Deb Kozak announced on Sunday afternoon that she will be the third candidate for the Nelson mayoral seat in the upcoming election, vying for a spot against retired Nelson cop Pat Severyn and incumbent John Dooley.
Kozak had been long rumoured to have mayoral ambitions. She made her announcement shortly after returning from a conference with the Union of BC Municipalities in Whistler. Some observers believe Severyn’s entry into the race will dilute Dooley’s conservative power base, which may give Kozak a better chance to take the top shot.
“I’m feeling calm and centred. I’m really relieved that I’ve come to a decision, because I’ve wrestled with it for months,” said the 60-year-old city councillor. “It’s time. I’ve been on council nine years and I thought ‘throw your hat in’.”
Kozak first moved to Nelson in 1983, when her husband was offered a job in the area, and they raised their children here. Kozak recently became a grandmother for the first time.
“I’ve loved Nelson ever since I stepped foot in it. I’ve been passionate about working and volunteering in the public and private sectors, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people, and for me the most important part of this community is its diversity and its passion. I want to see that continue.”
Around the time of her arrival, Nelson was in an economic downturn due to the closures of the Kootenay Forest Products plant and David Thompson University Centre. She was amazed at the time by the bold decision-making on the part of city council.
“It was a very frightening time. But it was at that time that the council of the day took a bold step forward to rejuvenate Baker. They said ‘we’re going to rip off all the old clapboards off these beautiful buildings and we’re going to go for it,” she said.
Kozak was inspired by the audacity of their undertaking, and by the resilience of the Nelson community, and now thirty years later she’s willing to tackle similarly large issues.
“One thing I’ve learned as a councillor, and even before that, is I’m good at conversation. And I’m good at welcoming even difficult conversations. We have a diverse community, and sometimes that leads to conflict. I think you work through those things, and you make better decisions when all those groups are pulled together, or at least have an opportunity to share what they think about the future,” she said.
So what are the conversation she imagines she’ll be having in the coming years?
“Affordable housing is definitely an issue,” she said. “I have some experience in this area because I worked for a non-profit around providing housing for marginalized people in the community, those who struggle. What I’m also starting to hear is that people of moderate income are finding it hard to live here, and that’s something we need to address.”
Kozak said she’s excited to hear the results of the cross-sectoral meeting recently hosted by council member Donna Macdonald, where a broad spectrum of the community met to discuss how to encourage affordable housing in the area.
“What I see is a lack of affordable rentals. Everyone wants to build a strata, because that’s a way for a developer to build a project, get the money and move on. It’s a bigger commitment to build a rental, and what I’m hearing is we need more.”
She said council can potentially incentivize building or maintaining suites by cutting water and sewer rates, a move they’ve already made but could take further. She said though housing is the purview of the provincial and federal government, the municipality can work alongside them.
Another issue Kozak is passionate about is climate change. She has been building a relationship with ALP-S, a climate institute in Austria that was brought to her attention by local climate scientist Mel Reasoner.
She visited and met with the executive director while she was on council.
“One of the things that was most encouraging to me is the first time we met he said `we’re going to change the world, aren’t we’?” she said. “I’m not so naive as to think our reliance on petroleum products is going to end tomorrow, but he said if we make a real commitment we could end our total reliance on gas and oil in a generation. To me, that’s extremely inspiring.”
Staff and council plan to visit ALP-S after the election to discuss further how they can partner on climate change initiatives, which includes introducing alternative energy systems, hosting community engagement initiatives and researching risk management.
“I know there’s something we can work together on,” she said.
Kozak also plans to continue the work she started on council, which includes ending the dog ban downtown and exploring how to open up Baker Street to pedestrians.
Kozak has already proposed ending the dog bylaw. After meeting with the business community and liaising with the police and bylaw officers, she learned that many would like to see the unusual bylaw changed.
“I took that idea to council and it didn’t even hit the floor for discussion. I was stunned by that,” she said. “If I was going to assume the chair, I’d say we’ve researched this one. Let’s move forward.”
Kozak said one of her primary goals is to continue to foster relationships with other communities in the region, and to learn from other cities’ work.
“In my work as chair of the local government’s committee for the Columbia River Treaty, it’s been such a gift to work with other politicians around the basin. I think those relationships will serve us well. We need to be thinking regionally.”
Kozak said she’s thrilled at the prospect of moving into her new role.
“I bring to the table experience, passion, heart and mind. What I have to offer is almost fearless exploration of who we can be.”
The election will be held on Saturday, November 15.