No-tax-increase vow sparks reaction on both sides at Kelowna civic election meeting

TaxpayersFirst's plan to halt municipal property tax increases for the next four years turns candidate meeting into a shouting match.

Tempers flared Tuesday night among audience members as the five candidates representing Kelowna’s first municipal political party in this November’s civic election held their first public meeting.

Prior to the meeting, the group touted its intention, if elected, to introduce a motion calling for no property tax increases in the city for the next four years.

While several people in the audience were clearly opposed to such a plan, one, local activist Diane Varga, was so vocal and critical of the candidates that several in the audience, including some of the candidates themselves, tried to shout her down, sparking a lengthy verbal altercation.

Varga, critical of the candidates both for both the no-tax-increase pledge and for what she said were comments by one of them, former city councillor Carol Gran, that TaxpayersFirst candidates would not appear at upcoming all-candidates meetings because with a large number of people running such meetings would be “useless.”

At the meeting, Gran that was not true, she and her running mates would appear at all- candidates meetings during the campaign if invited to participate.

But as Varga made several lengthy statements that she said were forming questions during a question and answer session with guest speaker Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, the crowd of approximately 50 people grew restless and some started shouting at her to hurry up and ask a question. When she responded that that she was doing, but continued making her statement, Bateman attempted to answer what he thought was a question in here comments. Varga, clearly upset, accused him of interrupting her and then more members of the audience chimed in accusing her of trying to monopolize the meeting. At one point, Varga told the crowd that a man doing what she was doing would not be treated as she was being treated.

In the end, one of the candidates, another former city councillor Graeme James, diffused the situation telling Varga he and the other candidates would stay at the end of the meeting and answer her questions about their campaign.

Meanwhile,  Bateman attempted to make a case for a tax freeze, saying first it’s critical for a municipality to get its labour costs under control. But some in the audience took that to be an anti-union stance, something Bateman denied.

“I’m not against unions,” he told one man. “I’m against unrealistic expectations.”

Borrowing heavily from a recent Ernst  and Young study that the city has taken exception to, as well as responding to a recent letter about the report by Mayor Walter Gray sent to local newspapers, Bateman said while provincial spending has increased by 19 per cent over the last 10 years, municipal spending in B.C. has gone up 38 per cent in the same time. He said part of the problem is generous labor contract settlements between municipalities and their unionized workers.

He said later he would recommend a municipality get control of its labour costs before introducing a so-called “zero per cent increase” budget. Gran, however, said her party plans to do it the other way around.

She said she feels no tax increase in the first year of the upcoming four-year council mandate is doable and in that time an audit could be done to show where the “fat” that TaxpayersFirst claims is at city hall is located. The party claims trimming that fat could help pay for the lost taxation revenue.

Gran stressed her party is not going after unionized workers with its plan, rather trying to control costs overall. She said she is more concerned with large salaries paid to top city managers and other city workers than with the salaries paid to lower-level unionized staff.

The most recent public report on city wages showed 300 people at city hall—about 38 per cent of its 840-person workforce—are paid $75,000 or more per year. The top earner is city manager Ron Mattiussi at more than $200,000 and several managers and directors received well over $100,000 last year. The city’s total total budget in excess of $400 million and it took in just over $100 million in property taxes last year.

Gran said she knows her party’s plan is controversial but said it must be done to make the future better for the next generations.

“It’s my generation that made this mess, so we have to clean it up for our children,” she said.

But that did not convince some in the audience. One man, who identified himself as a professional negotiator—a professional Bateman urged the city to hire to hammer out future contracts with its unions instead of using city staff— said council could open itself to lawsuits if its arbitrarily tries to change salaries or working conditions of the employees at city hall. Others questioned where the city would find the money it needs to maintain services and add to them in the future if there was no tax increase.

Gran said her party plans to announce a series of innovative measures over the next month that will show how it can be done. She would not, however, elaborate on what those measures will be.

Gran is running for a councillor position along with James, local realtor Dale Olson, local coffee shop owner and mortgage broker Billie Aaltonen and healthcare worker Michael Gorman.


The five, if elected, would have the numbers to ensure no tax increase would be an instruction to finance department staff only during the next four-year term. Under the rules in B.C. Community Charter, a municipal council today cannot tie the hands of a future council when it comes to its budget.


Just Posted

Lake Country candidates reflect on previous council

This week’s question is what could have been done differently?

Arkells to perform in Kelowna as part of latest album tour

The rock and rollers are performing Feb. 5 at Prospera Place

Children’s book based on the Okanagan is released

The book, based on Wild Horse Canyon will be released Oct. 20 after a long wait

Kelowna entrepreneur nominated for award

Kristy Carruthers has been announced as a finalist for the Stevie Awards

Beaverton author takes new approach to Canadian history

Alex Huntley will be presenting his book in Lake Country, Oct. 27

Your morning news in 90: Oct. 19, 2018

Tune in for 90 seconds to get the top headlines for the Okanagan, Shuswap and Similkameen.

Watch it again: Kelowna mayoral candidates square off

Missing the LIVE Kelowna mayoral debate watch now

Record-breaking $113 million Lotto Max jackpot up for grabs

This is Canada’s highest top prize offering ever and includes 53 Max Millions

Migrants, police mass in town on Guatemala-Mexico border

Many of the more than 2,000 Hondurans in a migrant caravan trying to wend its way to the United States left spontaneously with little more than the clothes on their backs and what they could quickly throw into backpacks.

Trump: ‘Severe’ consequences if Saudis murdered Khashoggi

Pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak on Wednesday said it had obtained audio recordings of the alleged killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Feds dead set against ‘ridiculous’ quotas to replace steel, aluminum tariffs

Donald Trump imposed the so-called Section 232 tariffs — 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum — back in June on national security grounds.

Campus brawl leads to charge against B.C. football player

Takudzwa Timothy Brandon Gandire, a 21-year-old defensive back from Vancouver, is charged with assault causing bodily harm.

Stadium vendor seen in pizza spitting video pleads guilty

The 21-year-old’s sentencing is Nov. 15. His lawyer has said he understood what he did was wrong and was remorseful.

Jury finds Calgary couple guilty in 2013 death of toddler son

Jeromie and Jennifer Clark were found guilty of criminal negligence causing death

Most Read