Civic election is not child's play
All four Parksville mayoral candidates attended a classroom forum at Winchelsea Elementary on Thursday.
The two Grade 5 classes of Petra Knight and Steve Gilmour invited the candidates to help students understand and start getting involved in the political process.
“We make decisions for everyone, you don’t have to be voting age,” pointed out acting mayor Chris Burger in his opening remarks, thanking the classes and praising them for the effort.
“I want to make sure to keep taxes low so your parents have more money to buy you Christmas presents,” said candidate Paul Reitsma, taking a different approach with his young audience, bringing in wooden shoes from his birth country of Holland as a prop.
Rick Honaizer said as mayor he would cut the city’s water charges, encourage a beautiful plaza development on the beach and help the city grow.
Antonio Farinha said he would stop the beach from being destroyed, raise wages and stop foreigners from taking local jobs.
After opening statements students asked serious and mature questions starting with what the candidates would do about empty stores and how would they promote business growth.
Reitsma blamed the current situation on too many restrictions from city hall which scare off new business, the providers of jobs.
Burger pointed out the city can’t create businesses or jobs themselves, but can help create the conditions to attract business.
Honaizer said the city has barely grown in the 20 years he’s lived here and blamed city hall for over charging and regulating businesses and developers, forcing some out of town and keeping others from coming.
Asked what they would do to help the poor in Parksville, Honaizer pointed out “nobody wants to be poor,” and again blamed city policy for discouraging growth.
“I will create jobs by getting construction going, and construction jobs are some of the best paying jobs you can get.”
Reitsma said the most the city can do is help develop low-cost housing.
Burger said he supports low-cost housing and things like carriage houses which help, but added that housing is a provincial and federal issue that the city has limited resources to deal with.
Farinha said that in his home country of Portugal you don’t see beggars and poor people in the streets and that he would help that here by developing businesses that provide jobs and introduce policies that would make sure “no immigrants like Mexicans and Filipinos are hired before local people.”
Several of the students’ questions where about things the city can’t do anything about directly, the candidates pointed out, such as a request to bring a movie theatre and wave pool with water slides to town.
The candidates answered that the best they can do is encourage growth, to reach a big enough population that those businesses survive here.
Burger said the city does have a share in the Ravensong pool and that the city is part of the wider region that provides services. He also encouraged students to attend things like music in the park and community centre movie nights.
Reitsma again pointed out that to have a pool would mean higher taxes, which would cut into the students’ Christmas presents.
Asked about building a full hospital in Parksville, the candidates essentially agreed, as they did on many questions, explaining there are not enough people here for a full scale hospital and while the planned health centre will be a good thing it will not be enough and the community should keep pushing for more.
Asked by Burger’s son Logan, who happened to be in the class, why it’s important to vote and how to get more people to do it, Reitsma pointed out 50 to 100 people can change a city council and have a real impact.
“You’re doing it here today, learning the principals of democracy,” said Burger.
He decried the terrible voter turnout in municipal politics and that they are beginning to look into things like on-line voting to make it more appealing to young people, but that there are issues that have to be worked out first.
Honaizer said it is about caring about the issues in your community and he encouraged the students to make a difference and encourage their parents to vote.
“Politicians are a special type of person,” Farinha said. “Year after year they promise things but they are just there to better themselves and their families and that’s why your parents have lost faith.”