More than 250 spectators watched four of the five mayoral candidates do their best to answer tough questions and sway potential voters on Wednesday evening at the Mary Irwin Theatre.
The Mayoralty Faceoff, sponsored by CBC Radio and the Capital News, saw Walter Gray, Sharon Shepherd, Ken Chung and Cal Condy answer predetermined questions, each pose a question to their fellow candidates and respond to questions from the audience.
The fifth mayoral candidate, Kim Ouellette, was unable to attend due to health reasons.
Rebecca Zanbergen, of CBC Radio West and Alistair Waters, assistant editor of the Capital News, sat on the panel that questioned the candidates.
The panel didn’t hesitate to touch on controversial subjects as the opening question dealt with one of this election’s hottest issues: What can a city do to promote development and what is beyond a city’s control?
Gray said that the mayor and council need to start by declaring that they are “open for business.”
“If we can have investment in our community, we then start that cycle of prosperity. When that starts to happen, there’s confidence. When there’s confidence, there are jobs created. When there are jobs created, more people can afford housing. There are more taxes paid. Taxes then tend to be down, not up. No services have to be eliminated and we can start to have nice things, not just necessary things,” said Gray.
Shepherd answered by stating that the city is already being prepared to accept development through its Official Community Plan.
“We have done a vision for 2030, that’s 20 years from now, where it has been defined where development is going to occur. It’s being able to accommodate mixed use development, it’s being able to accommodate institutional development, it’s being able to accommodate the residential development,” said Shepherd.
Chung said that there are many different things that a city can do to promote development.
“I am pro development, but not at the cost of our farm lands, our parks or our waterfront. I think we can utilize the existing properties better. (We) can create better density, more community within community. We have five business centres that we can develop easily and enhance those areas,” said Chung.
Condy said that he believes promoting development starts with bettering the infrastructure to the transit system.
“We could work with the development groups to find out exactly the best patterns and systems to have for the buses to make sure that their new developments will be serviced in an appropriate matter,” said Condy.
The last question posed by the panel asked what would you do to make Kelowna an inclusive place where everyone feels welcome, regardless of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or age?
The question drew an outburst of applause from the audience.
Gray said that he wanted Kelowna to be an inclusive place and that he supports all people who “believe in themselves.”
He also commented on a 1997 incident where Gray refused to issue a proclamation requested by the Pride committee.
“I think I have to comment that I had, 14 years ago, a single issue incident concerning (this) very matter. I had to consider the greater community and not just those people asking for the proclamation. I don’t want to go into any depth, except to say that 14 years later, for all of those years I have regretted the hurt that occurred among that particular community,” said Gray.
Shepherd said that her door is always open to anyone who wishes to meet with her. “It is open to someone that is homeless, it is open to a group, it is open to whatever age an individual is and whatever multicultural background that individual has.
“I think by having an open door policy, it shows that I’m willing to talk about any issue, no matter what it is, in our community,” said Shepherd.
Chung, who is half Asian, said that his upbringing in East Vancouver showed him the potential of a multicultural area. “I saw some things there that really impressed me when I would see different community organizations, such as the Elks club, throw on picnics and barbecues in one of the larger parks,” Chung said.
“It wasn’t just for their organization, it was for the neighbourhood and community. This past summer I saw the Fusion Festival, which was to bring the different cultures together. When you take a look at the community as a whole, you engage in the process.”
Condy agreed with Chung that more activities are needed to bring the community together. “I’d like to see a gigantic potluck dinner in City Park. I think we should make invitations to go out to everyone. The whole dream that is Canada and the reason the world envies us and loves us so much is because everybody is welcome here,” said Condy.
The second round of questions allowed each mayoral candidate to ask any question to his/her fellow candidates.
Shepherd used her question to quiz the other candidates on the Official Community Plan.
She asked, “What do you feel are the most significant changes in the recently adopted Official Community Plan that sets the course for the next 20 years and how will you implement these changes?”
Gray paused for a considerable amount of time and then replied, “I won’t be the mayor in 20 years, I can’t answer that question.”
Condy said the question was a “humdinger.”
He injected a bit of humour into the evening by saying that rather than making a bunch of stuff up, he’d rather look into it and call Shepherd back with the answer.
Chung made more effort to answer the question, despite admitting that he’s not aware of all the things that have been brought into the OCP.
“I’d be dedicated to understanding what changes have been implemented and why and then doing the best to meet all of those objectives,” Chung said.
“Meeting those objectives is not always an easy thing to do in government. We have different obstacles, you never know what’s going to arise year to year. Simply put, I would do everything I can to (implement changes). With respect to Walter, I hope to be here in 20 years.”
Gray took advantage of his opportunity to question the other candidates by asking if they thought it was realistic to contemplate a zero per cent tax increase for 2012 and if so, what service did they see being cut or eliminated to achieve the goal.
Condy said that in order to not raise the taxes, a thorough accounting would have to be done.
“We’ve got to look for wastage, we’ve got to look for over-spending, we’ve got to look for unnecessary spending. We have to basically cut where we can if we don’t want to raise taxes. There’s no other way. It’s kind of a horse before the cart kind of question. I suggest slowing down on the spending,” said Condy.
Chung said that he didn’t believe that it was realistic to see a zero per cent tax increase. “I do believe, however, that we’re able to impact a smaller increase by finding creative ways to increase our revenue,” said Chung.
Shepherd said contemplating a zero per cent tax increase may be difficult, but it is realistic. “We have challenged our staff to come to as close to zero as possible. That means that they have had to go in and scrutinize all the things that have been done in the past, the way they’ve been done, and look to how things can be done more efficiently. I think it’s a good way to do business,” said Shepherd.
The third round allowed a few audience members to ask questions of their own.
Although the candidates had differing, and at times conflicting, views of how the city should be run, they all reiterated the importance of community members getting educated and going to the polls.