Many of the candidates running for a seat on Kelowna city council turned out to talk about housing, homelessness, poverty and and other social issues Thursday, in the first of what is expected to be several public forums held prior to the Nov. 19 civic election.
Organized by the Kelowna Gospel Mission, the forum gave the 32 candidates on hand – including the five still in the race for mayor— a minute to introduce themselves and a two minutes to answer one question each. The questions were chosen at random from a list of 12 prepared in advance.
There are 40 candidates running for the eight available councillor positions and five running for mayor now that Diana Van Beest and Charles Hardy have dropped out.
But while some of the candidates at Thursday night’s forum were asked about issues that municipal councils can control, such as policies to encourage the creation of more affordable housing, others were asked about provincial issues such as B.C.’s minimum wage and the creation of more childcare spaces in the community.
Several of the candidates said in order to Kelowna residents struggling to make ends meet, more better-paying jobs are needed here and council can play a part by making the city more attractive to companies to move hear and hire people.
“It all comes back to business,” said former mayor Walter Gray, who is trying to win back the job he lost to incumbent Mayor Sharon Shepherd six years ago.
He said while he agreed with the province’s plan to raise the minimum wage over the next few years, he said it is impossible to for a family to live on the current rate of $8.75, or even the $10.25 it is expected to rise to by next year. That’s why the city needs to attract industry to Kelowna that will provide higher paying jobs, he said.
Shepherd, when asked about childcare, said incentives could be included for developers willing to include childcare facilities in new multi-family buildings.
She received by far the loudest applause after she answered her question and said companies should follow the city’s lead and allow more flexible work schedules for their employees to aid child care.
Another mayoral candidate, Cal Condy, floated the idea of using shipping containers to create affordable housing units, as has been done elsewhere in the world. But he said when he suggested it here, he was told there is was no where to put them.
But others. such as councillor candidate Tisha Kalmanovich, said the city needs to be more daring when it comes to affordable housing proposals. It must think outside the box, she said.
“It’s what I call the wow factor,” said Kalmanovitch.
The forum, which attracted about 70 people to the Habitat on Leon Avenue where it was held. Because the venue sells liquour, the audience was restricted to those over 19. As a result, one of the candidates, Erik Jack, who is 18, could not participate. A statement from Jack was read by a Gospel Mission employee.
Jack said the city needs to act on the problem of homelessness, noting it is not a static issue.
While some candidates felt many of the issues raised were not the jurisdiction of the municpal council, several welcomes the fact people were not only talking about them but also about the election.
“I think it’s great to see people getting involved,” said candidate Mohini Singh.
Three years ago, less then 20 per cent of eligible voters turned out to cast ballot in the municipal election. The city is looking to increase that number on Nov. 19.