Announcing his re-election bid Thursday, Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton tried to strike a softer tone after three years of hard decisions at City Hall.
“Personally, I feel that we’re hopefully starting to see some blue sky. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train coming anymore,” Ashton said, adding that cutting city jobs to rein in the budget stands out as a dark moment during his term. “I’m going to be frank: The staff are doing their best, and they know that we’ve had to change. We had to change how we conducted ourselves.
“I think that’s one of the things that, unfortunately, took 31 jobs and affected 31 families. That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.”
Ashton said it’s “absolutely” a struggle to meet the demands of residents who want better amenities with no tax increases. He said completing the Penticton Community Centre $300,000 under budget is one of his major accomplishments in office.
Tackling the city’s structural deficit required collaboration with all stakeholders, he said, specifically praising the Canadian Union of Public Employees for stepping forward with a solution.
“The public and the citizens of Penticton said point-blank they wanted those hard-working staff members back there,” he said. “CUPE stepped forward. It was because of their negotiating skills and our negotiating skills that we came to what was a fair deal for everybody, I think.”
After spending 10 years at the table as a councillor, Ashton defeated Jake Kimberley in 2008 for the mayoralty on the promise of fiscal change and common-sense approach to decision making.
For his re-election bid, Ashton made the official announcement outside of Brutus Truck Bodies, a division of Nor-Mar Industries that purchased a vacant parcel of city land on Okanagan Avenue to build and assemble vehicles designed for harsh mining and construction sectors in demand overseas.
Ashton lauded the new venture as among the job creation leaders, in addition to a prime example of what can happen when the city entices business to set up shop in town.
“Through the economic incentives, this plant is not only being built, but will offer jobs to a substantial number of more people,” he said, adding that good-paying jobs remain a challenge — which he vowed to work on in his second term as mayor. “A lot of people would just like to see tourism, but that’s not going to be our saviour.”
Ashton’s announcement brings the number of official mayoral candidates to three. Julius Bloomfield, a local realtor and Green party candidate, filed his nomination papers this week. Katie Robinson, a former city councillor and local wine marketing consultant, has also filed to run.
Coun. Mike Pearce also announced this week he would seek re-election, citing the South Okanagan Events Centre operating deficit, Okanagan lakefront upgrades and eliminating tax increases as key concerns that have kept him in the political arena.
“I right now am not running because I want to run for higher office. I’m not running for needing the money. I’m not running on one issue. It’s just solid experience and my enjoyment for giving back to the community time and effort, which is what it pretty much boils down to,” he said.
According to the city’s website, 13 council candidates have filed as of Thursday afternoon to fill the city’s six seats on council.
The deadline to file is today (Friday) at 4 p.m.