Five of the eight Kelowna mayoral candidates squared off in the first all-candidates forum of the 2014 civic election campaign Wednesday morning.
And while there were no fireworks, the two frontrunners, former mayor Sharon Shepherd and incumbent Coun. Colin Basran, clearly showed a superior understanding of the issues while trying to position themselves for the campaign to come.
In addition to Shepherd and Basran, Kelly Row, Chuck Hardy and Glendon Smedley participated. The three other mayoral candidates, Mark Thompson, James Murphy and Sam Condy did not participate.
Telling the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce audience she is a businesswoman who is concerned about business growth in the city and has the experience to lead Kelowna again, Shepherd, mayor from 2005 to 2011 after nine years as a councillor, promised to establish a mayor’s business summit if elected.
Basran, who has served just one term as a councillor, touted his role at city hall over the last three years, saying he has helped “get Kelowna moving again.”
Following the meeting, he downplayed his lack of political experience compared to Shepherd, saying this election is about leadership and who is willing to make tough decisions when needed.
He cited his vote earlier this week to allow a controversial commercial and office development to proceed near Kelowna General Hospital despite the fact many area residents are opposed to it.
“I know it will cost me votes but it was the right thing to do,” he said.
While neither Basran nor Shepherd attacked each others positions on the issues such as taxation, more of a say for the business community in city hall decision-making, a second lake crossing, support for the arts, affordable housing or how to deal with Kelowna’s aging population, their answers did reveal differences.
Shepherd said she believes the annual city budget process needs to be more transparent, by having the financial impact of new programs and services on the budget included at the time they re proposed, not left to the one-day budget deliberation in December. Basran said the current council already looks at all proposals with a mind to the impact on the budget.
While Shepherd would not go so far as to endorse the position of a slate of councillor candidates advocating for no tax increase for the next four years, she called the discussion about the issue “amazing,” noting in 2011 her council asked staff to tell it what at “zero per cent increase” budget would look like. That year the city ended up with a tax increase of just under one per cent.
“It’s exciting that people are willing to talk about this,” she said.
Basran said he did not believe foregoing a tax increase for the next four years is feasible. Row also opposes such a move, as does Hardy, while Smedley said he would have to look more closely at the issue before making up his mind.
On the issue of a second crossing, which the province has agreed to study, the candidates varied on how important a priority it should be for council.
While Shepherd and Hardy both consider it a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, Basran only sees it as a five, Row considers it an eight and Smedley said the money would be better spend on other city programs and services.
The 2014 civic election is Nov. 15 and for the first time, the mayor and councillors will be elected to four-year terms.