productive land for food crops and provided produce for Nanaimo Foodshare’s Good Food Box program.
“We should be using vacant lots, we should be creating food forests, we should be using our boulevards for nut trees and fruit trees,” he said.
Renovictions challenge renters in housing crisis
The housing crisis was briefly touched on following a question that candidates interpreted as pertaining to renovictions. Brown said the city has limited control over renovictions, but as a member of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, has consistently endorsed better protections for renters.
Chapman said homes should be homes, not “investment vehicles,” and suggested the city could speed up permit approvals for developers that have relocation plans for displaced tenants. Eastmure would be interested in hiring a tenant assistance planner and looking at policy to help displaced tenants stay in their neighbourhood at comparable rental costs.
Candidate Peter Lee said Nanaimo’s housing market has become one of the city’s fundamental problems.
“There is great imperative for the city to collaborate with the province to build housing for people who are vulnerable for evictions or for people who can’t pay rent,” he said.
Candidates talk truth and reconciliation
The debate’s final question was about approaches to reconciliation with First Nations, and led to the evening’s most heated moments when Wang said he didn’t agree with referring to land as ‘unceded’ because he doesn’t take responsibility for stolen land.
“I do think it’s important to acknowledge history – it’s critical for us to grow as human beings,” he said. “But basically acknowledging that we share blame for something that we aren’t responsible for isn’t healthy.”
Bonner, a member of the Algonquin First Nation, made a rebuttal directed at Wang.
“We can learn from [Indigenous people], we can contribute with them and together we can build a better country. Not the country that that person wants to build,” he said.
Macdonald, who works for Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services, said the First Nations people with whom he works want to build a thriving community together and grow together, and said “there’s many opportunities for this.”
Candidate Janice Perrino agreed, saying “there’s lots of opportunities for us to work with our First Nations communities throughout our region and discuss the issues and work together on it. We can do this. They deserve it and we deserve it.”
Candidate Shirley Lambrecht said a part of reconciliation is listening more and speaking less.
“I think we need to look to our Indigenous communities and our land guardians for guidance in terms of how we look after the land and how we look after each other,” she said. “I think we have an awful lot to learn.”
Forum attracts most of the field
The mayoral candidates who participated in the forum included Tasha Brown, Mayor Leonard Krog, Brunie Brunie and Agnes Provost. The council candidates who participated included Ken Bennett, Don Bonner, Tyler Brown, Paul Chapman, Hilary Eastmure, Ben Geselbracht, Nick Greer, Mike Hartlaub, Erin Hemmens, Shirley Lambrecht, Peter Lee, Zeni Maartman, Paul Manly, Janice Perrino, Frank Pluta, Alan Macdonald, Derek Hanna, Viraat BK Thammanna, Corey Trinkwon and David Wang.
There are no other announced public debates, but there will be smaller-scale debates for high school students at Nanaimo District Secondary School on Oct. 5-6.
Election day is Oct. 15.
ELECTION 2022: Candidates in Nanaimo, Lantzville, RDN and SD68