The mayoral candidates each had an opportunity to introduce themselves at the Women in Business mayoral forum on Oct. 9. Jordyn Thomson/Western News

Social issues the focus at Penticton mayoral forum

The luncheon provided an opportunity for WIB members and candidates to discuss election issues

Social issues including how to support youth, homelessness and jobs were the major topics of discussion at the Women in Business mayoral forum on Oct. 9.

All six candidates were given the opportunity to introduce themselves at the beginning of the discussion. Following their speeches, each candidate had the opportunity to deliver timed answers to questions submitted in advance by WIB members and the Penticton Western News editorial team.

Each candidate was asked how they would support youth if elected as mayor.

Related: Youth Resource Centre and Foundry Penticton are coming to fruition

“The YES Project and the Youth Centre coming is the single biggest effort that we can do that is going to help youth,” said incumbent Andrew Jakubeit. “Actually going to (Penticton Secondary School) when I present to the leadership class and picking their brains about issues that are important to them. Because quite often, us adults try to figure out solutions for kids and we’re not (them).”

James Blake, who listed homelessness, crime and housing would be top priorities if elected, said children are bombarded with negative images everyday and that “we need to positively come together to let youth know that there is a bright future, that they can make change.”

Dominic Wheeler said his three priorities, if elected mayor, would centre around public transportation, crime and public safety which involves “alleviating boredom in young people,” and homelessness and the Housing First model.

He delivered a similar message about giving children courage and not to be fearful of change.

Jason Cox discussed the fact that he has four teenage daughters and has engaged with community mental health services for children and youth and with the YES Project “on a very personal level.”

He also mentioned that there is “still work to do,” citing that the only youth beds within the city are only accessible to girls as boys are too young for the men’s shelter and must have a parent accompany them to the youth one.

“The Youth Centre is a good start for something to do, but not all youth are going to go there because it’s very structured and organized, and most youth really aren’t into (that),” said Laurio. “What we need to do is give them places they can call their own.”

Vassilaki said he believes there are two types of youth, “the ones 18 and under and the ones from 19 to their early 40s.”

He said he believes the Youth Centre is great for the former group but the latter group needs “good, proper paying jobs” in the city which is done by promoting Penticton to other communities and their corporations.

Related: Penticton mayoral candidates weigh in on homelessness

When asked how they have personally helped homeless people in the community, candidates discussed they’re varying degrees of experience.

Vassilaki, who listed a primary focus on community safety, property and assets as his three priorities if elected, mentioned the time and money he has donated over the years to various community groups that benefit the homeless.

“I help the homeless on a daily basis, it’s what I do,” said Laurio. “I’ve been dirt poor and homeless. I’ve actually been on the street corner.”

“For the past seven years I’ve been on the board of the Brain Injury Society, which does a lot of the homeless outreach,” said Cox. “I’ve attended and lent a hand at Monday night dinners, I’ve been on the board of the Mental Health Association.”

Wheeler said he frequently shops at thrift stores in the Okanagan valley and purchases blankets for people that attend the Monday night dinners, at which he and his wife have also provided food.

Jakubeit who said public safety, housing and the official community plan as priorities for the next term outlined the partnership with B.C. Housing that is building over 200 units within the city.

He noted that half of the units would be reserved for people with low income. He also mentioned the creation of CAST, community active support table, where “community partners identify someone’s needs and actually figure out an action plan right there with all the decision makers.”

“I could go on about all the times I’ve helped homeless people or worked in shelters, and I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I’ve realized all of the issues that we deal with in society on a daily basis, there are so many kind people that go out and do things but ultimately it feels like those are just band-aids,” said Blake. “I’m running for mayor because we need to change the system itself, it is flawed.”

Finally, the candidates were asked what decision they would have changed that was made by current council and why.

“All the waste that has happened in the past four years, if that could have been turned around and not happened, that would be the best thing that’s ever happened for the City of Penticton,” said Vassilaki. “I’m not saying they haven’t done anything good for the community, they have, but all those millions that got wasted foolishly (should have) been changed.”

Laurio, who discussed economic activity and employment as his top priorities should he be voted mayor, said he would overturn the recent bylaw preventing marijuana stores in Penticton since he must now wait “three or four more months before he can open his business.”

Cox told the women in business group that if elected his top three priorities if elected would be “sustainability, opportunity and transparency,” which were touched on in his answer.

“I think the city has done a lot of good work over the last four years and the city staff should be commended for a lot of what they’ve done,” said Cox. “I wasn’t at the table for this decision, and to second guess the decisions they’ve made is as easy as an armchair quarterback, but I will say that an example I would do differently is the Paul Braun case.”

Wheeler was more contrite in his response stating only that he would change the “$40,000 cut to the RCMP budget that in the summer cost $370,000.”

Incumbent Jakubeit pointed to the Skaha Park development issue that fell through after citizens protested the matter.

“It started with good intentions and we didn’t follow what we did with downtown revitalization or the Okanagan Lake walkway where we talked with the community for a year and a half before making a decision,” said Jakubeit.

“Out of that we did create a park protection and use policy and we did create an engagement framework so the past two years your voices have been the foundation of our decision-making, but two years ago it wasn’t.”

Blake said he would like to see the removal of “metal barriers that are meant to prevent homeless people from sitting in certain places” as well as the “blinding lights” that have been set up downtown because he said they do not reflect the values of the community.

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Jordyn Thomson | Reporter


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