Election 2014:Penticton council candidates answer back

It was a crowded all-candidates forum in Penticton this week.

Along with fellow candidates Kevin Noonan (left) and Katie Robinson (right)

Along with fellow candidates Kevin Noonan (left) and Katie Robinson (right)

At the best of times, it is difficult to pick a winner, or winners, for an all candidates forum.

But with 23 candidates on stage, each answering a different question — a total of 75 —  it becomes near impossible to compare and contrast their opinions and stands on issues of the day.

That was the case for an all-candidates forum in Penticton Tuesday evening, with nearly 500 people turning out to the Lakeside resort.

After a two-minute introduction from each — taking an hour to go through all candidates — the candidates faced three rounds of questions, either submitted specifically for them or drawn at random.

But through all the variety, some themes did emerge: downtown revitalization was a popular topic, as were economic investment zones and transit.

Another theme was asking incumbent candidates — Couns. Katie Robinson, Judy Sentes and Helena Konanz — to justify their past performance or that of council.

Robinson was singled out for her now infamous “head-banging druggie” comment about the Boonstock Music Festival, which she again apologized for, saying it was not befitting her position as councillor to have made such a comment, and offering as an explanation that it had come at the end of a long, stressful weekend.

The hockey dorm scandal was another issued that reared its head more than once, with Sentes and Konanz being asked to justify council’s decisions, which have led to the city being taken to court over the $1.1 million in liens against the properties.

“In hindsight, wouldn’t we all be clever,” said Sentes. “Sometimes you have to take the risk. Given the information of that day, that was the right thing to do.”

Downtown revitalization was another big topic, specifically regarding the two-laning of Main Street and the implementation of a 30 km/h speed limit through most of downtown.

David Korinetz said he was in favour of the 30 km/h zone but suggested an alternative to two-laning the road, which currently has three driving lanes and two curb-side parking lanes. He would rather see angled parking implemented along one side of the Main, which he said would increase available parking by 50 per cent.

“If we can increase the parking, that might be worth giving up that extra lane,” said Korinetz. “Most of the  people I talk to don’t come downtown because they can’t find parking.”

Candidate Brent Madsen, general manager of the Elite restaurant, supported two-laning Main Street and had a different take on its value to downtown businesses.

“What other city has three lanes. As a small business owner, why would you not want the traffic to slow down going past your business anyway,” said Madsen.  “It might consume people a little bit at first, but that might also slow them down.”

Campbell Watt, who is on leave from his position as president of the Downtown Penticton Association, defended the overall concept of the downtown revitalization plan, which his questioner suggested was being “crammed down everyone’s throats.”

“The plan is solid. It was welcomed with open arms. There are some business owners that didn’t necessarily want it, but the majority do,” said Watt. “The downtown core is really essential to any city’s development and we need to be vibrant and that revitalization is a key component to that.”

Though it was referenced in many questions and answers, there were few questions about the city’s dispute with the Penticton Hospitality Association, which ended in a B.C. Supreme Court battle. Max Picton, as both an accommodator and chair of Tourism Penticton, was asked if the city’s actions were appropriate.

“I don’t believe that the city should be launching legal action against any of its citizens or the organizations within,” said Picton, adding that is why he made working for a united Penticton part of his campaign.

“We have made leaps and bounds with the PHA since this (the judge resolving the lawsuit in favour of the PHA). We are working with them … we are on the right path,” said Picton.

This is the first of several forums planned for the candidates. Check back with the Western News for more follow-ups on upcoming forums.