Nearly all Nelson council candidates indicated at a packed public forum tonight that they support revisiting the city’s controversial downtown dog ban.
Responding to a question from the floor, Michael Dailly began the discussion by saying Nelson’s animal control bylaw, which does not allow dogs on Baker Street, was “unwelcoming, unfriendly, and not good for business. I don’t understand why we still have the dog ban when businesses don’t want it.”
He said a bylaw is still necessary to ensure people keep dogs leashed, do not leave them unattended, and clean up after them, but he supports allowing the animals downtown.
Incumbent Robin Cherbo, who with the rest of city council except Deb Kozak, declined to revisit the issue following an unfavourable story in the National Post, said he “had a good feeling” the next council may lift the ban.
But he said the health and safety of citizens had to be taken into consideration. “I had one person walk up one side of me and down another for not allowing dogs. At the same time I’ve had a senior say if dogs are allowed on Baker Street, she won’t be shopping here. So it’s a balancing act.”
Cherbo proposed the city sell coloured leashes when issuing dog licenses so that bylaw officers can easily distinguish those that are obeying the rules from those that aren’t.
John Paolozzi cited an American Travel Association survey that suggested 18 per cent of tourists travel with their pets, and said many other places cater to dog owners.
When he first came to Nelson, he and his wife were stopped by a bylaw officer because of their dog. “It was so off-putting,” he said. “It was one of those negatives about moving to Nelson. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Anna Purcell said she was “shocked” to learn of the dog by-law when she moved to Nelson, but has also been surprised during her campaign to meet many people of differing backgrounds who remain in favour of it.
“I feel if we have a trial period of six months to a year and plan for success, we can re-evaluate it after that time,” she said. “Maybe we’ll wonder what on Earth we were all afraid of, or maybe we’ll say ‘Oh, that’s why we have a dog bylaw.’”
Janice Morrison said she stood in favour of taking another look at the by-law and asked other candidates who agreed to stand. Most did, including the three mayoral contenders, drawing cheers. “I think you’ve got your answer,” Morrison said.
Incumbent Bob Adams said when the bylaw was adopted in 1995, it made sense because many dogs downtown were tied to parking meters on short leashes, “and they were a big problem. Now I think the atmosphere has changed. Yes, I think we need to look at that bylaw.”
Charles Jeanes drew a laugh when he mimed stepping in doggie doo. He said it was worth considering how the bylaw came to be. “Don’t close your mind to why it’s there and think the people who passed it were not very smart. They had their reasons.”
Jeanes said he favoured the “experiment” of bringing dogs back to Baker, but if it turned out badly, would expect the regulation brought back. “It still comes down to the people who own dogs,” he said.
Brian Shields, a dog owner, said he doesn’t support the ban, which discourages out-of-town friends from visiting — but nor does he care for the “Orwellian concept” of coloured leashes. “I think we just have to put our adult pants on and bring our dogs downtown,” he said. “If it takes a trial period, so be it. But let’s just get on with it.”
Transit issues raised
Another recurring theme was transit. Mayoral candidates were asked if they would commit to providing a bus stop at the community complex and whether Sunday service might be restored.
Pat Severyn said he would like to see a stop at the complex. “That’s so important to seniors. And that’s not the only place. They’ve taken the bus stop away from Granite Manor, which is a strategic point, and they’ve taken service away from people on Perrier Road.”
Incumbent John Dooley, however, said regional transit went through a comprehensive review for the first time in many years, which identified areas of increasing demand and others of almost no ridership.
“The first stage of this review has been completed. I can assure you ridership on Perrier Road was not as high as in other areas of the city, and we rerouted accordingly.”
Dooley said the next stage of the review will occur early next year, and a bus to the rec complex could be considered then.
Deb Kozak said she struggled with eliminating Sunday service, but ultimately voted in favour with the understanding the seniors coordinating society would pick up some of the slack.
“When this comes back for review, we need to have a bit more of a community conversation about what the patterns are and where we need to see an increase,” she said. “So yes, let’s re-open that discussion.”
Council candidates were also quizzed about climate change, composting, renovations to the aquatic centre, and whether they have an anti-poverty strategy.
School trustee candidates were asked how they would get the provincial government’s attention to increase funding for education and recoup savings from this year’s teacher strike. All replied it will be very difficult, but requires broad community support.
All three mayoral candidates, 12 council challengers, and three school trustee candidates attended the meeting hosted by the Canadian Federation of University Women. The Central school gym was standing-room only, despite freezing temperatures and icy roads.
No candidate openly criticized any other. The closest was Kozak’s response at the end of the night to a question about how the mayoral hopefuls will ensure all voices are heard at council.
She said she offered a “different leadership style” that encourages debate and lets people feel respected when they bring ideas forward. “That hasn’t necessarily happened all the time in my term on council.”
Dooley, however, said under his leadership, councillors have chosen their own portfolios, whereas it was previously the mayor’s decision. He praised Cherbo for his “excellent” work with the airport and retiring councillor Donna Macdonald for her efforts to support arts and culture.
“Having said that, if you think running for municipal government is playing in a sandbox, it’s not. It’s tough at times.”
Severyn said council needs to be collegial and trust each other to be effective. “You don’t have to be friends all the time, but a council that gives a voice to all only makes the mayor that much stronger.”
Another forum is scheduled Wednesday at the Prestige Lakeside Resort from 7 to 9 p.m. for the mayoral candidates alone. General voting day is Saturday.