So many candidates, so many promises, so little space, so little time to seriously analyze what each has to say.
That is the challenge facing both the local media and voters who attended the all candidates forum hosted Thursday night by the Okanagan Mission Residents Association at the First Lutheran Church.
Thirty-five city council and five mayoral candidates all were given two minutes each to make their best pitches to the crowd.
And if that wasn’t enough civic politics for one evening, school trustee candidates were handing out their own political campaign material in the church foyer after the meeting.
Assessing candidates in two minutes is pretty difficult to do, but each candidate gave it their best shot, most ending with the familiar tagline of encouraging everyone to check out their campaign websites.
For the most part, all the city council candidates struck similar policy themes, which leaves one to wonder why we need so many candidates who share the same beliefs.
But that’s a debate for another day, as democracy is about participation and Kelowna voters are seeing that in record numbers this time around.
More policing, better transit, better transportation infrastructure, reviving the downtown, creating more high paying jobs, keeping young people from having to leave the city to find work, more accountable spending of our tax dollars were touched on by most candidates.
Some tried to voice policies or opinions to try and differentiate themselves from the pack.
Dayleen VanRyswyk, who owns two businesses, called for Kelowna to develop a commercial identity, such as Vancouver has done with Gastown or Pike’s Market in Seattle. “We have to make Kelowna unique,” she said.
Scott Ross called for businesses taxes to be lowered, citing that “we just can’t have a life of work,” that quality of life in our community means preserving the opportunities for family time.
Peter McFadden called himself “the numbers guy” based on his 30-year career as a chartered accountant, saying city council has to spend taxpayers’ money more wisely and equitably. “We can’t increase the tax base, we need to live off what we have.”
Mark Thompson offered himself as an ideal candidate since he is running for both school board and city council. He also advocated the ward system, an issue none of the other candidates waded into.
Mohini Singh said she lives by the Rotary Club moto—service above self, and as a former TV reporter understands what is required to help organizations and individuals.
Gerry Zimmermann, Kelowna’s former fire chief for 15 years who became a rallying figure for the city during the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire, referred to how one questioning voter has already called him a big city elitist. “If you want to see what a big city elitist looks like, I guess you’re looking at one,” he joked, adding that council must stand by unpopular decisions when they are made in the best interests of the entire city.
Ron Ready, a KSS grad and long-time city worker who is now retired, said council must show more faith in the wisdom of city staff, instead of seeking “further consultation” on controversial recommendations.
Maxine DeHart, a Capital News business columnist, mentioned two issues that weren’t often repeated topics—maintaining reliable irrigation services for farmers and ensuring our drinking water meets Interior Health standards.
Charlie Hodge, one of the incumbents who is also a Capital News columnist, pointed out his attendance record for council and committee meetings, and his willingness to put time aside every Thursday to meet with people to hear their concerns at a downtown restaurant. He reiterated his decision to vote against the CD21 zone. “I campaigned on a promise to not support the (CD21) and I am proud of that. Highrises on the downtown waterfront are not the way to go.”
Carol Gran, a former MLA and city councillor, advocated for the city, chamber of commerce and UBCO to plan a strategy to deal with the Okanagan’s economy.
She also wants our local MP and MLAs to meet with city council to devise a strategy for dealing with the homeless problem in Kelowna.
“Cooperation between all government levels is how you solve these issues,” she said.
Erik Jack positioned himself as a voice for the disenfranchised youth of Kelowna, saying young people are not apathetic, but actually very engaged in local issues of concern. “I want to be the representative for all the youth of Kelowna who don’t have a voice,” he said.
Tisha Kalmanovitch said Kelowna is in need of some outside-the-box thinking. “What we need in Kelowna is the wow factor, to be a little city with big ideas on issues like urban revitalization, global warming, sustainability and transportation.”
Tash Batt, born in Kelowna and who recently moved back here from Toronto, tried to put herself in the shoes of the voters. “A vote for me is a vote for you,” said Batt, raising the idea of creating a citizens advisory council to vote on issues facing council.
Incumbent Robert Hobson gave probably the most lively of all the speeches, starting with his opening line, offered with a touch of sarcasm: “So many candidates, so many promises.”
He also contributed another zinger among his platform of the 10 things he won’t do if elected to city council: “I won’t deny that I brought two boxes of apples tonight and they are there for your pleasure. Why? Because it is cheaper to give them away than to send them to the packinghouse.”
Of the mayoral candidates, both Gray and Shepherd were given rousing ovations following each of their two minute vote-for-me pitch.
Gray attacked Shepherd’s leadership of council and stressed the need for council to take on a pro-business approach.
Shepherd defended her record, saying she campaigned for change when she was elected mayor six years ago and that is what she has tried to deliver on behind a philosophy of sustainable balance.
As for the other mayoral candidates, Cal Condy spent his time talking about the homeless, questioning a variety of city expenditures while people are sleeping homeless on our streets.
“If elected mayor I promise to start asking some tough questions…” he said.
Ken Chung said the city needs a new vision, some fresh ideas.
“We still face the same problems we were facing 15 years ago so there is a need for a fresh perspective and new ideas at city hall,” Chung said.
So there will be more all candidates meetings to follow, as each of the city council candidates will be seeking to attract voters with a two minute speech and some glad-handing afterwards.
Websites, signs and knocking on doors, a combination of old and new style political campaigning, are the other tools each candidate has in their arsenal.
Mary Ann Graham, a council candidate, cited the importance of getting out the vote.
She is correct because the turnout for the previous record number of candidates in the last civic election was a poor 19.6 per cent.
How this field of new candidates will change that this time around
remains to be seen.
Perhaps their biggest challenge may be that voters are not apathetic, but essentially happy.
Yes, there are issues that tick people off, as bitching about what city hall does or doesn’t do is a favourite pastime for taxpayers in most communities.
But I think the overriding reality of that is Kelowna is still a pretty good place to live.
The downtown business crowd may be riled up and motivated, but is that a reflection of people living in Rutland or Glenmore or Black Mountain?
I remember something a West Kelowna resident said to me during the lead-up to whether or not the Westside should amalgamate with Kelowna: “I don’t care what they do. Just make a decision and get on with it.”
How many people will share that attitude come voting day on Nov. 19 here in Kelowna will be interesting to see.
The candidates have three weeks left to grab people’s attention away from their already busy lives. The clock is ticking.
Barry Gerding is the managing editor of the Capital News.