Housing, homelessness and the Trans-Canada Highway received considerable attention at Tuesday’s Salmon Arm all-candidates meeting.
Seats at the Salmar Classic were full to overflowing as residents gathered for the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce-hosted event to hear mayoral and council candidates respond to questions received and selected by the chamber.
First up were the 13 council candidates, Aaron Brookes, Debbie Cannon, Louise Wallace Richmond, Tim Lavery, Chris Meikle, Mary-Lou McCausland, Jo McDermott, Sylvia Lindgren, Kevin Babcock, Wayne Matthews, Karmen Krahn, Chad Eliason and Kevin Flynn.
Question number one went to Brookes and Cannon, who were asked what their two primary goals would be if elected and how would they achieve them. Brookes said his is to build a low-income apartment that would be owned by the city where rent would be no more than 25 per cent of a tenant’s monthly income. He also said he’d like to build a “small village of miniature houses” where the homeless can stay rent free until they can get back on their feet.
Cannon’s goals are to get onboard with the city’s housing task force and pursue funding for housing opportunities to address the shortage for low-income earners. Her second goal is to work with First Nations west of town and get a trail connecting to the city’s downtown.
Asked what is the city’s greatest economic challenge, the answer for Wallace Richmond and Lavery was housing.
“I think home ownership is aspirational, and if you’re going to leave your home to move to Salmon Arm, you have to have a hope of being able to buy a house just as I did when I moved here 20 years ago,” said Wallace Richmond.
“I’m completely honoured to work with the housing task force we have in place, co-chaired with my colleague Louise here,” said Lavery.
Asked what measures they’d take to help local businesses thrive, Meikle suggested a reduction of government roadblocks to businesses getting started. McCausland echoed Meikle’s comments, adding “regulations can be a real thorn” to businesses thriving.
To the question, what transportation issues will be your priority, McDermott focused on the Trans-Canada Highway corridor through downtown.
“I believe the safety of our highway and how it affects our downtown core is paramount to our community…,” said McDermott. “I would like to work with the city and maybe our department of transportation to find out what we can do to create a safer highway or a safer downtown.”
Lindgren added “ditto,” stating, “We need to figure out if we can get a bypass and get it done, or whether we can put some things into place that will calm… traffic through that corridor so it’s safer.”
Asked how they would increase housing density and affordable housing stock in the city, Babcock suggested incentivizing basement suites and expanding city limits in order to “keep the cost of building new homes relatively reasonable for us.” Matthews said it was a tough question and was reluctant to offer a firm opinion. He did, however, invite people to talk to him and share their opinions with him.
“If I get on council I will always have an open door, and I will listen to you and I will use your suggestions and then I’ll take credit for them, thank you,” said Matthews, eliciting a laugh from the crowd and fellow candidates.
Asked what Salmon Arm’s greatest strengths are, Flynn and Eliason responded, location and the people.
“It’s the reason people move here. I moved here 22 years ago because of the location; it’s our biggest asset, we need to protect the lake, but we also need to make it more affordable for others to enjoy what we have,” said Flynn.
“(People) are coming here for our amenities, and if we can build an amenity like a new pool or arts centre and recreation centre, people will move here for that, and providing those amenities so we can attract and retain good talent, I think is a very important thing,” said Eliason.
Krahn and Matthews were asked what they would do to support labour attraction and retention.
Krahn explained how she was attracted to the area for work with the school district, but found she was “instantly housing insecure,” living in a motel, then in a camper and then a tent and a storage unit.”
“So what will we do to attract? We’re going to work on our amenities and we’re going to work on our housing,” said Krahn.
“The first thing I did was I retired, so there’s a job there,” said Matthews, adding he’d like to see more people staying in town to shop.
Asked about their primary goals, mayoral candidates Alan Harrison and Nancy Cooper focused on Highway 1. Harrison referred to his opening remarks, during which he stated he would create a mayor’s task force to recommend a bypass route for commercial traffic away from the downtown, and calming measures to the present highway traffic to increase the safety for pedestrians and vehicular traffic.
Cooper agreed with Harrison, that the Trans-Canada and safety are number one.
“I have worked with the Minister of Transportation, Claire Trevena, talking with her many times, and I do have a relationship with the federal government and the federal government representatives here,” said Cooper. “So we are going to push forward that Trans-Canada Highway improvements, the four-laning and the bridge.”
For Kimmerly, housing is top priority.
“We have to have housing that average wage earners can afford. Right now the average house price in Salmon Arm is about $450,000. You need to have somewhere between $75,000 and $80,000 in income in order to buy that home… That’s not where the average wage is in Salmon Arm,” said Kimmerly.
Asked for their plan to deal with street solicitation or panhandling in Salmon Arm, Cooper said it’s a complex question. She noted the city is applying for an outreach worker who would visit with people on the street, assess their needs and connect them to the right services.
“I have sat down and talked to them as well, a number of times, sat right down on the sidewalk and talked to them and what their needs were and try to connect them with some of the service providers that I know of,” said Cooper.
“I know one thing I wouldn’t do is I wouldn’t have a bylaw and start fining people for panhandling, especially when they don’t have a whole lot of money anyway,” said Kimmerly. “It needs to be properly addressed and find out what the real needs are of those people in terms of housing, addiction and all of that, mental illness, and put together a plan that’s going to work for that.”
Harrison explained how panhandling is addressed to some extent by the federal Safe Streets Act, and that he believes the city needs a bylaw that provides expectations, though he doesn’t think it should be punitive. He also emphasized the importance of having an outreach worker on the street, “providing assistance for these people and directing them to where they can get help.”
“A lot of these people are just down on their luck, so we need to be able to provide for them as well,” said Harrison.