The economy was a hot topic at what was perhaps the best-attended forum in Vernon’s history.
The Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre forum drew more than 500 people Tuesday to hear from the five mayoralty and 14 council candidates.
Aside from Colt Wilson, who failed to show up to his second forum, each of the councillor candidates had a chance to share their views on subjects ranging from referendums and amalgamation to the health of downtown Vernon and the overall economic situation.
“I’ve seen this city grow and prosper,” said incumbent Brian Quiring, an architect who was involved in bring Wal-Mart to Vernon. “But have also unfortunately seen the opposite in the past few years.”
A ski hill, lakes and abundant beauty and amenities are a natural attraction, but Mark Olsen cautions who the city attracts.
“We have to sell ourselves to the right people,” said Olsen, a bus driver and CUPE president, suggesting industries such as technology, eco-tourism and value-added wood products.
Painter Art Gourley, who says Vernon has a bad reputation for its strict downtown bylaw enforcement, suggests not only easing up on residents and visitors to the area, but also making changes along 30th Avenue including free handicapped parking.
“Owners of the buildings could lower the rents a little bit…lower the taxes a little bit and look at the meters.”
A nurse in the audience questioned why bylaw officers make more than she does.
Improvements in the downtown area were also suggested in the form of policing, by James Todd, who is an artist and author.
A substation in Polson Park and cameras downtown were among his suggestions.
“If I’m not doing anything wrong, I don’t care if I’m on camera.”
Governance could also improve the economic condition, suggested dentist Shawn Lee.
“The way we’re governed is impeding our economic growth,” said Lee, a former Vernon councillor, who supports looking into amalgamation.
That was also a topic supported by spending watchdog Bob Spiers.
“It’s a study that should be done.”
Another way to drive more traffic into the area, without the congestion that currently plagues main thoroughfares, is a bypass says Scott Anderson.
“We have to at least start to look at a bypass for Vernon,” said Anderson, who is in corporate communications and operates a recycling business.
One other “minefield,” topic, according to Jack Gilroy, was taxes.
“There will always be a small increase in taxes and I will work to keep it small,” said Gilroy, a former Vernon councillor and firefighter.
Former Lumby councillor and healthcare worker Janet Green has a different view on the subject of taxes.
“I’m sort of a tax police person myself. I think we need to drill down to a zero base budget.”
Kari Gares was questioned about improvements to Kin Race Track, which she says has been stuck in a legal battle, for far too long.
“It’s evident that they have three races a year if that,” said the Vernon mortgage broker who lives in Coldstream and would like to see the track developed into a youth recreational facility.
“It needs to be dealt with and it needs to be dealt with now.”
Referendums were also discussed at large, and clarified.
“Any project for which you have to borrow for more than five years has to go to the public,” said incumbent Catherine Lord, former manager at O’Keefe Ranch. “Most things do go to you but you don’t want everything to go to you.”
Incumbent Juliette Cunningham added: “When we’re looking at big capital projects we go to the public.”
In terms of the upcoming water referendum, which every candidate has stated they will not support, it offers a chance for the public to send a message to Victoria.
“This gives you an opportunity to tell the province that this is not acceptable,” said downtown business owner Cunningham, of standards being forced on the region without any support.
Regardless of the topics during this election or for the next four-year term, candidate Dalvir Nahal says there needs to be more attention paid to ensuring youth aren’t disconnected.
Part of that is getting youth involved, which the 38-year-old provincial customer service representative is doing by running.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and say, ‘I’ve never even voted but this year, I’m going to vote.’”
The next Vernon forum takes place Tuesday, Nov. 4 at Predator Ridge (pre-registration required through the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce). Then the Vernon Public Art Gallery hosts the candidates Thursday, Nov. 6.