All 17 candidates for Parksville mayor and council, and more than 250 members of the public attended a forum Tuesday night sponsored by The News and Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce.
Each candidate had two minutes for opening and closing remarks and because of the large number of candidates, questions were read by a panel of four people to a single candidate, with a chance for a 30 second rebuttal by one other.
Asked what her top three areas of concern for Parksville are, incumbent Teresa Patterson said, “I’m sure everyone’s going to say the same thing,” and listed, “completing the official community plan (OCP) update, water treatment facility and urgent health care facility.”
Former mayor and current mayoral candidate Paul Reitsma agreed with the OCP priority, but said his main concerns would be fiscal restraint and making better decisions so they didn’t end up with things like an OCP update taking two years.
Reitsma’s basic message through the evening was that if council sticks to the OCP they won’t run into issues like large unpopular buildings on the beach.
Shy candidate Charlie Stone, best known for attending council meetings, has had trouble getting his point across in previous debates, but this time made some good points including wanting to encourage knowledge-economy jobs that won’t damage the environment and help keep and attract the much-talked-about younger set.
Stone also subtly declared his support of a fellow candidate, referring to “hopefully future councillor Neufeld.”
Alicia Vanin, 19, used her age to her advantage, appearing to win at least some points by admitting, “I don’t know everything, far from it. I need to rely on the community.”
But Vanin, like Jesse Schroeder, was specifically asked why the taxpayers of Parksville should elect them since they don’t reside or pay taxes in the city. They answered very similarly that they have lived here and in the area most of their lives. Vanin said she moved away six months ago to go to school in Nanaimo and she will be back here.
Schroeder pointed out that the city exists in a regional context and decisions here do affect him in the neighbouring rural area and said he aspires to live here when he can afford to.
Asked about tangible benefits from a suggested $1 million spent on consultants, incumbent Carrie Powell-Davidson admitted she was caught off guard by the question.
Powell-Davidson suggested the OCP and traffic studies where valuable. Incumbent Marc Lefebvre said the consultants are necessary and a better use of money than having various experts like mechanical engineers on staff that are only occasionally needed for big projects.
Reitsma wasn’t asked about being forced to resign as an MLA in 1998 after writing letters to newspapers under false names, but he was asked about rumours that despite saying he isn’t accepting campaign donations, his friends in the business community are planning a fundraising dinner after the election.
“Not that I know of,” he originally said but then later added that maybe someone had talked about a dinner, but he didn’t know any details.
Development was the big topic of the evening, with 13 of the 27 questions selected from audience submissions dealing with areas like downtown revitalization, the expanded fire hall, Wembley Mall and waterfront.
Asked whether the development cost charges (DCCs) cover increased costs to the city, incumbent Al Greir suggested the city needs more development in the downtown and the DCCs need to be reasonable. Candidate Bill Neufeld said some cities charge several times what Parksville does and that’s why the residents are paying high taxes, “because we don’t get enough DCCs.”
Acting mayor Chris Burger was asked directly about his vote for The Beach Club and whether he would commit to not allowing variances or “up-zoning” on the waterfront.
“Yes, absolutely,” he said enthusiastically and said he voted for The Beach Club during his first year on council because, “when I first arrived I didn’t have the wisdom” to stick to the OCP.
He also suggested there are a lot of good people who live and work at the resort who didn’t have anything to do with the decision.
Mayoral candidate Rick Honaizer spoke of his vision for a development beside The Beach Club with a plaza dropping down from street level to the beach, opening up views and increasing public space with parking and the tourist/commercial space underneath.
Honaizer, whose main platform is eliminating the consumption tax on water, stressed repeatedly that the only way to solve the city’s problems is promoting considerable growth.
Fringe mayoral candidate Antonio Farinha, who starts his speeches by telling people not to vote for him, repeated that he’s only running to talk about his beach concerns.
On Health Care
With the large panel of candidates in the race for Parksville mayor and council, questions where not allowed directly from the floor in Tuesday’s forum sponsored by The News and Chamber of Commerce.
Though no direct questions were asked about health care, and with chamber members selecting the audiences questions to be asked, the topic still came up several times.
Council candidate and retired paramedic Peter Simkin stressed in his opening that the planned Oceanside health facility would be a priority for him and that it needed to be staffed appropriately, saving a lot of people from having to go to Nanaimo.
Many others suggested in passing that the facility would be one of their priorities, but it wasn’t discussed in any detail.
An audience member, frustrated by the lack of health care questions stood up to interrupt. Moderator Wendy Mauer gave him a moment to speak then suggested the candidates could address it in their closing remarks but few did.
Former Parksville councillor Jim Banks, who worked in hospital administration for 55 years and was recently in the hospital with pneumonia, stressed that the facility is a provincial issue and the city shouldn’t spend one dime on it.
Look for more candidate coverage in The News’ Nov. 15 election special section.