At a forum for Nelson mayoral candidates on Oct 12, one of the candidates gave the crowd a big surprise.
Candidate Tom Prior said he had voted in an advance poll for another candidate.
“Well, folks, I went and voted for Janice (Morrison) today. You know, reality sucks, folks.”
This elicited surprised laughter from the crowd of about 225 at the Prestige Lakeside Resort.
Prior said this in his closing statement, after responding to all the questions in the forum.
The event was sponsored by the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Bob Hall and Darren Davidson.
They asked questions formulated by the chamber. The candidates had not seen the questions in advance and had 90 seconds to reply.
What entrepreneurial experience and professional acumen do you have that will enable you to oversee the operation of a business the size of this city in a time of significant economic challenge?
John Buffery said that for 18 years he ran a corporation that advised clients, mostly feature films operating in remote locations around the world, on risk management. He was one of the founders of Baldface Lodge, a backcountry business near Nelson that employs 100 people, and more recently has worked in a senior position in risk management for the provincial government.
Buffery said that as mayor he would apply a system of risk management to help government and businesses make good decisions. He said this will work even though he is unfamiliar with the operational processes of the city. He said he has been on many boards and committees including the Canadian Avalanche Association.
John Dooley said four years ago he got the city back on track financially by building up its reserves. He said the current construction of the Hall Street pier is possible because the city had $1 million in a reserve for bridges, docks, and piers.
“My ability to work with different levels of government and other organizations brought us in over $1 million for that project to help deliver it,” he said.
Janice Morrison disputed Dooley’s statement about financial reserves. She said the 2014-18 council, on which she sat, “did not leave depleted reserves, and reserves did not have to built up … The city was in good financial straits when (the current council under Dooley) took over.”
Morrison said that as the owner of Kastlerock Bed and Breakfast she has been a business owner for 22 years, and before her recent retirement she worked privately as a physical therapist. She was the vice president and secretary-treasurer of a 22,000-member Health Sciences Association of B.C., a trustee of the Municipal Finance Authority, and a trustee to the Municipal Pension Plan that manages $74 billion in assets for its 395,000 members.
Morrison said she has a lot of labor relations experience with contract negotiations.
Mike Zeabin talked about the bear situation in Nelson but mentioned nothing about his entrepreneurial experience.
Prior said he owned and operated Mountain Pass Imports in downtown Nelson for 25 years and at the time was a member of the Downtown Business Association.
What actions do you propose council take to address the city’s labour shortage and its primary causes?
Morrison said a business might get a good new employee but there is no housing for them. She said it is an issue of housing affordability, not just social sector housing but across the housing spectrum, and that the formation of a municipal non-profit housing authority would help.
Morrison said bus service needs to be improved between Nelson and other communities so people can live there and work here.
Zeabin said housing is a problem and offered no ideas for a solution.
Prior said people received money from the government during the pandemic and now realize they are in a position to be paid more, and so don’t want to work for the wages employers are offering. “This poverty thing, this inequity thing, didn’t just start yesterday.”
Dooley said that during the pandemic Canada lost hundreds of thousands of immigrants and temporary workers. This has made it hard to replace the large numbers of people retiring from an aging workforce. He said waiting for the immigrants and temporary workers to gradually return is one solution but not the only one.
Buffery said the city needs to streamline its process for strata conversion of buildings, to alleviate the housing shortage, which is one cause of the labour shortage. Also on housing, he said the city has to be ready with land, for when opportunities for public-private partnerships and with BC Housing become available.
Businesses want commercial garbage pickup, and the public wants more bear proofing in commercial and residential areas. How can the city do that?
Note: The moderators said after the meeting that the question should have been “Businesses want commercial recycling pickup.” Businesses already contract with a company to pick up commercial garbage and the city is not involved. The only two candidates to note this error were Dooley and Morrison.
Buffery said having tags to put into garbage deters people from putting garbage out, and he criticized bi-weekly garbage pickup.
Morrison said if she is elected, city council will look at joining the BearSmart program, a five-step process run by WildSafe BC.
Prior criticized the city’s plans for placing a dehydrator in each home for organic waste, and said the city should have listened to him 20 years ago when he recommended an organic waste program similar to the one in Guelph, Ont.
Dooley said he will begin a complete review of waste management practices in the city, not just about bears but about the whole system. He said this could mean weekly garbage pickup.
What action do you propose the city take to address the perceived safety of downtown visitors, shoppers, store owners staff, while at the same time supporting those struggling with addiction and homelessness?
Dooley said there is no one solution and it requires a “multi-pronged approach that has the law behind it and compassion behind it. We have to be very careful. One of those people on the street could be your son, or your daughter. And that can happen at the blink of an eye.”
Dooley said the pandemic had a big impact on (mostly provincially funded) services because many of them were not fully offered during that time and some are still not up to speed.
Prior said the problem is created by poverty. People should “start talking to the people and associating with the homeless and not creating an us-and-them thing.”
Buffery suggested the city could support Kooteney Insurrection for Safe Supply and should attempt to influence Interior Health to increase services in Nelson.
Zeabin said he was driving into Nelson recently and saw a young woman sitting and crying on the sidewalk. He stopped, talked to her, and drove her to Stepping Stones shelter and tried to get accommodation there for her.
Zeabin said the city needs to better respect the needs of care workers and police.
Morrison said substance-use disorder is a disease, not a crime, adding that services are offered by non-profits with expertise in this area: ANKORS, Nelson CARES, Interior Health, REDUN, and the provincial government. She said the city’s role is to advocate for sustainable funding from the province for these services. She mentioned the Nelson Street Outreach Team as one that needs long-term funding.
Does the city charge businesses too much property tax? Or maybe not enough? And why?
Prior said the city should support businesses. He said the biggest business story in Nelson is the collapse of the cannabis industry.
Morrison explained that the city works with a formula: 75 per cent of its tax revenue come from businesses and the remainder from residents. Despite this, the last two budgets have seen a bigger increase for businesses than for residents, she said.
She would conduct a business taxation review for the 1,400 business licences in Nelson because in her campaigning among businesses, “some concerns have been raised.”
Dooley said the city has worked very hard to keep taxes as low as possible. Nelson does not have a large industrial tax base, unlike many other communities, but it does have Nelson Hydro that brings in roughly $3-million per year.
He said dealing with tax rates is never easy but “I look at it from a value perspective: Are we getting the best value for the money that people are giving us?”
Buffery suggested that large projects such as the Hall Street Pier should be put to public referendum.
Zeabin said the city should talk to businesses, and that Nelson Hydro should produce and store more power.
Election day is Oct. 15 at the Prestige Lakeside Resort from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.