These two issues are central in defining how the mayor for the City of Kelowna should operate in the minds of incumbent Sharon Shepherd and her likely chief challenger Walter Gray. Both offer different viewpoints on these ideals.
The three other mayoral candidates—Cal Condy, Ken Chung and Kim Ouelette—are also quick to echo the same themes.
For Shepherd and Gray, the Nov. 19 civic election is a rematch of the civic election campaign six years ago, when Shepherd surprised many by unseating the incumbent Gray.
Capital News assistant editor Alistair Waters interviewed all the mayoral combatants to get their takes on why they should be elected mayor, and in particular how Gray and Shepherd see what they’ve done in their political past as the direction for council to pursue in the future.
Sustainability the anchor for city’s future growth
Sharon Shepherd says she doesn’t have her own vision for Kelowna, she has a community vision.
And that vision is contained in the city’s Official Community Plan, which calls for the “greening” of the city with better transportation, environmentally friendly development, appropriate levels of taxation, services that not only satisfy current residents’ needs but also make Kelowna an attractive destination for others wanting to move here. The overall goal is simple, she says—to make Kelowna the top mid-sized city in the country.
For Shepherd, that means addressing issues such as sustainability, policing, transportation and transit, affordable housing, what she calls smart development and providing the services residents want, expect and need.
She feels the city, under her watch as mayor, is doing that but she also acknowledges more work needs to be done.
And that’s why, after 15 years on city council—the first nine as a councillor and the last six as mayor—she wants to keep her job and help the city grow in the sustainable way she promised back when she jumped from neighbourhood activism to become a city councillor in 1996 and again when she first ran for mayor in 2005.
“I ran on a promise of sustainability then and I still believe in it,” says Shepherd.
But, in part, it’s holding to that belief that has helped contribute to the criticism that some level at her that she is anti-development.
“But it’s not true. I an not anti-development,” says the 61-year-old Shepherd, whose daily work schedule would exhaust someone half her age. “I am for sustainable development. I don’t just say yes to everything.”
Shepherd and her main opponent, former mayor Walter Gray, have been painted by some as polar opposites when it comes to development in the city. A favourite by many in the business community, Gray is considered by some to be the pro-development candidate, while Shepherd has been labelled by many as anti-development.
The councils under her mayoral stewardship have dealt with their share of development issues over the years, but have also been far more involved in social issues than were the previous councils headed up by Gray.
But like many stereotypes in politics, the black and white descriptions are over-simplifications—for both of them.
Shepherd feels her decision when she first ran for mayor in 2005—in a race she easily won against the then three-term incumbent Gray—to not accept campaign donations from developers has helped fuel the feeling that she is opposed to development.
But, in reality, she says, nothing could be farther from the truth. “I have friends who are developers but most of my (campaign funding) comes from family and friends,” she says.
In 2005, Shepherd was outspent two to one by Gray but still beat him by 2,200 votes. As a councillor, her popularity steadily rose during her three terms, resulting in her being the top vote-getter on council in 2002.
So if the development community doesn’t like her, it appears voters do.
But unlike six years ago, this time around most expect a different campaign from Gray, who admits he may have underestimated Shepherd and taken the race for granted last time.
This time both say the race is about leadership. And it’s there that the two have very different styles.
While Gray has said as mayor he would force decisions to be made by council on the belief that indecision is unacceptable, Shepherd says she is more conciliatory, preferring to find consensus before decisions are made and gathering as much information as possible.
If that means taking more time to get it right, it’s a criticism she will take.
But it has led her critics to complain there is too much talk and not enough action at City Hall these days.
Shepherd defends her approach, saying while it’s not true to say decisions do not get made —“I make decisions every day as mayor”—she says it’s critical all the information that is available be gathered so good decisions can be made, decisions that will have long-term effects on the city.
And in some cases, such as the controversial CD21 zone issue concerning the redevelopment by private developers of a large section of downtown, delays were caused by outside agencies that had to be consulted.
Still, in the end council rejected the plan three years after it was first proposed and that did not sit well with many in the city.
But the plan also had its detractors which caused a split in the community about the development proposal.
In the face of the criticism, Shepherd points to a myriad of decisions that have been made affecting everything from development to transit improvements, from infrastructure additions and planning to social housing partnerships with the provincial and federal government and financial management to taxation levels.
The two that stand out, however, are CD21 and the controversy over a lakefront development on Cedar Avenue.
