The two front runners in the race to be mayor of Kelowna for the next three years, incumbent Sharon Shepherd and challenger Walter Gray, have kicked off their respective campaigns.
Gray started his with a shot at the current council over its perceived inability to make decisions, while Shepherd chose to focus on her council’s record over the last three years.
“It is inexcusable not to make a decision,” Gray told his supporters last Thursday evening during the opening of his campaign office on Bernard Avenue.
His comment, that the current council spends too much time talking and not enough acting, is gaining traction within the business community.
And, he added, if he is elected mayor he is prepared to “force” decision-making by his council.
But if the verbal jab hurt Shepherd, she was not showing it the next night when she opened her downtown campaign office on Pandosy Street.
Asked about the perception of her council as indecisive, she shrugged it off saying as mayor she make decisions every day.
Instead, she chose to focus on what she said her council has achieved in the last three years, including attracting millions of dollars in stimulus spending to complete city transportation and other infrastructure projects. There have also been partnerships with the provincial and federal government to get money for social housing projects here, a new official community plan for the city, a sharper environmental focus and roads and sewer projects. Despite the public perception, Shepherd added, several developments were approved in a sagging provincial economy that has not spared Kelowna.
“I get disappointed when I hear nothing gets done here,” said Shepherd, a former city councillor who served on Gray’s three councils and then handily defeated him in the 2005 mayoral election.
Gray, who also pointed to booming development here during the years he was mayor, said he tried unsuccessfully for a year to find someone who shared his belief that change is needed at City Hall and to challenge Shepherd, but he was unsuccessful.
So that’s why he decided to jump back into municipal politics after a six-year absence.
“I want to make this a place for families, not a place where they have to leave,” said Gray, a grandfather of 12.
Saying he knows what it takes to do the job and pointing to the success of the councils he led in the past, Gray said a long-tern vision for the city is required.
“I’m talking about a longer term—more than just three years.”
Gray, who feels the city’s rapport with Victoria and Ottawa has diminished in recent years, said he wants to “re-establish” relationships with the provincial and federal governments because that is how Kelowna will get things done.
And, in reference to his previous failure to fend off Shepherd’s challenge in 2005, Gray appealed to his supporters to help him.
“I do need your help. We can’t do it alone. We tried that the last time and it failed,” he said.
In that election, Shepherd, a popular councillor at the time, beat Gray by more the 2,200 votes in an election where 31 per cent of the electorate turned out to cast ballots.
Shepherd also appealed to her supporters for help.
“There is a long list of things I feel very good about,” she said, listing the large amount of infrastructure work undertaken by the city in the last three years. Among those achievements are park improvements, management of both city finances and operations, the lowest business tax rate of any city over 70,000 in B.C. and what she called an “excellent” agricultural tax rate as well improvements to transit and a declining crime rate.
As for development, Shepherd said she believes the city should have policies in place for development that fit the needs of the city.
On the controversial issue of the proposed downtown development plan known as CD-21, she remained unapologetic for its failure to find support by a majority on council.
“I am a listener to the community,” she said, adding she voted against the plan from the start and believes a majority of the pubic were not in favour.
Still, she wants to see downtown revitalized and said she will continue to push for that.
Gray, on the other hand, sees council as “unbalanced” when it comes to being in favour of development and the sees the election as being about leadership.
“We are desperately in need of leadership and we must move forward,” he said.
In addition to Shepherd and Gray, Cal Condy, Diana Van Beest, Ken Chung, Charles Hardy and Kim Ouellette have all announced they too will seek the mayor’s chair Nov. 19.