It was the near capacity crowd and event sponsors who dictated the tone of the second mayoral debate at Thompson Rivers University Monday.
Organized by a handful of agencies including the Council of Canadians, TRU, School District 27 Teachers’ Association, and various community not for profit groups the three candidates – Kerry Cook, Walt Cobb and Scott Nelson – were asked questions about the environment, community sustainability and social policy that were submitted by debate sponsors and audience members.
The first question was whether candidates felt the economic benefits of resource development should take precedence over human rights and the environment.
Cook told the audience that the city is in favour of the Prosperity Mine development because of both its social and economic benefits. She added the City has also taken the position that environmental considerations and First Nations rights must also be a priority.
“Yes, the economic well being is of prime importance but not at the expense of the environment and First Nations,” she said.
Walt Cobb agreed saying that when the Chamber of Commerce was pushing for the project’s approval environmental stewardship was an issue the chamber wanted addressed.
Scott Nelson said, “Taseko brings huge opportunities but at what expense is the key question.” Nelson said while he’s a project supporter he wants to be environmentally sensitive and create jobs.
A question of dropping levels in the City’s aquifer and use of the resource by industry prompted Cobb to agree that water availability is a concern in the community. For industrial uses, for example, he said he didn’t think it was necessary for lumber yards to use treated water to keep dust down and added that any future changes in industrial use would be a “negotiation process.”
Nelson suggested considering a system where the city’s grey water is recirculated and used in the industrial sector.
“I think that’s something we should take a look at with partners in industry,” he said.
Cook said there wasn’t a simple solution adding that creating the infrastructure to recirculate grey water takes “millions of dollars.”
For now, Cook said the City has chosen to embark on a conservation and education campaign, has required any new development in the municipality to have water meters installed and implemented a toilet rebate program that gives residents rebates for changing to low flush toilets.
How to pay for the maintenance and improvement of City services was another question asked.
Cobb said the only way to lower taxes is to increase economic opportunity. He added, “As revenues go down we have to tighten our belt.” Economic growth is the only way to counter Cobb said, adding “… existing taxpayers can not afford it any more we need to expand and need more jobs.”
Nelson said he wanted to “grow the economy, expand the tax base, and encourage development in the community.” Nelson added he didn’t support shifting the tax burden proposing a zero per cent tax increase across the classes.
Cook outlined a financial plan that included: reducing spending, increasing revenues, setting targets for tax rates, a long-term plan for capital projects, debt reduction, partnerships, and working with government to capture industrial revenues.
When asked about supporting new green business or encouraging existing businesses to go green, Nelson said the grey water initiative is an example. He added his support for creating infrastructure that encourages the use of vehicles fuelled by natural gas, propane and electricity.
Cook pointed to the City’s new industrial tax bylaw that awards green initiatives with reduced tax rates and facilities like Eagle’s Nest and TRU’s Gathering Place that set standards for green building.
Cobb said it’s the government’s role to establish policies that promote green industry among both existing businesses and new ones.
When asked about the municipal government’s role in supporting agriculture Cook said the City’s official community plan addresses food security. She added that three new food markets provide an opportunity for residents to purchase locally grown products and that community gardens had increasing importance.
Cobb said he felt it was important that residents look to their own community to see what they can purchase locally.
Nelson pointed to the Box a Week as an example of a program that provides local food and supports local farmers.
When asked whether the candidates supported the return of Cariboo Lodge to a locally controlled seniors housing project, Cobb said he did. “I would work with society to make sure that it gets back into the hands of seniors.”
Nelson promised that within 90 days of being elected he would return the lodge to the seniors group. Cook said the lodge situation was difficult given the contract signed by the former council. Cook added the first two phases of the lodge have to be torn down while phase 3 is the only usable phase.
A question of whether the candidates would work with the Interior Health Authority in support of establishing a medical bus service to Kelowna, prompted Cobb to respond, “Yes, I would do what I can to make sure our constituents have chance to get the care they need.”
Nelson agreed saying, “We have to make sure the services in our community long term or if not ensure easy access.”
Cook said, “We need to work together to provide affordable, accessible transportation.”