About 300 people packed the Central school gym on Wednesday for the Nelson all-candidates forum. Our reporter insists discussion around the downtown dog bylaw was the biggest news of the night.

COLUMN: The dog debate and other pre-election observations

City of Nelson: The biggest story out of Monday’s all-candidates meeting, according to me, was the idea of revisiting the downtown dog ban.

The biggest story out of Monday’s all-candidates meeting in Nelson, according to me, was the nearly unanimous response to the idea of revisiting and possibly doing away with the city’s downtown dog ban.

How can that be, council candidate Jason Peil asked afterward, when much headier issues including transportation, homelessness/poverty reduction, and the environment were also discussed?

“I would like to remind the public that the number one issue for most candidates and certainly myself is the need to address our housing concerns in Nelson,” he said, adding that while he cares about the dog debate, he doesn’t think it is a major concern.

“Nelson is past it, and more important issues are on our horizon that affect our community in terms of affordability, lifestyle, mental health, civic leadership and other side benefits.”

Fair enough. But I believe Monday’s dog debate was noteworthy for three reasons.

First, the position of nearly all candidates, including the incumbents, is at odds with council’s stance of almost 20 years. (Although agreeing to revisit the issue is not necessarily the same thing as agreeing to repeal the ban.) By contrast, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who objects to affordable housing.

Second, it’s not complicated. Whether you’re for it or against it, it doesn’t require a lot of thought to wrap your head around the idea of allowing dogs on Baker Street.

Third, and most important, unlike some of the bigger-picture issues, council can actually take direct, decisive, and immediate action. They don’t need to hire a consultant, lobby other levels of government, or spend money. They can just lift the ban if they so desire.

Given the stance most candidates expressed Monday, we can expect the new council will do so, at least for a trial period. That’s what mayoral candidate Deb Kozak tried to do this term, but couldn’t find any support for on council.

Discussion on the other, broader topics was welcome, but it remains to be seen what it adds up to. Housing may well be the number one issue for most candidates, but I’m not convinced the City of Nelson — or any other local government — can accomplish much.

That said, the city does have a housing committee and council just gave $15,000 from its affordable housing fund to refurbish two rooms at Ward Street Place. The fund, created in 2006, is paid by developers seeking zoning or OCP amendments that result in greater residential or commercial density.

Peil suggested the city can do more to encourage secondary suites, including making it easier for landlords to legalize them.

APPLAUSE-O-METER: All candidates received applause Monday. None received any boos. Cheers were heard when various candidates mentioned repealing the dog ban as well as the city’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Peil also received applause when he suggested Nelson has the largest small town pride event in North America.

Quietest candidate: Justin Pelant, who I don’t think spoke after delivering his opening statement.

Most loquacious candidate: No award, as the microphone was pretty well spread around.

Most entertaining: Charles Jeanes, who drew the biggest laughs and obviously enjoyed himself.

Although he’s never been elected, and probably won’t be this time either, the anti-development candidate has participated in more election forums than anyone else on stage Monday.

He also delivered the most unusual opening statement, reciting lyrics from the Five Man Electrical Band song I’m a Stranger Here, including “I only pray that you take my advice/Because Paradise won’t come twice.” (Fellow candidate Brian Shields quipped that he was also tempted to offer a song but “You can’t top Charles.”)

The next morning Jeanes was at Remembrance Day ceremonies carrying an anti-war sign, as part of his annual silent protest, which irritates people who don’t understand or agree with him. Others have come to accept him. But for the first time things briefly turned physical, as a man actually tried to wrest Jeanes’ sign from him.

TURNOUT TALLY: I’ll be interested to see if a tighter race for mayor results in a higher turnout. In 2011, with John Dooley’s re-election all but a foregone conclusion, only 33 per cent of residents bothered to cast ballots.

CONSERVATION CONUNDRUM: The Kootenay Conservation Program appears concerned about the outcome of Saturday’s referendum on establishing a conservation fund in three areas of the Regional District of Central Kootenay.

They issued a news release this week following a series of public meetings.

“Regrettably, there seems to be some misinformation being circulated, so we want residents to know the facts and to have that knowledge result in support for the initiative when they vote,” program manger Dave Hillary said.

The referendum asks residents and property owners of areas A (East Shore), D (Rural Kaslo), and E (Rural Nelson) whether they support a $15 per year parcel tax to raise a total of $106,500 per year for local conservation projects.

A similar program has been very successful in East Kootenay, where over $1.5 million has been spent on 44 projects since 2008. However, the knock I’m hearing here is that people are reluctant to part with their money before projects are identified.

While the Kootenay Conservation Program administers the fund in East Kootenay, it does not propose projects. Rather, it issues a call for proposals and each year 15 to 30 groups come forward. A review committee then evaluates those ideas and makes recommendations to the regional district.

The referendum requires majority approval from all three areas combined, so it’s conceivable it could pass in one or two, but still fail overall.

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