Nicole Charlwood is one of three candidates running in the municipal byelection on March 27 to replace former councillor Brittny Anderson. Charlwood was the Green Party candidate in Nelson-Creston in the 2020 provincial election and acted as campaign manager for two previous Green candidates.
She is a project management consultant who has served in executive positions for the West-Kootenay Ecosociety and Nelson Waldorf School. She serves on the Watershed Advisory Committee for RDCK Area E.
This Q&A interview, conducted on Zoom on March 10, has been edited for brevity. The questions were not provided to the candidate in advance.
Why are you running?
When the byelection was called, I felt I had the skills and the motivation, frankly, to step up. It’s my turn to do some of the work that I’ve been asking others to do for about a decade.
I’ve spent over a decade now recruiting politicians, and supporting their campaigns, and door knocking and asking people what’s important and getting involved with all sorts of community organizations. That’s been an ongoing conversation I’ve been a part of for a long time.
What are two municipal issues you are concerned about?
First, making Nelson a livable and affordable city. There’s so many initiatives working on that, but it could be more co-ordinated and strategic. The city has a bigger role than it’s playing right now, whether it’s land use and participating in social development on Nelson land, I think there are opportunities there. Affordability is probably the biggest issue I see facing the residents of Nelson.
Second, municipalities are faced with about 80 per cent of the work residents expect to see from government, yet they’re only given about 10 per cent of the public purse. So there’s a huge gap between what a city would be asked to do versus the money we collect. Taxation of residents is regressive, it’s difficult to raise money in that way from where it is now. You can’t do any major increases in that way. We can’t bring a whole lot of new people in to pay these taxes. So where is our money coming from to support the ever growing needs that our city faces?
There’s money to be raised from the other levels of government. And that’s a huge role for a city councillor to be out there advocating and supporting community initiatives in that way.
What does the city spend most of its money on?
I have been watching some council’s budget discussions. Those are really interesting to me, because that’s where the rubber hits the road. What are we actually spending our money on is a real clue to the values and priorities set by the city.
I know that a quarter of our money goes to policing. I could not confidently say a percentage for other expenditures.
Are there any budget issues that concern you?
I question how council decides which projects to approve. Maybe they have a framework and it’s just not clear from the outside.
When I see projects like the pier project going forward, and that it could cost taxpayers up to a million dollars — the lowest estimate I saw was a few hundred thousand for a project that I’m not sure I would consider that a priority item.
What has the city done, and what should it do, to protect us from wildfire?
There has been a lot of planning already gone into what would a fire look like in the city and how might we deal with it.
There are some forestry attempts that some argue could support fire fighting efforts, but I don’t necessarily align with that. I would love to see better protection of the forests, cleaning up of our forests around the city. I think that has not happened in a productive way that also works to protect our water source.
Some of that water source work has happened, which is great.
Cleaning up our forests checks a lot of boxes – it’s about getting jobs into our community and taking ownership of the land around us and taking a stewardship approach.
We’ve been testing our communications, should there be a fire emergency. That’s been rolling out really well.
What has the city done, and what should it do, to support small businesses?
A city is not going to do all for small business. They’re out there doing it themselves. So in some regards, it’s get out of the way. In some regards, it’s about helping.
It might not be direct support, but the city is responsible for access to water and having good transportation routes. So I think we can continue to work on things like transportation.
I was pleasantly surprised at how many small businesses are doing quite well, despite COVID.
I love that there’s bigger patios, I hope we keep them. I’d love to start seeing more energy around that outdoor space. The city can play a great role in that.
What has the city done, and what should it do, to mitigate the effects of climate change?
The city signed on to 100 per cent Renewable Kootenays and most recently developed their Nelson Next plan.
Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing the city and will be the one of the biggest drains and demands on city resources: how we’re dealing with flooding, fires, and we could get food insecurity.
We could have energy insecurity as a result. And that hits at the heart of city work.
I look forward to taking that Nelson Next plan and integrating some social considerations into it. It’s very climate focused. I think tunnel vision for any issue can be problematic. So perhaps looking at it with a slightly broader lens, and then actioning it. Plans are great, but until we start seeing action on the ground, it’s all just talk.
Where to vote
March 17: advance voting at City Hall, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
March 24: advance voting at City Hall, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
March 27: general voting day at Prestige Lakeside Resort, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.