Seven city council candidates running for six city council seats discussed and debated the issues during an all-candidates forum on Thursday evening at the Key City Theatre.
Hosted by JCI Kootenays, the event included questions submitted in advance that touched on the issues of the day as the local government elections loom next week.
All candidates were present, including Norma Blissett, Wesly Graham, Mike Peabody, Ron Popoff, Wayne Stetski, Lynnette Wray and Jeremy Youngward.
Candidates were given time for opening and closing statements, while fielding questions on a number of topics relevant to the election, which were submitted by the public ahead of the event. Some questions were centred on what candidates, in their roles as local government elected officials can do, while other questions threaded into areas that require provincial and federal government action and collaboration.
Each candidate was asked one question, with opportunities for two rebuttals from others at the debate table, which made it diffcult for all seven candidates to each respond to questions on hot-button topics.
Wes Graham took the opening question on an action plan for the rise of homelessness, crime and substance use in the city.
Joking that he’d do the best to answer a complicated question in 60 seconds, Graham said there needs to be collaboration with non-profits and the province to get both housing proposals and substance use detox facilities off the ground.
On crime, Graham said the city expand the bylaw department and create a task force in collaboration with the RCMP.
Ron Popoff spoke about separating the vulnerable from the ‘trouble-makers’ and getting them connected with the necessary social service supports.
Wayne Stetski noted the importance of having a home, and touted the pending Foundry East Kootenay as an initiative that will help with youth mental health and substance use supports.
On a question about grandfathering in secondary suites that don’t meet city regulations, Mike Peabody was adamant in opposition, noting that if there ever was an incident in an illegal secondary suite that the city had signed off on, it would be exposed to legal liability.
On a question about urban deer, Lynnette Wray said the city needs to turn up it’s advocacy to the provincial government, which is responsible for managing wildlife issues, while Norma Blissett suggested setting up a program to work with landowners to decrease food supply for local ungulates.
On a question about the current proposed location for a homeless shelter, Youngward said he supported it because a number of social support services are already located there.
Ron Popoff noted the Chamber of Commerce, SD5 Board of Education and Cranbrook BGC lent their support to the proposed location and that the shelter is for temporary stays, while adding that BC Housing is working on establishing a continuum of supportive housing options.
On adding policing resources, Peabody said the city is capped out on it’s limit for adding more RCMP constables due to provincial government regulations, while adding that a number of staff are off on long-term leave for variety of reasons.
Graham added that the city hired three watch clerks to help alleviate administrative burdens so that front line officers can get away from their desks and back on the streets quicker.
Popoff also touted the addition of watch clerks as well as a new mental health liaison officer who has been brought on following the retirement of Cst. Erin Stevenson, who previously held the role.
On a question about adapting to climate change, Stetski said the city can be mindful of climate values when updating the Official Community Plan with items such as bike lanes, or making downtown streets pedestrian friendly. He also suggested changing zoning densities to facilitate building up and creating a resource of available and eligible grants to homeowners to update and upgrade their homes to be more energy efficient.
On the future of the downtown Mount Baker RV Campground, Youngward pushed back against a city analysis that campers do not bring in economic value. Youngward says he supports having a campground downtown.
Blissett wanted to see a proposal of options, along with pros and cons of each one, so that the public can have a look and the city can collect feedback and data to inform future decision-making. Stetski added his preference would be to keep it as a campground and green space, and endorsed an idea to keep the property in reserve for future generations to make a decision.