The two frontrunners in the race to be Kelowna’s next mayor squared off once again Monday night, but this time it was different.
Instead of appearing with the two other candidates in the race—organizers of Monday’s event excluded Cal Condy and Ken Chung saying it’s clear either Sharon Shepherd of Walter Gray are going to win—incumbent Shepherd and former mayor Gray were able to direct some of their comments directly at each other.
And at times, it seemed downright frosty between the pair who served together on council for the nine years when Gray was mayor and Shepherd a councillor.
The most notable exchange came after Gray was asked to give two examples, other than the controversial rejection of the downtown CD-21 development zone, of mistakes Shepherd’s council has made.
Given Gray’s general criticism of the current council as being unbalanced, indecisive, in need of change and creating a feeling the city is “not open for business,” many expected Gray to outline a litany of missteps. But the man Shepherd defeated handily in 2005 was surprisingly coy.
First asking the audience if it felt that was a fair question, Gray then said he would instead talk about the CD-21 zone.
When he finished, Shepherd, clearly irritated by the accusation her council is not business friendly, looked across at Gray and asked: “Walt, what haven’t I done? Couldn’t find two other things, eh?”
But while he refused to list mistakes he feels the current councils has made, Gray did say a lack of support by city hall for a proposed major manufacturing plant to be located at the northern end of the city cost Kelowna 240 jobs when it was moved to the United States.
Gray would not identify the business or the owner, but said at a time when Kelowna needs jobs, the city needs to be more welcoming to businesses that want to open here.
But the accusation of not being business-friendly clearly makes Shepherd bristle. “We are open for business,” she declared.
The city has been named the 13th most business-friendly city in Canada, she said, and the number one most business-friendly city in the province.
And she added Kelowna has the lowest business taxes of any city in the province with a population over 75,000.
On the issue of the CD-21 zone, which could have seen a massive private-sector redevelopment in parts of the downtown core, Gray said while he supported it, he now believes it is dead and it’s time to move on.
But Gray was not all negative. He praised the city for its proposed new downtown plan and the decision to proceed with a $14-million revitalization of Bernard Avenue.
Shepherd said completion of the Bernard Avenue work, moving the existing Lakefront Seniors’ Centre to a new building at the Parkinson Recreation Centre and work on Lakeshore Road are her top three city projects.
She later added that the list of projects on the city’s plate is long and affect all areas of Kelowna.
Both Gray and Shepherd said there needs to be a focus on policing to keep city streets safe and both said they support the RCMP as the policing agency for the city.
The province and federal government are currently negotiating a new RCMP contract and neither Shepherd nor Gray said they favoured creation of a municipal police force to replace the RCMP.
Both also lauded the work the city has done in helping increase the amount of social housing build in the city in recent years, with Shepherd saying one of the reasons Kelowna not only received $30 million towards three social housing projects from Victoria and Ottawa last year—and also saw millions of dollars in infrastructure stimulus money pumped into the city—was because Kelowna excels at planning and had several “shovel-ready” projects set to go.
As for their individual styles of leadership, Shepherd said her approach is one of inclusiveness and consensus building.
“I’m quiet but I’m relentless,” she told the audience of 300 at the Mary Irwin Theatre in the Rotary Centre For The Arts. “I’m short but I also like to say I’m mighty.”
Gray described his style of leadership as being more of a chairman of the board on council, recognizing there are eight other voices, and votes, at the council table.
And, in a departure from his previous position, he said on the issue of proclamations, he now feels it would be best to consult the rest of council before issuing them.
In his second term as mayor, Gray ran afoul of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal for dropping the word “pride” from a requested Gay Pride Day proclamation.
Gray now says he realized many people were hurt by his actions and he would not like to see that happen again. Earlier in the campaign, Gray said he would not issue proclamations because of that situation. But he said he has changed his mind.
Shortly after winning the mayor’s race for the first time in 2005, Shepherd reversed Gray’s position at the city and started to issue proclamations again.
As for his previous proclamation troubles, Gray said he feels it is old news and it’s time to drop the issue and move on.