Candidates in Vernon’s municipal byelection had the chance to share their thoughts and priorities on all things environment at an all-candidates forum Wednesday evening.
All but two of the 11 candidates were present at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre for the forum that was live-streamed from 7-9 p.m. Nov. 10. Kevin Demers and Arthur Gourley were the two absentees.
Sponsored by the Sustainable Environment Network Society (SENS) and moderated by Jon Corbett, the forum posed questions related to Vernon’s Climate Action Plan, the soon-to-be-amended Official Community Plan, affordable housing, transportation, clean energy and more.
Candidates were first asked to introduce themselves while providing their top priority for promoting environmental sustainability in the Vernon area. Jamie Morrow said if he’s elected, his top priority would be to promote medium to high density housing and mixed-use developments in the city centre.
“This will create more compact neighbourhoods and less drain on resources, transportation and land use,” he said.
Former journalist Flora Evans offered a list of priorities including switching residents from wood fires to propane and working with the province to move away from coal production.
Andy Wylie is running on an idea to build a Kekuli monument at the old Civic Arena site on 37th Avenue, which he says would be a symbol of a sustainable future.
“This is where we can go with electric bikes and scooters and we can look at a future without cars,” he said. “People will want to go down there, it’ll be the heart of our city and you get there by walking, by biking.”
Candidates were asked what aspects of Vernon’s Climate Action Plan were most important to them. Catherine Lord, who previously served as a city councillor from 2011 to 2018, said a good way to get to work quickly on the plan would be to implement organic waste residential pickup.
“About 7 per cent of our GHG (greenhouse gas) is due to organic waste. If we can reduce that — a 7 per cent reduction, to me that is a big amount in a very short period of time,” she said, adding that organic waste pickup could be done as early as the coming spring.
On affordable housing, Teresa Durning said the city needs to signal to developers that it’s open for business.
“I think we just need to continue that work of being more attractive to developers and be able to attract the people who want to build that housing, so that we can get the prices down and, as Jamie said, have attainable housing for everyone in Vernon,” Durning said.
Erik Olesen said when it comes to providing affordable housing the city needs to opt for densification over sprawl.
“We need to look at how we densify what we have versus continuing to sprawl and go to neighbourhoods that are unaffordable for young people in our community,” he said.
On transportation, which accounts for 63 per cent of Vernon’s emissions, Sherrilee Franks said a car-sharing cooperative would reduce the number of vehicle trips made in the city.
“There’s a lot of people with mobility challenges. They’re still going to need a vehicle,” she said. “But if they’re able to buy into a car co-op rather than purchasing a new vehicle or used vehicle, then they have access to the mobility that they need while also reducing their carbon footprint.”
Former city employee Ed Stranks said having affordable housing near places where there’s work would help cut down on emissions, “so that people don’t need to hop in their car to go from Armstrong or Lumby because that’s the only place they can afford to live with their minimum wage job.” Stranks was also one of several candidates who said they would advocate for more electric vehicle charging stations in town.
Another question asked candidates for their solutions regarding how to encourage the use of solar power within the city. Kinesiologist Stephanie Hendry posited the idea of reducing or waiving property taxes for residents during the year in which they are installing solar panels on their homes. She said she would also promote awareness of grants available to those who make their homes more efficient.
“I would make people more aware of the BC Energy Step Code because there are more grants existing provincially,” she said.
Advanced voting days and locations for the byelection are Nov. 24 at the Schubert Centre, Nov. 25 and 27 at the Vernon Council Chambers and Dec. 1 and 2, also at the Council Chambers. General election day is Dec. 4, 2021.