The three candidates for City of Powell River mayor in the upcoming municipal election participated in a public forum on October 3 at Evergreen Theatre, where the contenders outlined their priorities for if they get elected and fielded questions from the audience.
The event, hosted by Powell River Chamber of Commerce, began with opening statements from each candidate.
Ron Woznow used his time to respond to a document circulating via email and social media that he said contained “media quotes” that were “taken out of context” and were aimed at discrediting him. Although he didn’t elaborate on the document’s contents, he suggested it was the work of “shadow people” orchestrating a “misinformation campaign.”
“I’ve been running on a platform of total transparency, honesty and integrity,” said Woznow. “My goal is to help resolve our city’s many challenges by leading a strong team at city hall.”
Top of the list, he added, is addressing “potential huge increases in taxes.”
CaroleAnn Leishman, a current city councillor, responded to suggestions that she is a “one-issue” candidate. During her opening remarks, she said she is dedicated to working on a range of issues, including truth and reconciliation with Tla’amin Nation. Leishman noted that she is supportive of the 11 recommendations that came out of the Joint Working Group’s report for the city’s potential name change.
She added that she is also dedicated to making progress on housing development – noting that in her experience working for a construction developer, she has built “all types of housing,” including 34 seniors’ rental housing units for a local nonprofit society. As well, Leishman said she is committed to tackling the climate emergency.
“I’ll work hard as a full-time mayor for the city on all of the issues, not just one,” said Leishman.
Maggie Hathaway told the audience she has lived in Powell River since 1979, and has held a number of public service roles including at city hall, in legal aid, and as Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons’ constituency assistant. Hathaway has been a city councillor for 14 years.
She outlined a list of the current council’s achievements, including a rebuild of the north harbour, and an expansion of the south harbour.
“We did a bike park, a skateboard park and a dog park,” said Hathaway. “And now we have a downtown pocket park complete with a town clock. We brought fiber optic to Powell River; we built a library.”
“We created bylaws to create secondary suites and carriage houses. We’ve worked with nonprofits who have provided us with unprecedented numbers of affordable units.”
The first question from the audience asked each candidate which six council candidates they could imagine working with at city hall. All three said they would endeavour to work as a team and find common ground with whoever ends up getting elected.
Another question asked how each would manage the city’s long-term debt and ensure staff reports accurately reflect the state of the city’s finances.
Hathaway said the city hires the “very best” staff.
“We have a chief financial officer who does an extremely good job, [and] we depend on those staff to keep us within the guidelines that are allowable for debt,” she added.
Leishman agreed, explaining that “we hire really good people, and we do have to put trust in them, and we also have auditors come in and look over everything.
“I will definitely be trying to come up with better strategies for how we can look at reducing the interest rate if we can,” added Leishman.
Woznow said he would address debt by bringing “good industries” to the city that will “increase our commercial tax bases.” He added that he will work to “eliminate some of the very high legal costs.
“I’ve got a lot of experience in that area and we will significantly reduce the cost of lawyers,” said Woznow.
A question for Woznow about his past experience representing Imperial Oil on a risk assessment task force following the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India was not permitted by the forum’s moderator, who said questions could only be directed at all candidates.
Another member of the audience asked each candidate how they would address mental health and addiction issues in the community. Hathaway said a lot of people in the province are working hard on those issues, but have not been successful so far.
“There’s other legislation that’s coming through for clean drugs here in Powell River,” she added, also referring to the city’s harm reduction services, which includes the overdose prevention site. “[It] was a big step forward.”
Woznow spoke of his experiences on the boards of drug crisis centres in cities across Canada. He said he would make drug analysis services in Powell River a priority.
Leishman said council worked hard to bring supportive housing and overdose prevention facilities into the community.
“Our community has been successful with $2 million over three years in complex care supports for people with mental health and substance use,” she said. “I would continue working on making sure that is being implemented well.”
Another question concerned Tla’amin Nation’s interest in purchasing the 30-acre mill site at Tis’kwat and all of its industrial assets. The audience member asked each candidate about their experiences working with Tla’amin that would help the city move forward together with the nation.
Woznow did not outline specific experiences he has working with Tla’amin, but said he and his late wife Susan started a foundation in 2008 aimed at increasing the number of Indigenous students in Canada graduating from science or engineering programs. Fifteen students who were assisted by the project, he said, “were from Powell River.”
“I paid my dues, and I feel very comfortable,” said Woznow.
Leishman said she has a good relationship with the Tla’amin executive council, and she respects its decision to move forward in attempting to become a partner or owner of the mill site.
“I would work very hard on trying to find a good opportunity there and work closely with the nation,” she added, “or whichever businesses come on to that site.”
Hathaway also expressed support for the proposal.
“It’s a great idea, Tla’amin partnering with maybe not just one, maybe several industrial proposals that may be happening down there,” said Hathaway. “I would work closely, if I was elected, with our previous mayor to make sure some of those proposals come to fruition.”
In response to questions about the future of the Zunga Bus pilot program and better transit in the community, Leishman explained that the program is being funded by city council until the end of December, and that there is a proposal to use some of the city’s climate action reserve funds to carry it on in 2023.
“BC Transit just came with a new service agreement proposal to say they could help us fund the Zunga bus on-demand transit in 2024,” she added.
Hathaway said the Zunga bus is a “great program.” One issue is that it only services Westview, but taxpayers across the city are funding it, she added.
“That’s the kind of dilemma you deal with every day: Should we provide the service through next year?” she added. “Or should we cancel it because not everybody gets it?”
Woznow did not address the Zunga bus concern specifically, but referred to his local work on getting covered bus shelters and supporting a petition to encourage provincial and local governments to reestablish a transit link to Vancouver.
“I’d continue to promote that,” he said.
Regarding the referendum on the $7.5 million new fire hall loan, Hathaway stressed that the vote doesn’t mean the city will immediately borrow that sum. She noted that grant opportunities are available, but they require a demonstration of community support.
“I hope you vote in favour of the referendum on the 15th,” said Hathaway.
Woznow said that he thinks the city should put the new fire hall on hold until it can ascertain a better understanding of its financial position.
“We’ve got some serious research to do before we pursue this,” he added.
Leishman said she is concerned about the state of the current fire hall.
“It is 50-plus years old; it is hollow, concrete block construction,” she added. “I’m in favour of the borrowing at this time.”
General election day is October 15. Read all Peak election coverage at prpeak.com/2022-civic-election.