It’s a topic that came up several times in the two-hour-15-minute all-candidates forum for Township of Spallumcheen council Tuesday, Sept. 27, at Armstrong’s Centennial Theatre.
Affordable housing. Attainable housing. How does the township plan to keep young people in the community when housing prices are skyrocketing? Does the township have any incentive plans to keep its residents from leaving?
The township’s six incumbent councillors – John Bakker, Andrew Casson, Christine LeMaire, Gerry Popoff, Joe Van Tienhoven and Todd York – were joined by challenger and former councillor Carolyn Farris, at the forum hosted by the Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce. Christine Fraser has been acclaimed for a second term as township mayor.
The topic hit close to home for Casson, married with three young kids under the age of six. Casson recounted the tale of when he first decided to run for council in 2008. He came to an open house hosted by Spallumcheen council.
“Somebody got up and stated, ‘We can’t do this development. The way it works here is you’re born here, you grow up with your family, move away for 20 years, make your money, then come back,’” said Casson, seeking a fifth straight term on council.
“I got up after hearing that and said ‘I don’t think that’s the way it has to be.’ I think if you’re born here, you can grow here and stay here, invest our lives with our family…At its core, municipal governments can help provide a stable foundation on which to build businesses, grow families, live their lives. That’s what we try to do here.”
Van Tienhoven, first elected to council in 2011, said the township is limited to where it can put houses.
“The majority of land in Spallumcheen is in the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) and we are very in-step with the Agricultural Land Commission and Ministry of Ag (Agriculture) that we’re not going to be trying to develop our agricultural land, our farming land, into housing tracks,” he said. “We’ve been adamant about that. We need to help this community grow a little bit to help sustain our farmers and help look after infrastructure.”
Something that will help, said the candidates, is the creation of an agriculture hub in the township’s southeast sector, responding to a question about the hub and what it is.
“The agri hub certainly became really important during COVID and the floods, and it pointed out, not just to our municipality but to the regional district (of North Okanagan), the value of being able to do all of the things we need to in our community to keep our citizens and take care of them,” said LeMaire, vying for a third straight council term.
The only business committed to the hub at this point is Okanagan Valley Feed.
“We’re excited they’re there, it is very much our starting point,” said LeMaire. “As word is getting out into the community that this (agri hub) is what we want do, it’s gaining support.”
Farris, a long-time Spallumcheen resident and farmer, says the agri hub has great potential, but the township must take care of its smaller farms.
“It (hub) has the ability to add to food security, but we really need to support our small farmers and preserve our farm land,” she said. “I look around my own place in the northeast and I see lots of places that used to be farming, but they’re no longer farming. Large developments have taken place because there are houses, and garages, and buildings. Something that used to be productive is not productive anymore.
“There needs to be encouragement to buy local, support for local businesses. Farmers markets are a large part of that but a lot of farmers are aging out so we have to find a way to get our young farmers into it…”
Todd York – celebrating his 60th on forum night, and serenaded by the crowd of 30 with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday – is the township’s longest serving councillor. York says Spallumcheen encourages small businesses to set up shop for two reasons.
“One is tourism. It puts dollars in our local businesses’ pockets,” he said. “Secondly, it helps show off what we have here. This council has been very, very aggressive to encourage small businesses to establish themselves here, and I’m proud of them. It’s great job creation, it’s good for us as a community as it helps us be recognized for the efforts we put in trying to support them. We’ve been successful across the board.”
Popoff and Bakker are the two councillors who are hoping for a second straight term on council, each first elected in 2018. Both took a crack at answering a fun question from the floor about how they would spend the money if the township was given a sudden, $1 million grant.
“I would definitely put some toward tourism, and would put some toward housing,” said Bakker. “I’m split between those two. Housing is not going to go away. We need to figure out what we’re going to do there.”
Said Popoff: “If I got a million dollars, I would give it to the community as it would be up to the community as to how we would spend it. You have to spend for everybody in the community and hope everyone prospers from it.”
The municipal election is slated for Saturday, Oct. 15.