Shepherd sees her council as diverse and representative of the entire city, including strong voices for business, the environment, social issues, taxpayers and neighbourhoods.
And when it comes to leadership, Shepherd is not shy about tackling that issue head on either.
“I have been a leader since I was in school,” she says. “I came (to council) from neighbourhood advocacy roots, was the chair of the PAC of the city’s largest high school, have a professional background in pharmacy, something I was recognized for with an award a few years ago. I’m quiet, intense, I set goals and I’m proactive, a good listener and I follow up.”
And despite the criticism that her council is not focused enough on development at this time when the economy is lagging due, in part, to impacts beyond the city’s borders, Shepherd is proud of the work Kelowna has done to help address social issues such as affordable housing.
Last year, the city received $30 million for three transitional housing developments, received the largest amount of stimulus spending dollars of any comparable-sized city in B.C. for infrastructure projects and had projects ready to go when money became available.
That, says Shepherd, was thanks to the planning and foresight initiated by her council and city staff.
For Shepherd, her stated desire to make sure residents of her city are looked after, is paramount.
Despite her busy schedule as mayor, she still goes to as many community meetings as she can and says she values the input she receives.
She cares about her city and wants what’s best for it.
“I worry a lot. I have a lot of sleepless nights,” she says.
Council needs to literally get back to business
If there is one thing mayoral front runners Walter Gray and Sharon Shepherd agree on, it’s that this election is about leadership. But that’s where the agreement seems to end.
Both feel their style of leadership differs from the other and both feel that now is the time for their style.
As the challenger this time around, Gray is painting himself as the man to right what he sees as a dysfunctional council, one he believes is not balanced, is not effective, can’t, and is not seen as being able to, make decisions and one that lacks leadership—his brand of leadership.
He says he believes there is a feeling of frustration in the community—particularly among business leaders—that Kelowna is not open for business anymore. And that, he says, has to change.
“And even if that’s not true, that’s the perception,” says Gray, who at 72 says he feels younger and fitter than he did six years ago when he lost the mayor’s job to Shepherd following nine year’s in the mayor’s chair during a time when both the provincial and local economy boomed and the city experienced rapid growth.
“I think there’s a huge opportunity for my style.”
But that was then and this is now.
Faced with a sluggish economy that is being bogged down by many external factors, the halcyon days of developers lining up to build here are behind us. The current glut of condos on the market are testament to what was built and the lack of money being bandied around for new developments is an indication of how tough times have become. Several developers have pulled out of projects here even after getting the required approvals.
But that has not dulled Grays’s desire to re-enter the world of civic politics.
When he talks about being mayor, he says he tried for a year to get other, like-minded people to run but met with no success. So, at the urging of others, he decided to do it himself, stepping back to where he so humiliatingly lost six years ago in his first head-to-head election contest with Shepherd.
Admitting he did not run a great campaign, in part because of his ongoing duties as mayor but also because he underestimated Shepherd, Gray said he got over the loss quickly.
“I was past it in 24 hours,” he says, noting part of that had to do with the birth of his granddaughter the day of the election.
Since then he has concentrated on his business—he started the Kelowna radio station K96 and was a partner in a cable television company in Salmon Arm. Both of those businesses have now been sold and that left him time to consider another run for mayor.
When Gray talks about the job he seeks, he talks about being a hands-on leader, a mayor who will re-establish the personal relationships he had with Liberal government ministers in Victoria for the last four years of his tenure as mayor. And when he talks about vision, he says it far exceeds the three-year term he hopes to win Nov. 19
“Vision is not the next three-year mandate,” he says. “It goes far beyond that.”
He points to his record from 1996 to 2005 as an indication of the type of mayor he would be. If Premier Christy Clark is going to be the top saleswoman for the province, Walter Gray wants to be the top salesman for Kelowna.
And while he concedes the mayor is just one of nine voices on council, Gray says the power the mayor wields is the “power of influence,” something he plans to exert for the good of the city if elected.
“I see the position as being the chairman of the board of the corporation of the City of Kelowna,” says Gray. “I’m there to bring a team of people together, a team that has a balanced view and a balanced gender. I don’t feel council is balanced right now.”
As proof of his assertion that council can’t make decisions, he points to the drawn out debate by council over the rezoning of part of downtown to allow acres of development along the lakeshore. Known as CD21, it centred on a proposal, primarily from one developer, to redevelop the area at the foot of Bernard Avenue.
