A throng of voters packed the conference room of Penticton Lakeside Resort Tuesday to hear from the four people running for the position of Penticton mayor in the coming election.
Each candidate got a few minutes to offer an opening statement, and incumbent Dan Ashton focused on the highlights from his inaugural term serving on “a council that did what we said we were going to do.”
He focused on the Penticton Community Centre as coming in “on time and under budget,” and how difficult decisions like taking a hard line on contract negotiations with returning CUPE members at the pool and “right-sizing” staff levels at City Hall put them in the financial position they are in today.
Looking ahead, Ashton said council has to keep a close eye on spending and building the city’s capacity for revenue.
“Growth has all but disappeared,” he said. “City services, costs and taxation remain front and centre at this election.”
Julius Bloomfield told the crowd that he decided to run for mayor because a friend who sits as an MLA in Alberta explained to him the value of local politics.
“If you want to effect change in a city, then become the mayor,” Bloomfield said of his friend’s advice.
He said he is putting forward a 100-day action plan to illustrate his first actions if elected as mayor.
“I’m accountable, transparent and I want to hit the ground running,” he said. “I will be a leader who listens and then leads.”
Vic Powell said councillors need to stop treating taxpayers as “a line of credit,” and that if average families ran their homes like City Hall runs the public coffers, “we’d all be bankrupt.”
“We have to start looking after the necessities and forget about the niceties,” he said.
Katie Robinson said marketing would be her tool of choice as mayor. She detailed her vision of Penticton as the potential Canadian centre for wine, food and the arts, and suggested positive co-operation with minimum performance standards in contracts would help the city get there.
“Now is the time to capitalize on our assets with the right marketing,” she said, detailing her experience in civic politics. “I’ve walked the talk and am a straight shooter who’s known for getting it done.”
The first question revolved around tourism, and whether the mayor should focus on that economic sector more so than others.
“I think we can’t rely on tourism alone. We have to create sustainable industries,” Bloomfield said, adding that high-tech industries would bring good-paying jobs. “Relying on tourism is just bad economics and makes for low-paying jobs throughout the year.”
Robinson said City Hall needs to take a “balanced approach” with respect to tourism’s part of the local economy, recognizing that it plays a “very large aspect” of the community.
“We talk a lot about attracting new businesses here, but I think we should take a look at the businesses that have been here many, many years. How can we help existing businesses so they can stay here, hire our children and raise our wages?” she said.
Powell said that tourism would follow whatever Penticton puts into place. “Your tourist season is basically good for two months a year: July and August, May if you’re lucky,” he said.
“Tourism is incredibly important here. Before we used to only have peaches and beaches, but now we’ve got the wine industry and its shoulder season,” Ashton said, acknowledging that it only makes up a small portion of the city’s economy and that’s why he has been promoting manufacturing through economic investment zones.
Robinson was asked about why recyclables were no longer sorted as part of blue-bag pickup. She said she was on council when recycling was brought in, which “was a step in the right direction.” Allowing for less sorting “has made it easier for residents to recycle.”
Powell took issue with the lack of recycling for glass, noting that residents won’t likely drive up the hill to the centre to drop off one or two jars.
“Bottles and glass, they’re going into the garbage,” he said.
Ashton explained that recycling is sorted in Kelowna by individuals with special needs, and glass, when returned, is crushed to put on the surface of the landfill because it can’t be recycled.
“Putting leaves in paper bags means no one has to rip open the plastic bags. Paper is also biodegradable,” he said.
When asked if Penticton should withdraw from the Regional District of the Okanagan Similkameen, Ashton said “that’s not possible.
“That’s a dictum from the provincial government,” he said, adding that Penticton’s four seats on the board should remain to represent the city’s interests.
“I believe we are good neighbours and should remain so. But I don’t believe the mayor should be the chair of the regional district,” Bloomfield said, in a pointed remark to Ashton, who has chaired RDOS for 11 years. “I’ll be too busy being the mayor to be the chair of the regional district.”
Robinson said regional issues like air quality require Penticton to play a part. “Mother Nature doesn’t look at boundaries the same way as you do.”
Questions ranged from topics like maintaining service at Fire Hall No. 2, job creation, strategies for improving the South Okanagan Events Centre, accommodations for seasonal workers, trade with China and whether it was financially feasible to move toward a regional library system.
Each candidate had a direct question pertaining to their background, which most turned around for a few chuckles from the crowd. Robinson was asked where she had been for the last 10 years, and she replied travelling during retirement. Ashton was asked if he intended to run for provincial politics, but he said he was committed to run for mayor. Bloomfield was asked if it was a conflict for him to be a mayor with a background in realty.
“Well, no more so than say being lawyer,” he said, to laughs in the crowd. “There’s lots of conflict situations out there for those on council, and that’s why we rely on the mayor to step out — which I would obviously do. But I don’t feel like I would be in conflict.”
The question that got the most laughs and subsequent gasps Tuesday was for Powell, on why he was running if he had no hope of winning.
“I’m a taxpayer. I don’t see anyone else who’s running who’s not a business person,” he said. “I’m standing up for you. I shoot from the hip. I’m sharp, yes, but I’m not going to quit.”
Powell received resounding applause, followed by a few audience members who heckled the moderator for posing “an unfair question.”
Powell also garnered a few chuckles when asked what he respected about the other candidates, listing some attributes for each except for “Dan, who called me mister.”
Ashton replied during his closing comments that he’s the type of candidate who “called a gentleman you respect, mister.”