In a town hall meeting, Powell River residents questioned the three mayoral candidates, who have put their names forward for the October 15 municipal election, for an hour and a half, covering a wide range of topics.
Candidates for mayor are Maggie Hathaway, CaroleAnn Leishman and Ron Woznow.
The town hall meeting, held September 26, was sponsored by Townsite Ratepayers Society. Dwight Hall, site of the meeting, was mostly full, with organizers saying there were 300 people in attendance, according to their head count.
The meeting was moderated by ratepayers society president Diana Collicutt and past president and director Stephen Miller. Candidates were provided an opportunity for opening and closing statements, with most of the time being allocated to questions. Those questions were directed to a specific mayoral aspirant and moderators could choose a second candidate to answer the same question.
On the question of a possible name change for City of Powell River, Leishman, first to be asked the question, said she is in favour of a name change.
“I would love to start a different conversation from all members of the community to put forward some names,” said Leishman. “People have been approaching me with different ideas on what the name could look like.
“I would love to have a big conversation and have people submit names.”
Hathaway said she agreed with Leishman and that more work needs to be done. She said it is hard to talk with people about a possible name change when it is not known what it is being changed to.
“Let’s move forward and start the process and pick a new name. People need the opportunity to be heard as well,” added Hathaway.
Woznow said he was very clear that he did not agree with a name change.
“Unfortunately, it has been a very flawed process, which has resulted in a lot of angst within the community,” added Woznow.
“At the end of this, it’s an opportunity for every citizen to cast a vote as to what they would like to see happen. I believe our Indigenous friends will understand that there is a process to be followed.”
Leishman was asked what is the single most important issue facing the city, and how did she propose to address it?
Leishman said there are many important issues. She said the mill closure is a big problem and that it is important to attract a new business to the site that will pay its taxes. She added that climate change is also a big issue.
Hathaway was asked the same question and said there is not a single issue. She said BC Ferries is very important, with a requirement to make significant improvements.
She identified crime as a major issue and indicated that the problem is being experienced provincially, not just locally.
Housing is another important issue, she said, and the city has just adopted a housing implementation plan.
She added that the city needs to get industry to help reduce taxes, and that reconciliation with Tla’amin Nation is important.
Woznow was not asked the question. In his opening address, he identified several challenges for the city that he said will impact everyone. He said short- and long-term debt could result in tax increases of 10 per cent or more.
He also mentioned the mill closure and said there is a need for business and sustainable industry. Crime and lack of affordable housing were also important issues, according to Woznow.
Transparency of city council and staff was another issue bridged at the town hall meeting. Hathaway said every council meeting is open and they are also televised. She said in camera meetings fall under provincial legislation.
“The rules are you must go in camera on certain issues,” said Hathaway. “Each meeting requires a statement on why it is in camera. Once a meeting is in camera, we are legally bound not to discuss what happened in the meeting.”
Woznow said he would host monthly open meetings with the mayor. Regarding in camera meetings, Woznow said his assessment is that there had been far too many issues going on in camera.
“I would work with council to see whether or not there is too strict an interpretation,” he added.
Leishman was asked about climate change and inviting industry to Powell River. She said she would like industry to contribute to the community and the economy but not have negative impacts on the environment.
The fire hall/emergency services building assent vote [referendum] on the October 15 ballot was mentioned by Hathaway in her opening address and by Leishman in her closing address. Both candidates favoured electors casting ballots in favour of a new facility. Woznow was not asked this question by the moderator.
The city seeks to borrow up to $7.5 million for the construction of a new fire hall. Both Hathaway and Leishman mentioned that there are now grants available from senior levels of government that can be applied toward construction of fire halls.