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ELECTION 2014: Penticton mayoral candidates talk about vision for the city

City of Penticton’s three mayoral candidates asked about future and preservation of the past.
Andrew Jakubeit (left) and John Vassilaki (right) listen as Jukka Laurio responds to a question Thursday night at a Penticton mayoral candidates' forum.

Besides exploring issues of the day, Penticton’s three mayoral candidates were also asked at the Oct.30 public forum to discuss their visions for the city’s far-off future and the preservation of its past.

For two hours, the crowd of about 400 inside a ballroom at the Penticton Lakeside Resort listened as the men gave one-minute answers to a range of questions, with few rebuttals and no fireworks.

One of the curveballs thrown at the candidates was whether they’d support moving Penticton’s museum onto the SS Sicamous, which would free up space for the library to expand.

Jukka Laurio, a local restaurant owner, called it a “brilliant idea.”

“That would be a workable solution and would also provide the Sicamous with an additional draw,” he said, adding the library could then grow “without the big cost expenditures.”

Two-term city councillor Andrew Jakubeit cautioned, however, that there’s more to the museum than meets the eye.

“The basement underneath is all their archive storage and it takes up a lot of space,” he said.

“Perhaps a better combination might be the museum and the art gallery. We need to create draws for people to see these wonderful cultural entities we have in our community.”

John Vassilaki, who has served three terms on city council, agreed something should be done for both the Sicamous and the museum, but didn’t say what.

“To me, the most important thing any community can have is a heritage site,” he said.

While the Sicamous is currently “sitting in the mud,” Vassilaki continued, “what better place can you put that beautiful ship but on the water? I think it should be refloated, but the cost is prohibitive.”

Candidates were later asked what Penticton would look like in 40 years’ time if they get to put their stamp on it as mayor.

Vassilaki said his ideal city of the future would have a greatly expanded industrial base.

“That’s our No. 1 priority is the industrial area. And how well are we looking after it? Not very well. We should be devoting more time to where we can actually improve this community, and that’s through jobs,” he said.

“We can no longer depend on folks who are on fixed income to pay the taxation for all the money that we spend year after year, and a lot of it is waste. Trust me, I know.”

Laurio said large-scale industry will be a tough go, since the city isn’t located on a major highway, so the focus instead should be on “niche markets.”

“If we were the boating capital of Canada or the water sports capital of Canada, we would have all kinds of miniature industries,” he said.

“We could be making things for sport boats, surf boards for windsurfers. It’s the kind of industry that we could use here, because it (capitalizes on) the type of resources we have.”

Jakubeit said his Penticton of 2054 would be built on a high-tech industry that allows families “to actually have the opportunity to enjoy living here.

“Many of us, young and old, have our nose to the grindstone, we’re working maybe two jobs. We don’t have a chance to really go experience the beaches and peaches, go do our wine tours, go float down the channel,” he said.

“I want to be the mayor that restores Penticton to be the envy of all other communities.”

On Nov. 1, candidates Jakubeit and Vassilaki continued the series of mayoral forums prior to the election with a one-on-one debate at the Perseus Winery focusing on business in Penticton.

The two candidates took questions from invited business leaders about their plans for job creation and drawing industry to the city.

Some questions strayed from the business focus including how the candidates plan to instil leadership if elected. Specifically, how the candidates feel about the idea that decisions are influenced more by administration and staff as opposed to council members.

“City council should make all decisions,” said Vassilaki. “Anything that cost the community even one dollar should be the decision of council, not of staff.”

Jakubeit echoed Vassilaki’s sentiment, noting a part of his platform is empowering council and increasing communication with staff. He plans to do so by setting a mandate of four meetings a month. The two regular council meetings and two supplementary meetings to make sure staff is up to speed on all issues.

“I think we’ve had a problem with confidentiality amongst our meetings,” Jakubeit said. “I think there have been times where information has been reserved or not forthcoming and that has to stop.”

On the topic of future business in Penticton, the candidates were asked how they plan to set the conditions for increasing jobs, economic development and affordable housing as well as encouraging tourism all at the same time.

Jakubeit said council will have to be able to take the heat if they want to bring positive projects forward.

“We have to take some flak to make things happen. I think we need a council who is going to be willing to say we have four years to make some difference here, we have four years to take some flak,” Jakubeit said.

Jakubeit also said that Penticton tends to have a culture of resistance when initiatives are put forward.

“If we have a thick enough skin and don’t let the small minority with the big voice get to us and we actually are bold and believe in what, philosophically, we want to see our community get to, I think that will be a benefit,” Jakubeit said.

Vassilaki said his focus if elected will be investing in business, economic development and expanding Penticton’s industrial sector.

“In our city we have to concentrate on employing our people. We are empowered to do all that, not to depend on somebody else and hope that somebody else is going to bring all those jobs into the community,” Vassilaki said.

Vassilaki went on to say that the focus needs to be on  economic development funding within the city.

“That’s why our economic development department is so important,” Vassilaki said. “We have to finance them properly so they can actually go out there and bring those jobs in to the community.”

He added that the days of sustainable minimum wage jobs are over.

“People can’t live anymore on what they’re getting paid. We have to change our attitudes, how we treat developers, how we treat business people and how we treat the industrial area. That’s very, very important,” Vassilaki said.

Election day is Nov. 15, with advance polls open Nov. 5 at City Hall and Nov. 6 at the Cherry Lane Shopping Centre.

-With files from Dale Boyd