Nearly all the candidates in the upcoming Nelson municipal election were in attendance at the reverse candidate’s forum held in the basement of the Best Western Hotel earlier this evening, and were on-hand to listen as approximately 68 residents aired their grievances, expressed their hopes and introduced themselves to the hopefuls.
For the first hour the candidates circled the room, many of them wearing poppies, and listened to the residents. Many took notes. A few asked questions. Once the hour had reached a close, host Rona Park welcomed everyone to grab some coffee and take a break before hearing each candidate offer their three-minute recap of what they had just heard.
“I hope you’ve found your voice,” she said to the audience.
The candidates’ names were chosen at random, and each was handed the microphone. Though some chose to relate the concerns they’d heard around the table, others took the opportunity to introduce themselves to the community and outline their platforms.
The primary issue that came up repeatedly over the course of the evening was affordable housing. A few candidates — including Michael Dailly, Anna Purcell, Val Warmington, Bob Adams and Robin Cherbo — spoke in support of incentivizing the construction of affordable housing units like Anderson Gardens, and expressed their concerns about the cost of living.
Mayoral candidates Pat Severyn and Deb Kozak both agreed it was a pressing issue.
“Affordable housing is an issue that has plagued us for many years,” said Kozak. “That issue has not gone away, and what’s happened more recently, which I find quite alarming, is that I’m hearing people are finding it difficult to live here because there are no decent rentals. There’s no affordable housing, and there are people struggling to make ends meet, to find a place to be.”
Severyn concurred, adding that maintaining the spirit of Nelson means being more proactive about sustainable development.
“People come in and build these big fortresses that may or may not be lived in six months of the year? Those things are going to be a problem down the line. We need to be looking at the big picture,” he said.
Incumbent Mayor John Dooley was unable to attend or comment due to a family emergency.
Many of the residents expressed concerns about the spending involved in the Hall Street corridor project Store to Shores, which was recently delayed. Council candidate Justin Peil echoed their concerns, and expressed his solidarity on the issue.
Taking a slightly more extreme stance was candidate Charles Jeanes, who declared himself the “anti-development” candidate and promised to bring all future projects grinding to a halt. Others, like candidates Justin Pelant, Jeff Shecter and John Paolozzi, urged council to embrace fiscal responsibility while continuing to soldier ahead on-pace.
“Nelson doesn’t need to grow,” Jeanes said, adding that the community isn’t currently addressing the issues of the present population. “There are two Nelsons. The Nelson for one group of people, and then there’s a Nelson for people who are struggling in some way or another.”
This was a theme also touched on by council candidates Janice Morrison, Paolozzi and Purcell, all who testified personally about hearing stories of residents’ struggles to get by financially. Severyn said he was most moved by a story about a young man who had realized he needed to move away from the Kootenays to get ahead financially.
“Keep the kids of Nelson in Nelson,” concurred Brian Shields, to a generous smattering of applause.
Shields also took the opportunity to vow his support for Sensible BC’s campaign to end cannabis prohibition, and encouraged residents to read local spokesperson Herb Couch’s interviews with the candidates on the subject. Nobody else spoke on the issue.
Some major topics were missed—the Nelson Police’s proposed budget hike, for instance—and there were very few ideas expressed that seemed to polarize the candidates, but all of them welcomed the opportunity to participate and meet so intimately with the voters.
“Once again the city of Nelson residents didn’t surprise me,” said Severyn. “Some of those here are in a poverty situation and some aren’t, but it’s nice to see them come together around a table and talk.”
Deb Kozak echoed the sentiment, and added that she now plans to pick up a book that was mentioned over the course of the evening: Scarcity:Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.
“The understanding of issues within the room is complex and deep, and the people who are experiencing these issues are articulate and committed to finding solutions, and I found it really respectful. I really appreciate when people come to the table and speak with dignity, passion and knowledge.That’s how we’re going to get things done.”
The evening was hosted by the Social Action Planning Network (SPAN).
The election is on November 15.