Ten people took to the Salmar Grand stage Oct. 4 to tell a capacity crowd at the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce All Candidates Forum why they should be Salmon Arm councillors.
The one councillor candidate not present was incumbent Tim Lavery. Moderator Shelley Desautels said it was due to a health matter. Lavery provided an explanation in a press release.
“A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a lung condition. I’m fine and my condition is stable but I need to be cautious. With higher rates of respiratory infections predicted for this fall and winter, it’s wise for me to avoid large indoor gatherings.
“While disappointing, this decision reflects how I approach important decision-making, be it personal or for the best interests of our city. I will continue to use data-based, thoughtful and measured approaches in all of my considerations. It’s what I do. I trust that Salmon Arm residents will understand.”
Four of the 10 councillor candidates present were incumbents, with six newcomers. Vaccine mandates surfaced as a catalyst for several of the new candidates running for council.
Newcomer Daniel Bardy spoke of being born in Czechoslovakia, going through the 1989 Velvet Revolution and being sensitive to injustice. He said he was alarmed by the vaccine mandates, particularly the loss of firefighters in the region due to them. He said he asked to speak to city council but was refused, and thinks city leaders should have brought the community together. He empathized his hard-work ethic.
Newcomer Brian Fletcher also spoke of the pandemic and referred to poor leadership from the federal, provincial and local governments. He then focused on a council motion in May to include some gender neutral washrooms in Salmon Arm, voicing his fear that a man could follow his four-year-old daughter, who he’s teaching to use a washroom independently, into such a washroom. He said overall he would provide what he sees as a missing conservative vote on council.
New candidate Deb Haukedal said national and local directives have not been good for the health and welfare of human beings, with people dying alone because of isolation and kids depressed because they couldn’t go to school with their friends. She said small businesses failed and government employees had to choose between following a mandate and forfeiting their careers. She said she would listen to everyone’s ideas.
Newcomer Robert Johnson said “pretty much everything that’s gone on for the past two-and-a-half years at every level of government has been illegal, unethical and immoral.” He said the fundamental issue in the municipal election is whether residents want to live in a free country. He said the tyranny and authoritarianism that’s gone on for two years is “pretty insane to me.” He said he jokes that he feels like one of the most-loved and most-hated people and he doesn’t know where the split is.
New candidates David Gonella and Kristine Wickner made a departure from the vaccine mandate trend.
Gonella said he wants to bring a fresh approach and unifying voice. He said in his job as executive director of the Roots and Blues Festival, he makes sure everyone is taken care of. He said he’s level-headed, listens to people and has experience with multi-million dollar budgets, reducing debt, as well as raising money from private and public sources.
Wickner spoke of her experience in politics and policy design. She said she has seen the polarization in the election, from everything’s “corrupt and tyrannical” to everything’s “good and working well, nothing to see here.” One view will breed instability and the other, complacency, she said. “My children’s future can’t afford any of those right now.” She said she and some other candidates are a reasonable option, so with the right team, the right tools, a plan and hard work, anything is possible. People don’t have to buy the lie that change is slow, messy and complicated, she said.
Incumbent Debbie Cannon said she brings experience, being first elected in 2005-2014, then 2018 to the present. She spoke of the growth of the population and the city budget. She said upcoming projects include the wastewater treatment plant, the new pool, aging pipes and addressing the homeless population which the social issues committee is working on. She said council stood behind policies during the pandemic and she supports those decisions 100 per cent.
Incumbent Kevin Flynn said he runs a financial planning and employee benefits business so he is involved with businesses, employers and employees. He said he has served five terms, which have been an honour and a pleasure. He said not his goals but those of the community are most important, working collaboratively to improve the community. He said the city’s strategic plan, developed with input from the community, organizations, council and staff, is what guides council.
Incumbent Sylvia Lindgren said contrary to what the audience might be hearing, it is not a single-issue election. She listed council accomplishments, a few of which included vehicle charging in the parkade, an energy audit, an asset manager to help focus on climate change, ungendered single stall washrooms “in case that makes Mr. Fletcher feel better about his daughter,” 800 units of new housing, and building relationships with the province, community partners and First Nations.