“(The original plan) was changed so much that council lost the confidence of the people who were going to pay for it,” says Gray, saying he believed it had widespread support in the business community.
But opponents have a different view. They point to what they believe was equally widespread opposition by throughout the community. After lengthy delays—some caused by outside agencies that had to be consulted—the plan was shot down by council at final reading of the bylaw that would have allowed it.
But CD21 is not the only criticism Gray has of council and he feels he is representing a constituency that feels the same way.
Like anyone challenging an incumbent, Gray’s mantra is a call for change.
But having “been there and done that,” he says a vote for him is not a vote to recycle yesterday’s man.
While his councils did not address social issues in the same way that Shepherd’s have, he recognizes the need for the city to be more involved as a partner in programs that address issues such as homelessness, job creation and social welfare.
But for Gray, it all comes back to business. Attracting business to the city will help create jobs that in turn will pay the wages people need to increase their standard of living, pay the taxes the city needs to provide services and put the city back on track.
“Being mayor is not rocket science,” says Gray. “You leave your bias at the door, you keep an open mind going in, you don’t get elected to serve your friends and you recognize that it is a 24/7 job.”
Lower profile mayoral hopefuls want to be heard
Cal Condy describes himself as one of the “others” running for mayor.
With high-profile candidates, incumbent Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherds and former mayor Walter Gray the acknowledged frontrunners in the race, it could be easy for the views of fellow mayoral candidates Cal Condy, Ken Chung and Kim Ouellette to get lost in all the political rhetoric.
The trio of lesser-known candidates—there were five when nominations closed two weeks ago but Diana Van Beest and Charles Hardy have since pulled out—say they are in it to win and, like Gray, feel a change is needed not only in the mayor’s office but also on council.
“We need a new mayor, and not the old one,” says Condy in reference to Shepherd and Gray respectively.
He feels Shepherd is not forceful enough and Gray is too far to the right of the political spectrum.
Condy sees the mayor as the person who leads council and charts a course for the city.
“The mayor has to be more forceful in pushing things through,” says Condy, 53, a former businessman who bought property 10 years ago in Kelowna when he moved here. The increase in its value since has enabled him to “retire early on my terms.”
He believes there has to be more accountability at City Hall, and a better “bean counter” to keep track of city spending and whether the city is getting value for money.
But most of all, the city needs new energy and new ideas.
His platform lists protecting the lake, bringing back a sense of fun, a revival of the Kelowna Regatta, protection of small business, reducing traffic congestion, more city meetings, accountability, leading by example, respect for people and managing growth and development better as the top 10 priorities.
“Kelowna has lost something over the last few years. We used to be one of the most enjoyable cities to live (in) and to visit in Canada, but it just doesn’t seem to be that way anymore. Somehow we’ve lost our way,” he says.
For Chung, who runs a sales, marketing and communications company in the city, the desire to seek the mayor’s chair comes from a feeling that the current council is “unbalanced.”
He says Shepherd is not the person to lead the city for the next three years and neither is Gray, although he originally supported the former mayor’s candidacy.
Chung originally filed nomination papers to run for a councillor position but changed his mind and opted for mayor instead after being encouraged to do so by friends, feeling a new mayor would best help the city move forward.
“I want to take an active role in what council will become,” he says, adding he does not have a platform.
Instead, he wants to hear from the public what it thinks are the issues that are most important and tackle them one at a time.
He does, however, feel fiscal responsibility is important at City Hall and that council also needs to show more social, environmental and economic responsibility.
“We need to be getting the best bang for our buck,” says Chung, adding the city needs to be run more like a business and needs to be considerate of all people in the community.
Ouellette, who is making her third run for mayor—she lost to Shepherd in 2005 and 2008—continues to call for a ward system for the city to elect its councillors.
She wants eight wards, believing such a system would allow for better representation than the existing eight councillor-at-large positions. Ward councillors, she says, could advocate better for their respective constituents at the council table.
She is concerned about the city’s debt, feels UBCO should be integrated into the city better and Kelowna should be marketed to technology firms in order to persuade them to set up shop here and thus create jobs.
“I’m running because Kelowna needs a new approach to how city council is run,” said the 47-year-old Ouellette, who works for a graphics and sign company in Kelowna.
As part of her platform, she has an economic development strategy for the city that includes:
• Attracting a diverse economic base
• Maximizing educational opportunities
• Working with technology companies to understand their needs for expansion
• Encouraging high-quality development.