Nelson’s municipal election candidates grappled with questions about climate and the environment at a forum in Nelson on Oct. 5.
About 160 people attended the session at the Nelson United Church that was sponsored by the Nelson Chapter of the Council of Canadians, West Kootenay Climate Hub, and Nelson Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health.
All 10 council candidates and all but one mayoral candidate attended. Mayoral candidate Mike Zeabin was not present.
The candidates were given three questions in advance, and one minute to answer each.
Question 1. Nelson has a car-traffic, pollution and parking problem. The Nelson Next climate change plan says we should lead the country in public transit, facilitated bicycle and pedestrian routs and electric transportation. What will you do to make this happen?
Mayoral candidate Tom Pryor said he would make downtown Baker Street car-free.
Mayoral candidate John Buffery said he wants to reduce the dangers of cycling on the Orange Bridge (owned and operated by the provincial government) and would like to extend an (already planned) bike route from downtown into Rosemont, as a way of reducing parking problems and pollution.
Incumbent councillor Jesse Woodward said he would support the city’s climate energy team that has been hired to implement Nelson Next, the city’s climate plan.
Incumbent councillor Rik Logtenberg said he is pushing for more transit including a daily commuter run to Salmo, and a card tap system for fares. As a member of the West Kootenay Transit Committee he said he is advocating for an electric bus for Nelson to begin the transition to electric.
Incumbent councillor Keith Page said council has to find ways to make transit the most “convenient, suitable and superior option.” He said the active transportation route from downtown into Rosemont is a priority, and that whatever is developed needs to be equitable and available to everyone including renters.
Incumbent mayor John Dooley said transportation is a complex problem because in the summer the population of Nelson temporarily doubles because of outsiders arriving in cars, and they arrive in response to our marketing of the area to tourists. As for the transit system, Dooley said the transit exchange planned for Victoria Street will help.
Council candidate Glen Sutherland said all modes of transportation must be an integrated system. He said crosswalks in Nelson and the Orange Bridge are dangerous for cyclists. Predictive technology, Sutherland said, could be used to solve traffic problems.
Mayoral candidate Janice Morrison added the system should be regionally interconnected and that there is money available for bus shelters. She said she wants to see park-and-rides for daily commuters from out of town.
Council candidate Leslie Payne said council should legislate designated spots in new developments for car share vehicles. She also wants to see more enforcement of snow shovelling on major routes and the electric bike financing program extended to those who may not be eligible now.
Other candidates all said transit is an important issue and they would work to improve it.
Question 2. Several municipalities in B.C., including Victoria, Comox, and Vancouver, are phasing out natural gas and bringing in fossil fuel-free heating in all new buildings by 2025. Do you support Nelson doing the same and if so, how would you help this move forward?
Three candidates – Page, Prior and council candidate Brenton Raby – said they do not support this.
Raby said he would support private innovators working on this, but not the city, because the city has allowed the installation of gas heaters to heat outdoor restaurant patios.
Page said that he instead wants to focus on retrofitting old buildings, giving as an example the plans for the Civic Centre, which will “wrap an envelope around that old building.”
Prior said the city should instead be heating all new buildings with geothermal energy and should have been doing that for decades.
Logtenberg and Woodward said they support this but it is a complex problem because natural gas is the cheapest available fuel and any changes are likely to make heating less affordable for those least able to afford it. They said the Nelson Next climate plan provides a framework for reducing emissions from buildings.
Dooley said provincial and federal grants for this are inconsistent and he would work for more consistency.
Other candidates answered “yes” to this question, giving unspecific suggestions about realistic timelines, incentives, rebates, education, consultation with experts, and the expansion of Nelson Hydro.
Question 3. What is your idea for one major project that would put Nelson on the map as a leading environmental/climate action community in Canada?
Morrison said she wants to see deeper retrofits to the Civic Centre, the funding for which has already been secured by the present council. She said Nelson already has two made-in-Nelson nationally recognized programs, the EcoSave program and the e-bike loan program.
Payne said she is not concerned about putting Nelson on the map, but rather that Nelson should provide solutions for people who live here, now and in the future.
Council candidate Kyle Wilkinson also said he is not concerned about putting Nelson on the map. He mentioned food security but no specific project.
Council candidate Jesse Pineiro said Nelson should use its public spaces for food production.
Sutherland said no specific project in itself will put Nelson on the map for more than one news cycle. He commended the current council on its climate initiatives and said the city has to build a culture of climate awareness.
Dooley said it is important that we are on the map because that helps the city obtain provincial and federal grants for climate initiatives. He offered no specific project.
Raby said Nelson Hydro should install “advanced metering infrastructure” (smart meters) to help the utility manage peak use and customers save energy and money. He said there would have to be appropriate privacy guarantees.
Council candidate Ainsleah Hastings advocated rooftop gardens, stating that buildings are the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and citing research that shows many benefits of rooftop gardens including that they lose less heat in the summer and are cooler in the summer.
Page advocated the restoration of wetland between Cottonwood Lake and the mouth of Cottonwood Creek, with a walking/biking corridor that would connect to the rail trail.
Logtenberg said Nelson is already on the map, otherwise it would not be getting the grants Dooley referred to. He said his project would be to share Nelson’s great ideas with the rest of the world, and he cited the federally funded Youth Climate Corps as an example.
Woodward said Nelson is already on the map because of its Nelson Next climate plan and the staffing that is in place for it, and now the project is to implement it.
Buffery wants to see the unoccupied land near the mouth of Cottonwood Creek and the old transfer station (contaminated land owned partly by the city and partly by CP Rail) brought back to its natural state.