The two candidates vying for the Cranbrook mayor’s office fielded questions pitched their solutions to issues of the day during an All-Candidates Forum organized by JCI Kootenays and hosted at the Key City Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 6.
Incumbent candidate Lee Pratt and challenger Wayne Price took turns answering pre-submitted questions solicited by JCI Kootenays, while also delivering opening and closing statements.
Questions focused on developing low cost housing, addressing homelessness, responding to repeat offenders and city-led strategies for mental health and substance use addictions. Many of those questions threaded the complexities of inter-governmental jurisdictions, roles and responsibilities, particularly on housing, crime and social issues.
That was apparent in a question how the city can tackle crime and mental health issues — two areas that municipal governments don’t have legislated jurisdiction or necessary resources for solutions.
Pratt said the city has hired three additional watch clerks that will help with administrative paperwork so police can get back out on the streets quicker. He also said that more affordable housing is needed because homeless individuals are not staying at the Travellodge because they don’t feel safe.
Pratt took a hard line on crime and noted criminals deserve to be punished and that prosecutions in the courts are at the direction of crown counsel.
Price also pointed to the need of separating mental health, crime and addictions issues, all of which require uniquely tailored responses and solutions. In terms of what the city can do, Price suggested enhancing bylaw services and building a bylaw department that works in shifts, seven days a week, as RCMP have difficulties dealing with and enforcing misdemeanor-level crime such as loitering and petty thefts.
On low cost housing, Pratt said he has been liaising with BC Housing, Aboriginal Housing Management Association, Metis Housing and Aqanttanam Housing Society to get provincial and federal funding for housing developments, while also reducing red tape at city hall to get those projects through the proper approvals process at the city level.
Price noted the importance of collaborating with non-profit organizations, while also adding that the city can tweak zoning bylaws and building departments. As an example, he said when people buy lots, the building footprint cannot exceed 65 per cent of the property and suggested 10-foot setbacks to open up properties to larger develop-able footprints along with more flexibility to build upwards.
On a question relating to what the city can do for seniors, Price noted the influx of seniors into the community over the last few years, highlighting the importance of the East Kootenay Regional Hospital, as well as community programming such as pickleball courts and physical literacy.
Pratt also touted community programs and the importance of the seniors centre and sidewalk accessibility, while also pointing to the work city council has done for seniors housing, specifically raising the speedy approvals process for Kootenay Street Village.
The closure of the Mount Baker RV campground has been a sensitive subject in the community in recent months since city council was informed of failing infrastructure and the estimated $1.3 million cost it would take for repairs and replacement.
Pratt noted the cost isn’t justifiable, based on return of investment from 60/70 residents in RVs, and noted that the park’s future remains undecided for now. Price said the campground portion of the property does not have a land use designation and expressed his personal opinion that it should be reserved as park space for future generations.
Both candidates drew contrasts on their records and visions for the future in opening and closing statements.
“I would urge you to consider candidates who use the term ‘we’ and speak in terms of governance and team,” said Price, in closing. “No one person is capable of solving the problems or single-handily controlling the future of our community.”
Pratt, reflecting on his eight years in office, said there is more work to be done.
“This is a civic election with a provincial government-caused crisis at it’s centre,” Pratt said. “We need the province to help and I will continue to advocate on your behalf for that support.”
The mayoral portion of the debate was followed by a forum with city council candidates, as seven candidates are running for six seats.
*Editors note: JCI Kootenay recorded the debate, which will be embedded in the story when the video is posted on social media.