Incumbent Louise Wallace Richmond said being on council has taught her the value of discussion and debate in making better decisions, the importance of listening instead of positioning, and humility. She said local government is complex, giving examples such as $7 million of the city’s $40 million budget going to other levels of government. She said she loves charts, spread sheets and meetings which might not make her fun at parties but makes her a pretty good city councillor.
The Chamber asked the community for questions. Because many were around similar issues, moderator Shelley Desautels said some were combined. A random number generator was used to sort the questions for the forum. Two names were drawn out of a bucket for the order of the two candidates who answered each question.
A total of 15 questions were asked of the councillor candidates, which included topics such as food security, climate change, affordable housing, homelessness, traffic, parking, emergency response, forest fires and policing.
DEMONSTRATIONS AT BLACKBURN PARK
• Incumbent Louise Wallace Richmond and new candidate Brian Fletcher responded to a question involving demonstrations at Blackburn Park when city hall received complaints about residents using the park feeling intimidated. The candidates were asked their position on keeping parks and community areas free from such demonstrations.
Wallace Richmond said a public park is sacred space and is for the public. For any sort of gathering that is private, commercial or political, she said it’s customary to rent a hall or do it on private property. She said parks were built by everyone and it’s customary to ask for a permit, which wasn’t done. She asked how much taxpayers want to pay for bylaw enforcement when people haven’t had the decency to ask for permission.
Fletcher said in Canada there is supposed to be freedom of assembly, freedom of religious expression and freedom of political expression. He said if people are asked to get permission to go to a public park, what is the threshold between a private gathering when you don’t need a permit and when you do need one. “What a bunch of bureaucracy thrown in the face of freedoms we’re supposed to have as Canadians,” he said.
HOUSING FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE HOMELESS
• Incumbent Kevin Flynn and new candidate Kristine Wickner were asked what they intend doing to resolve the issue of tents that have been erected throughout the school district property?
Flynn said the homelessness issue is signficant in Salmon Arm but not as signficant as in other communities, and the city has been discouraging camping on city lands. However, the city doesn’t have jurisdiction on school district property. He said the city is concerned about the tents and people who are homeless; more than 500 homes have been added in the city as well as 130 subsidized and fully-supported homes. He said the city is currently working with other levels of government for further solutions.
Wickner said BC Housing would and should be playing a huge role, and her colleagues at the provincial level say cities don’t always step up to provide land where temporary housing could be put up. That could be in a safe spot, where police and emergency services could help with harm reduction and poverty outreach. She said she is shocked that the federal government hasn’t declared a state of emergency with the poisoned drug supply and hasn’t provided military enforcement, when Canada is fighting resource wars abroad but not emergencies at home.
• Newcomers Robert Johnson and David Gonella were asked: Do you see a role that business should play in preventing emergencies and in helping when disaster occurs? The preamble pointed out the regional district is responsible for administering the Shuswap Emergency Program but the city can provide input through its representatives on the board.
Johnson said it would depend on the disaster. He said his bent as a Libertarian is always to have business and the private sector solve problems. He said collaboration between the public and private sector should always be promoted when possible.
Gonella said the city should absolutely be involved and the CSRD is the lead on preparedness for all emergencies while the city has an active part. At those moments it’s all hands on deck, he said, no one is individual and everyone has to come together as a community and stay safe no matter what.
PROTECTION FROM FOREST FIRES
Incumbents Sylvia Lindren and Debbie Cannon were asked what they would do to protect Salmon Arm from the threat of forest fires.
Lindgren quipped, “Where’s Tim Lavery when we need him?” She said the term FireSmart has been used in the city since she was elected. She said forest fires destroyed Lytton and skipped through Logan Lake with little damage. She said the difference was FireSmarting and Salmon Arm has been thinning the forest in places where it interacts with housing and neighbourhoods. She said negative feedback was received regarding FireSmarting in Little Mountain Park but it took some education and working through the issues that this is how homes will be protected. When a fire comes through, it doesn’t burn as well or as high or hot when it’s in the areas where it’s been FireSmarted so the city will continue to do that.
Cannon said she agreed with what Lindgren said, and that the council had been working closely with Coun. Tim Lavery and the fire chief on FireSmarting. She said at the recent Southern Interior Local Government Association convention in Salmon Arm, municipal politicians saw a presentation on how FireSmarting saved Logan Lake from a lot of damage.
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