Mayoral candidates incumbent Alan Harrison and newcomer Luke Norrie share a laugh while former mayor Nancy Cooper looks over her notes before preparing to speak at the Oct. 4 Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce All Candidates Forum. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Mayoral candidates incumbent Alan Harrison and newcomer Luke Norrie share a laugh while former mayor Nancy Cooper looks over her notes before preparing to speak at the Oct. 4 Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce All Candidates Forum. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Candidates for mayor’s chair in Salmon Arm tackle issues from housing to COVID-19

Many more topics such as drought, FireSmarting, sidewalks brought up than just pandemic response

The Salmar Classic was not showing an award-winning movie Tuesday night, but the theatre was packed nonetheless.

A capacity crowd of nearly 300 people showed up for the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce All Candidates Forum Oct. 4, with more turned away at the door.

Voters watched three mayoralty candidates and 10 of 11 councillor nominees answer questions submitted beforehand by the public to the chamber, sandwiched by opening remarks and closing statements. The atmosphere was civil, with no heckling, name-calling or tomato throwing.

Mayoralty candidate Nancy Cooper, who occupied the mayor’s chair from 2011 to 2018, told the audience she wouldn’t be speaking about herself other than to say she has lived in the community for 50 years, raised her family and worked here. 

Instead, she chose to speak about “things that I see happening and things that may need to be addressed.”

She said she has been going to door-to-door asking residents what they’d like to see done. One of the big issues, she said, is the water waste treatment plant. People are tired of the smell.

“I promised them I will look into it, I will see what can be done, what has been done – it could be they have been looking into it, and see how we actually can move that forward.”

Cooper said she enjoyed reading the city’s active transportation plan, and noted Vernon has started a successful e-scooter and e-bike program. She said the city needs to use its buses better, which she would look at and reassess.

“As your mayor I’ll make sure I’ll use the bus as often as I can,” she added.

Cooper also touched on infrastructure and services, safety and communication.

She said facilities such as the hospital need to keep pace with population growth, and sidewalks and other infrastructure need to be built equitably. She said she has seen children walking on the road in Canoe due to a lack of sidewalks while there are two sidewalks on Shuswap Street by the school district office.

Cooper also said residents aren’t getting enough information.

Read more: Odour-capturing pilot project at Salmon Arm wastewater plant concludes in August

Read more: Shuswap Street in Salmon Arm gets long-awaited sidewalk replacement

Incumbent Alan Harrison spoke about council’s accomplishments during challenging times as well as the importance of strong leadership.

“Four years ago, not a stone had been turned on the Trans-Canada Highway West project,” he said. “The project was stalled.”

Council knew they had the community’s backing, particularly with the state of the old Salmon River Bridge, so they went to the highways minister, ministry staff and the MLA, he said.

“Now, this $180 million project, the biggest project ever in Salmon Arm, is nearing completion.”

Harrison recounted how last election the province had been threatening to move Salmon Arm’s Rapattack base. With council’s support, he said he and Coun. Chad Eliason took it on. They met with the provincial ministry and BC Wildfire, emphasizing the need for a first attack base in the Shuswap where it’s surrounded by heavily forested Crown land in a highly volatile lightning zone. He noted Rapattack is now solidly in place at the airport and used more than ever.

“The best thing is, we are safer,” he said, adding the base has boosted fuel sales at the airport.

Harrison also referred to the 2018 referendum on the Ross Street underpass, and how costs rose by $3 million as work progressed. He said council could have either abandoned the project or looked for sources of funds. It chose lobbying and managed to come up with $1 million from the province and $2 million from CP before a 60-day deadline.

Harrison spoke of council’s single-use shopping bag ban which meant two million less bags in the dump.

Council has also worked diligently on housing, he said, in partnership with BC Housing, the Canadian Mental Health Association and private contractors, building more than 100 subsidized and supportive housing units. Council also passed more than 100 zoning requests for secondary suites and is seeing more than $50 million annually in building permits.

Harrison said leadership is about bringing people together who have differing ideas and a variety of expertise.

Read more: VIDEO: Third building in Salmon Arm’s affordable housing project opens doors

Read more: Salmon Arm council to lobby for highway improvements, police officers and more

New mayoralty candidate Luke Norrie said he moved to Salmon Arm two-and-a-half years ago with his wife – a teacher in Salmon Arm, and his three kids. They love Salmon Arm and he doesn’t think they’ll ever leave.

He said he is very engaged with the community now and has noticed a sharp division between people.

“We need to find someone who’s going to really work day in and day out to sort of bridge the gap, to be the mediator between the two sides…”

He said he sees Covid as a blessing in disguise because it’s caused people to have conversations they never thought they would. He said he knows you can’t please everyone, and referred to the lengthy public hearings held when SmartCentres and Walmart were trying to get permission to build.

“I think when it came to certain Covid measures, I really believe the fact that council doors were closed and there was no public debate on that was just a miscarriage.”

He said he thinks the role of government is to allow people to have a voice and be heard.

“So I’m going to be honest with you, I was one of those guys at Blackburn Park.”

He said there was nothing bad about the gatherings; they were people trying to get back a feeling of community and have open discussions after being forced not to see each other. Norrie said permission to use the park wasn’t requested because it was assumed it would be denied.

He said he wants more community engagement, with town halls held once a month.

Read more: City responds to ‘disruptive and disrespectful use’ of Salmon Arm park QUESTIONS/CLOSING STATEMENTS

During questions and closing statements, Nancy Cooper again spoke of the need for communication, for more attention to roads and sidewalks in Canoe, of e-bikes and e-scooters and of her commitment to ride the bus.

She said Canoe needs more than one exit and entrance, and consulting residents is key to a solution.

She called for engaging with people who are homeless and prioritizing city projects differently, with one example being highway upgrades may change residents’ travel routes so could change needs regarding roads.

Responding to a question, Alan Harrison said he doesn’t think there’s anything he would have done completely differently last term.

“We had to make some very difficult decisions. We did them nimbly, we did them thoughtfully, we did them carefully with process. Not everybody agreed with those decisions, they were difficult, but I believe they were the right ones.”

Read more: COVID 19: Salmon Arm schedules meeting to plan future for city facilitiesAsked if he would follow public health guidelines in Salmon Arm again, he said yes, the city is under the umbrella of the public health officer and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

“We’re not the experts. We follow the science and we would do it again if we had to.”

Harrison talked about the success of the city’s rebranding and the future goal to attract young families. He said two of the qualities they look for is a safe place to live and outdoor opportunities, both of which council has focused on. Based on community input, Harrison said, future priority projects include Lakeshore Road upgrades with a multi-use path, Canoe Beach, FireSmarting, plus sidewalks, trails and bike paths.

He reiterated the importance of strong leadership that includes the expertise of each councillor, as well as building relationships with Indigenous neighbours, local groups, other communities, provincial ministries and staff. Luke Norrie spoke to his experience leading construction teams and his success starting a restaurant from scratch that ended up with about 40 employees and $2.5 million in sales annually. He said he had a good rapport with all employees and works hard.

Of key importance are housing security, food security, education security and health security, with signs of decay showing, Norrie said. He spoke in favour of an online civic platform, so residents can speak their minds.

Regarding droughts, Norrie said sprinkling regulations are not enough and stopping the watering of grass would be key. He referred to urban farming, growing plants that need minimum amounts of rain and using community expertise.

On homelessness, he was told by a woman who is homeless that showers and laundry are essential. He said any solution should be done in collaboration with other municipalities.

Read more: Salmon Arm council hopefuls share views on housing, vaccine mandates and more

Read more: Shuswap Climate Action asks municipal candidates questions on climate

 

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