If it’s one thing that’s been apparent in Cranbrook’s municipal election, it’s the buzz surrounding spending, the state of infrastructure and economic development.
And for good measure.
The three candidates running for the mayoral seat had a chance to make their case to the business community at a chamber of commerce luncheon on Wednesday at the Heritage Inn.
Of course, the questions delivered by moderator David Walls, president and CEO of the College of the Rockies, focused on issues close to the heart of the business community, such as taxation and growing the economy.
Lee Pratt, Wayne Stetski and John York were on hand to answer prepared and unprepared questions during the one-hour forum.
In political debates, observers always love to figure out who won, who delivered a knockout blow or who appeared the most statesmanlike.
This debate didn’t have any straight-up winners, but all three had their jabs and were able to make their points pertaining to the issues.
In a roomful of local businessmen, including current and former mayors and city councillors, Pratt, Stetski and York made introductory statements to the crowd.
Pratt leaned on his 45 years of business experience in his opening statement, telling the crowd that he understands the challenges facing businesses today.
He charged that a lack of cooperation exists between the engineering, planning and bylaw departments at city hall.
He voiced his support for downtown revitalization and the tax benefits in place for businesses that do storefront renovations. Pratt also wants to explore a three to five year tax freeze for new and existing businesses, if elected.
Stetski, the mayoral incumbent, touted the last three years of his time in office, noting how the city has worked with residents and businesses to make sidewalks accessible, create a new multicultural festival and bring in new performances to Western Financial Place.
Stetski noted that economic activity is up across the board, as business licences are up 14 per cent, real estate sales are up 34 per cent and airport usage is up 10 per cent. He also listed how the city has implemented recommendations on a barriers to business report based on feedback from chamber members and added that new industry, in the form of solar energy, is setting up out at the spray irrigation field next year.
John York started off with a anecdote about business, noting that businesses don’t have to have elaborate stores to be successful. York said Cranbrook is facing millions of dollars in debt and will exercise fiscal restraint with taxpayer dollars.
He also added that city forms should be simplified so that they could be understood by laypersons.
Following their opening statements, each candidate was given the chance to answer a prepared question about the city’s role in economic development and what initiatives each candidate would implement to encourage economic growth.
Stetski led the segment off, noting that the city sets the table for businesses to come to Cranbrook. He touched on the new industry of solar energy and wants to brand Cranbrook as the entertainment capital of the East Kootenay and take advantage of Western Financial Place, the Key City Theatre and Studio Stage Door. Stetski noted the opportunities for tourism, and wants to do more to market that to the rest of the world.
Pratt notes that there are six major mines that outsource a lot of product and he wants the city’s economic development department to liaise with them try and get their suppliers to relocate to Cranbrook.
He notes that the city should do more to lure people who work in the mines and the oil sands and live in Calgary or Edmonton to relocate to Cranbrook.
York wants to make it easier on small business startups, noting that concessions should be made to accommodate that, such as cheaper business licences.
Walls posed an interesting question about how some taxpaying citizens live outside city limits, but operate a business within.
Should those business owners get a vote?
Both Pratt and York said yes, while Stetski noted that such an issue is under provincial jurisdiction and needs to be resolved at that level first.
If a business is in the owner’s name, the owner can vote, but if it is a numbered company, they cannot.
Each candidate had the chance to pose a question of their own, to be answered by their two counterparts.
York queried Stetski and Pratt on their reaction to the 2008 world financial crisis and how it will affect the city next year. Stetski asked his fellow candidates about their volunteerism in the community, while Pratt wanted to hear from Stetski and York about their plans for a 20.75 per cent tax increase in the current five-year financial plan.
In the closing statements, York touted his work getting better ballot security and adding the fluoride referendum to the election.
Stetski noted City Hall is a place for open, transparent and respectful debate, and added that his door is always open for discussions with local citizens.
He touched on the pothole issue, and said that a minimum of $3 million a year is being devoted to the roads budget.
He also touted addressing and breaking down challenges with the business community and wants to ensure there are service lots available to new businesses that wish set up in the city.
Pratt closed by noting that the city needs strong leadership and a proper economic development strategy. Relationships matter, especially between the mayor and the real estate industry, as potential families that want to relocate to the city usually make their first contact with real estate agencies.
He also leaned on his personal business experience and ownership, adding that he identifies with the challenges and issues facing the Chamber of Commerce community.