By ROY WOOD
All eight candidates showed up Thursday trying to stand out in the very crowded field seeking one seat on town council for the next 10 months.
Sitting eight abreast at the head of the Oliver Legion hall, the would-be councillors took polite turns answering a series questions, first from forum sponsor the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce and then from some of the 80 or so folk in the audience.
The event was two and half hours of questions asked and answered with a high degree of repetition and widely varying levels of background knowledge. This article will attempt to hit the highlights, rather than offer a recapitulation.
(For a more focused look at the candidates’ positions and platforms, please see the four-part question-and-answer series that appeared on ODN on this week.)
The first chamber question asked about the biggest challenges facing local businesses and how the candidates might help solve them.
Patrick Hampson, a former councillor and mayor, suggested that convincing people to “stop and shop” in Oliver is made more difficult by the heavy truck traffic on Main Street.
He proposed making downtown businesses more accessible by turning Main Street into a one-way road headed southbound. Northbound traffic, he proposed, could be re-routed along Station Street through the downtown area.
Dave Mattes, the other candidate with council experience, said, “Attracting and maintaining customers is a problem (for businesses) everywhere.”
He said potential customers need a reason to start coming to Oliver, so the town needs to get the word out about “what a gem Oliver is.”
The chamber also asked the candidates for their views on the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan.
Aimee Grice said she had “immersed myself” in the issue for 24 hours. Her conclusion is that Oliver should hold a referendum on the subject.
Hampson wouldn’t go that far, but said the views of Oliver residents need to be sought out. He said that his view at this point is one of “qualified support” for a national park preserve.
Mattes said the issue came before council when he was a councillor and the group decided not to take a position for or against. “I still agree with that.”
Peter* McKenna, reading from prepared answers as he did most of the evening, suggested: “There can be no solution without dialogue. … We need to get back to the table and get this monkey off our back,” and concentrate on more important issues.
Candidates Charles Pollard and Lutz Stelzner both confessed to knowing nothing about the national park issue.
Susan Kosola recalled the stunning changes that occurred in the town of Banff over the decades and asked rhetorically: “Is Banff the way Oliver wants to go?”
An audience member asked the panel how the town should address the potential financial impact of replacing part of the agricultural irrigation system. The cost is estimated at about $10 million, of which the province has agreed to pay half. The town is lobbying the federal government to cover the other half, so far without success.
Mattes suggested that the two water councillors are reluctant to spend money, but since the bulk of users of the system are in the regional district and not the town, “It might be time to put an extra levy on the farmers.”
Hampson said he “can’t imagine the province letting the town pick up the tab.”
The farming community was on the hot seat again over the issue of seasonal farm workers, many of them from Quebec, and their spring and summer impact on the community.
McKenna said it is the responsibility of the orchard owners to provide housing for their seasonal pickers. Since the orchards tend to be in the rural area, he said, it is the regional district, not the town, who should be ensuring that housing is provided.
He pointed out that farmers are required by the federal government to provide housing for foreign temporary workers, primarily from Mexico.
Grice said she joined the June 24 St. Jean Baptiste celebrations at Lions Park and that several of the Quebecois pickers told her they have experienced racism while in the Okanagan.
Stelzner said, “Whether you’re a picker or tourist you still have to obey the bylaws.”
Asked to assess the performance of the current council, the panel was unanimous in its praise, particularly around its recent success in attracting s a hotel to town.
“I’ve read the minutes of the meetings for the last six months,” said candidate Don Lawlor, “and they aren’t sloughing anything off.”
An audience member asked what Oliver has to celebrate. “If the rest of the world goes to hell,” said Kosola, “we’ve got food and wine. We’ll be fine.”
The advance poll for the by-election is on Wednesday, Nov. 22. General voting day is Saturday, Dec. 2.
- Apologies for the name error