There must be something especially compelling about Cranbrook’s municipal election of 2014. Perhaps it’s the large number and variety of candidates running for City Council. Perhaps it’s the different visions lining up on different sides, seeking election or re-election to public office.
In any case, for the first time in many years, in many elections, an all-candidates forum at the Key City Theatre was packed — around 600 people turned out to see the candidates on display and hear what they had to say for themselves.
Wednesday evening’s event was ably organized and hosted by JCI Kootenay. COTR President David Walls served as moderator. He and JCI event chairpersons Jenny Byford and Alton Valler offered some opening remarks before introducing the Council candidate portion of the evening. The record number of 16 candidates sat and answered questions in the order the candidates would appear on the ballot on Nov. 15. That order is: Danielle Cardozo, Isaac Hockley, Sharon Cross, Brad Scriver, Bob Faiers, Diana J. Scott, Alan MacBean, Wesly Graham, Tom Shypitka, Anna Hudson, Brian Kostiuk, James Elliott, Norma Blissett, Lynn MacIntosh, Gerry Warner and Ron Popoff.
They were to take turns answering two prepared questions, then respond to questions selected from the audience (the responder to these latter drawn by lot, with two other candidates given the opportunity for rebuttal).
Space constraints in these pages prevent the Townsman on reporting in detail on the answers, but with a large number of candidates, the time allotted for each answer was necessarily short. They only had a minute or two to make an impression on the large audience, put themselves on display and give out a thumbnail portrait of their personalities, their plans, their achievements and the cut of their jib. It was great entertainment, good political theatre, and by and large everyone acquitted themselves with confidence and clarity.
Certain recurrent motifs appeared through the course of the segment. Economic and development and infrastructure were the common terms cited by most candidates. The edifice known as Western Financial Place, and $3.5 million deficit a year it operates under, came up quite often.
Questions included how to encourage young adults to stay in the community, the stance on deer culls, how to attract new business and industry, attracting and growing business in the community, what would one do to improve the roads, what community involvement one had been in before this election campaign, do you support getting rid of the height restrictions so taller buildings could be built in Cranbrook, what to do about all the invasive weeds, what taxation strategies should the city adopt, what to do about the public transit situation, or the old fire hall. How does one address the issue of out-of-town companies getting the winning bid on local projects put out to tender.
Many of the answers came from the candidates own platforms, presented throughout the night in abbreviated form for the audience. Fair enough. It was enough to give a good insight into the their campaigns.
Candidates were given one minute at the segment’s end to make a final statement.
Ron Popoff spoke of his experience as Health Inspector and his extensive volunteerism, and how he was used to working with government.
Gerry Warner, seeking his second term on Council, spoke of the initiative and independence he’s shown as Councillor on his first term.
Norma Blissett said a variety of citizens were needed for council, so all citizens were represented. She described herself as decisive and approachable, “who will listen and bring your concerns to Council.”
James Elliott, longtime city worker, said “all I can offer is knowledge. It took me 30 years to get it and I have it to give. And I can save money.”
Brian Kostiuk, who’s running on a traffic safety platform, said he would only vote yes on matters that make common sense or fiscal sense, without raising taxes.
Anna Hudson cited her experience in post-secondary education, and described herself as a educated, democratic and multi-dimensional person.
Tom Shypitka said currently a collaborative approach is lacking council. Synergistic communication is needed, he said, not polarizing differences.
Wesly Graham, recently moved back to Cranbrook from Creston, spoke of his long experience as a Creston councillor, his business successes, and his work in helping attact physicians to Creston.
Alan MacBean praised all the candidates for running. He made the suggestion that councillors give back half their salaries to the city, to be used to help get young people engaged in the community, perhaps by hiring someone to coordinate with them.
Diana J. Scott stressed to experience and knowledge after two previous terms, and her engagement with residents as more than a one-issue person.
Brad Scriver reiterated his focus on economic growth and affordable housing. “If business in Cranbrook does well, Cranbrook does well.”
Sharon Cross, seeking a second term, stood on her balanced approach as a councillor — the economy, social well-being, the environment and arts, culture and heritage, and her plans for attracting physicians and developing a local greenhouse industry.
Isaac Hockley spoke of the events he’s created and organized as a demonstration of his managerial acumen. He also said if elected he knew how to lower the deficit on Western Financial Place.
Danielle Cardozo, running on platform of economic development, said she would lead by example and that Council need to have all sorts of differing points of view.
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The crowd at the Key City Theatre had thinned out somewhat by the time the second half of the evening rolled around, but there were still 300 plus in attendence to hear the mayoral candidates’ forum.
Lined up at the table on stage were Wayne Stetski and Lee Pratt, one on one side, with John York in the middle.
The format was roughly the same as the candidates forum, with candidates answering an opening prepared question (“Why would you be a great mayor or leader for the City of Cranbrook. Help us understand your vision for the city by describing your two highest priorities for change and how you plan to address them?”)
Lee Pratt said the current council had made some poor decisions, especially fiscally. He spoke of his 45 years of business experience, financial sense and decision-making skills. Financial responsibility and economic development would be his priorities.
“Budgets have be be set on a needs basis, not a wants basis,” he said.
Pratt said he would develop a new plan for economic development, including working with the business community, COTR, CBT and the provincial government.
John York said again he was running on transparency and reducing debt. “If elected, I will personally renegotiate the debt, to free up money, to make this place (Cranbrook) look the best it should.”
Western Financial Place, and it’s deficit, was a recurrent theme for York throughout the evening.
Incumbent mayoral candidate Wayne Stetski spoke of his proven record “of being there for you.” He spoke of a number of “firsts” Cranbrook has experienced, including Habitat For Humanity, the Multi-cultural Festival, the Barriers to Business initiative, and others.
Stetski had plans to expand the economy and capitalize on the city’s assets, including solar and greenhouse sectors, packaging the tourism industry, and expanding arts and culture.
Two other prepared questions followed (“Would you allocate more money [to fixing roads] and if so where would you get the funds?,” and “Cranbrook’s economy and growth: How do you find it’s doing and what would you do to improve it?”). This set up Pratt squaring off against Stetski, with York in the middle often getting laughs from the audience with his answers.
Stetski and Pratt had statistics at hand to prove their respective points. Stetski saying Cranbrook’s economy was expanding, Pratt saying it was stagnant. York said “government and the people should be sharing ideas, not government doing what it wants.”
Questions from the audience concerned: deer culls, what would you do to progress the arts and culture community, how do you feel about roundabouts, how do you feel about fluoridation in the water, bylaw enforcement, what to do about unsightly or unsafe property, City reserve funds, and youth engagement.
As before, candidates were offered two minutes to make a last statement (in reverse ballot order).
“I have a proven track record of getting things done, Stetski said. “If you ask me to do something, and I agree to do it, it gets done. The city is more than the economy and roads,” he added. “Running on one or two issues is short-sighted, quite frankly.”
John York said again he was running on transparency and reducing debt. Nothing will ever get done behind your back.” He cited his efforts towards election ballot security and getting the issue of fluoridation on the referendum ballot.
Lee Pratt said while he had never been a member of any special interest group, he had “a true and sincere interest to serve the people of Cranbrook.” If elected he would bring his business experience, his work ethic and his financial skills to bear to make Cranbrook a more prosperous place.