Vernon mayoral candidates faced off at an all-candidates forum on Saturday, September 24.
Around 100 spectators filled the Vernon and District Performing Arts Center for the environmentally focused forum, organized by the Sustainable Environment Network Society (SENS) and Climate Action Now!
Two out of three mayoral candidates appeared at the forum: Scott Anderson and incumbent Victor Cumming, in the absence of Erik Olesen.
On the advisor side, only Andy Wylie was absent. The 12 contestants in attendance were Jenelle Brewer, Teresa Durning, Kelly Fehr, Kari Gares, Brian Guy, Ross Hawse, Stephanie Hendy, Akbal Mund, Brian Quiring, Ed Stranks, Dawn Tucker and Patrick Vance.
Moderator Jon Corbett kicked things off with a two-way question, asking the candidates if they would approve the budget for the City of Vernon’s climate action plan, as well as their views on the most important piece of the official community plan (OCP) of the city. which needs to be updated.
Hendy was in line with all the candidates in supporting the climate action plan budget, at least in principle.
She said the aspect of OCP that will have the biggest impact is “being very clear about responsible development of greenfield sites and doing a survey of brownfields so that we can make better use of existing land.” in Vernon so that we don’t have excessive urbanism. sprawl and we can build more walkable communities.
Tucker said that when it comes to OCP, one of the most important parts is “getting an education when it comes to resident feedback, making sure residents understand the importance of it, then to make our way in the implementation of what already exists”.
Candidates were asked what they believed to be the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the local transportation sector.
Durning, who is incumbent after winning a by-election in December 2021, said Neuron electric scooters have been a great addition to the community. She also advocated for on-demand transit and said the city should “continue with our active transportation corridor and bike lanes and encourage people to cycle.”
Seeking a third term on council, Mund said the city has done a great job on the transportation file for the past eight years.
“We’ve increased our infill housing tenfold, created probably double the bike lanes within the community, obviously we’ve got the scooters, we’re allowing skateboarding on the sidewalks (and) we’ve asked for smaller buses,” he said. he declares.
Guy, co-chair of the city’s climate action plan, said the city needs to lobby higher levels of government to meet the plan’s emissions targets.
“In fact, we need more than funding from the federal and provincial governments. We need stronger political support from both levels of government,” Guy said.
Stranks said more affordable housing downtown would help reduce commuter emissions.
“The housing affordability in the city is such that people now live in Spallumcheen and Armstrong, Lumby and they commute all the way,” he said. “We need to do some work, especially with OCP and zoning regulations to create affordable housing close to downtown so we can really compete with these other communities.”
Stranks answer was a nice segue into a question about affordable housing. Candidates were asked if they would support a bylaw requiring developers to provide 30-50% of their units as affordable housing.
Quiring, who is seeking a fourth term, said he would not support a mandatory requirement for affordable housing because it would “stop development”.
“What you need to do is instead of imposing it, you need to provide incentives, bonus densities, through this affordable housing vehicle,” he said.
Cumming disagreed with the bonus density strategy, saying it worked best in big cities with tall buildings.
“It doesn’t fit our OCP and it doesn’t fit our community,” he said. “We need a different style of housing that focuses more on three-story walk-up type situations, and so we need to target affordable housing, we need to target accessible housing with other more specific mechanisms.”
Anderson “absolutely supports” affordable housing, but said it won’t solve the housing crisis. “It only serves a very small part of what we need,” he said, adding that accessible housing is what will meet the city’s housing needs.
“One of the biggest drivers of price increases is the fact that we don’t have enough — it’s a shortage issue,” Anderson said.
Holder Fehr, chair of Vernon’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, said there are a number of steps to take in the recently completed housing action plan, including asking the city to donate land and partner with the province to build housing there.
“The time to choose the right property was 10 years ago,” he said. “Families are struggling and we need affordable and accessible housing, and we need it now. »
Asked what steps need to be taken over the next four years to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, Brewer said the work she has done on a wildfire recovery management project for the Indian Band in the Okanagan prepared her to respond to climate emergencies.
“It is important that we make plans, protect our people and ensure that we have a secure infrastructure so that we are supported as a community in the future,” she said.
Corbett asked the candidates how low-income residents can participate in climate solutions, since they cannot afford electric cars or expensive renovations.
Hawse said that for families living paycheck to paycheck, the last thing on their mind is the environment.
“I think we need to make sure that the majority of income isn’t paid on rent,” Hawse said. “It all starts with housing.
The incumbent Gares said it was difficult to answer that question, adding that she always had concerns when governments made things mandatory. She said making projects more expensive to build will only drive up the price, and ultimately people at the bottom of the economic ladder will foot the bill.
“In terms of things, what can we do to help, one of those things is to make things easier to build, to build things faster, to streamline the process,” Gares said.
There was a lot of goodwill expressed between the contestants as Corbett asked them to name something they admire each other. Vance, in a moving moment near the end of the forum, named the late Dalvir Nahal — a former city councilor who died of cancer in September 2021 — as someone who has helped improve his community in multiple ways.
“I really think we can’t pass without mentioning his incredible spirit,” Vance said in tears. “She was a cheerleader to everyone around her…I really miss her and think she deserves a moment of recognition.”
Election 2022Municipal ElectionVernon