Nelson mayoral candidates John Dooley, Deb Kozak and Pat Severyn were given their last opportunity to publicly pitch themselves to the Nelson community on Wednesday evening as approximately 200 people packed into the Prestige Lake Resort for a two-hour conversation with Juice FM’s Glenn Hicks. And though Hicks called it an election “with no calamitous issues,” emotions ran high as he grilled the candidates on their plans for the city.
Perhaps the most emotionally fraught encounter came after Hicks suggested that Dooley’s leadership style had been partly responsible for the departure of four female council members, a suggestion that Severyn echoed and claimed as one of his primary reasons for running. Kozak offered a milder criticism of Dooley’s leadership style, saying that some council conversations were not as “robust” as they should have been, and cited examples of where she felt Dooley’s passion got in the way.
“There are issues I’m very passionate about, and I won’t mask that. I think we’ve done an excellent job and I have the utmost respect for all the people at the table. But we have an agenda we have to move our way through, and that’s really important,” said Dooley.
It’s respect for that agenda, and for the pre-established priorities of his administration, that compelled him to shut down conversation about Sensible BC’s anti-violence initiative in 2012 and to pass on repealing the dog bylaw downtown. He said that time can be better spent on bigger, more important issues.
“What I’ve experienced is a lack of communication,” said Kozak. “When there are issues that are delicate or need more conversation or debate, that isn’t necessarily welcomed all the time.”
For instance, Kozak said she had concerns about Dooley’s passionate support for a proposed mural on the backside of the Civic Centre. She told the audience she asked Dooley to step down as chair during the debate, but he refused. And though she said Dooley’s treatment of fellow councillors has caused concerns, she stopped short of saying any of them were leaving council for that reason.
Severyn, however, claimed that at least one council member has left because of Dooley’s bullying tactics and told him so.
“I want to change the leadership. I want to change the way councillors are treated,” he said.
Severyn also faced criticism that he’s inexperienced, has little involvement in the arts and is perhaps jumping the municipal queue. Dooley expressed incredulity that Severyn would run for mayor without first going for council, and said he’s only seen him at four council meetings during his time as mayor. Severyn shot back that he’d attended more than that, and was well-versed in the issues facing Nelson.
“The mayor’s job has no real pre-requisites,” said Severyn, noting that his 30 years of experience on the Nelson Police force has given him plenty of “transferable skills”, including a strength for building relationships. He vowed to be accessible to everyone in the community “from the bottom of the payroll scale all the way to the top.”
“I’m not a career politician and I don’t plan to be a career politician. But I’ll empower council to do what’s right for the citizens.”
Hicks’ biggest concern with Kozak was the timing of the announcement of her mayoral ambitions. Because she had been long rumoured to have ambitions, he wondered why she waited. It was during this part of the evening that Kozak affirmed publicy for the first time that she had been considering running for office at the federal level for “anybody but the Conservatives”. She said it was a terribly difficult decision that gave her sleepless nights, but she felt it was “time to lead”.
He asked her about her recent endorsement from Sensible BC, calling her the “marijuana chick”.
“I think what Sensible BC saw in me is I have the ability to say `let’s have a conversation’. Our current laws don’t make sense and I know our police officers over the years have been very aware that our laws for simple possession don’t make sense. It’s pretty sad when our pot tourism is going south.”
Severyn seconded Kozak’s sentiments, while Dooley was more tight-lipped on the matter. He emphasized that his position on the police board put him in an uncomfortable position.
“We have to uphold the law of the land,” he said.
The Hall Street corridor project Stores to Shores got plenty of attention from the three candidates, with Kozak and Dooley throwing their weight behind it while Severyn spoke out in opposition. Dooley reminded the audience that the impetus for the project was the yearly flooding on Front Street and that much of the infrastructure involved badly needed to be replaced. Kozak said she believes the project could be completed in phases, making it less daunting and financially burdensome.
Another area of contention was Railtown and the site of the old transfer station. While Dooley wouldn’t be more specific than saying he wanted “further conversation”, both Severyn and Kozak expressed interest in creating some sort of tourist attraction or public park with access to the waterfront. Kozak said Vancouver would’ve been short-sighted to ask “What do we need Stanley Park for?” and that Nelson should embrace a long-term plan for the future.
“We can never have enough pretty in Nelson,” said Severyn.
Dooley told the audience that the next four years will be critical, and that he is the only candidate with the proven leadership skills capable of making Nelson prosper. He outlined his major achievements, including introducing new revenue streams to the community, investing in broadband infrastructure and accomplishing a number of large development projects. In 2015 he said $10-million in infrastructure funds will be available for the taking, and he wants to see Nelson continue to grow on-pace.
“I know where the money is, and I know how to get our fair share,” he said.
During Kozak’s final statement, she said it’s time for an evolution on Nelson city council.
“The next four years are going to be critical. We’ve been resting on our laurels and we’re considered quite smug. I think what we’ve been hearing is we’re ready for the next evolution. I’ve been working hard to make relationships for the last nine years regionally, provincially and federally.”
And Severyn said that though he may be new to municipal politics, he isn’t new to the Kootenays.
“I’m not new to Nelson. I’m not new to this city at all. I walked the beat for thirty years and I talked to every single person from pan handlers all the way up the chain. I’m ready for this,” he said.
The election is on Saturday.