From left, Ed Olthof, Judith Barnaby, Cal Renwick, Michelle Hillaby, and Stephen Harris are among a group of citizens forming a new organization in Nelson to mount a campaign for Nelson city council this fall. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Political group to challenge Nelson city council in upcoming elections

CORE Nelson is searching for candidates to run under its slate

Nelson’s next municipal election will feature a political party made up of candidates running in opposition to the current city council.

CORE Nelson, which went public Monday, is a group of residents who say they are dissatisfied with a myriad of issues and hope fresh faces at City Hall will address their concerns.

“We can’t just sit back and complain,” said Stephen Harris, who spoke to the Star on behalf of the group. “We’re either going to do something or be quiet and just accept the status quo. We can’t just accept the status quo, so we’re going to do something.”

CORE, which stands for Coalition of Responsible Electors, is a non-profit society. Harris said plans are in place to have the group designated a local elector organization, or a political party, prior to the Oct. 20 municipal election.

Slates have previously existed in Nelson, according to historian Greg Nesteroff, including The Nelson Civic Group, which ran candidates in several municipal elections in the 1970s.

CORE currently has no specific platform. Harris refers instead to an outline of principles that includes fiscal responsibility, core service focus, economic growth and civic pride. The candidates they support, he said, will have their own civic concerns that happen to align with CORE’s principles.

According to Harris, those concerns could, for example, include panhandling on Baker Street, garbage and recycling pickup, the lack of affordable housing or even sports field access.

“There isn’t a single set of issues that we have in mind,” he said. “What we’re looking for is people who have that same viewpoint of there’s some core stuff that the city should really be focusing on. It’s not an issue-by-issue platform agenda. We’re looking for people who also are feeling that sense of restlessness.”

Harris brings plenty of political experience to CORE. Currently an instructor at Selkirk College’s School of Business, Harris previously served as speech writer for former BC Premier Gordon Campbell as well as director of communications for the B.C. Government Caucus. He’s also well versed in local politics, having worked as editor of the now-defunct newspaper The Express.

The people behind CORE, however, came together in late 2017 through informal talks with no interest in political careers of their own, according to Harris. They include former Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce president Ed Olthof, Cal Renwick, Andy and Paul Cowan, Michelle Hillaby and Dale Butterfield.

Instead, they are currently working on building membership and finding the right candidates who Harris said will receive support during their campaign. That might mean supplying candidates with background research, or even helping them with the required paperwork, which Harris said can be onerous for those with busy lives and are hesitant to commit to public office.

“That’s where a political organization like this can help. We can share resources, we can do some of that background research and here’s some more information. Just a bit of support for the candidate so the candidate isn’t stuck out there on their own.”

Related: Dailly topped election spending among Nelson council candidates

Financial support for its candidates is also included in CORE’s plans.

Changes to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act mean organizations, corporations and unions are now unable to financially contribute to campaigns. Individuals (defined by Elections BC as Canadian citizens who are B.C. residents or permanent residents) are capped at donations of $1,200 per year to an unendorsed candidate.

That wouldn’t apply to CORE candidates. Instead, donations totalling $1,200 can be made to CORE, which would then distribute the money as it sees fit.

During the 2014 municipal election, Nelson city councillor Michael Dailly led all candidates in spending at $3,996 en route to a second-place finish on the ballot behind Anna Purcell, whose campaign cost $2,517. Justin Pelant, who was unelected as the seventh-place finisher, spent $1,346.

Harris did not rule out former mayors or city councillors running on CORE’s slate.

Neither Mayor Deb Kozak nor any councillors have yet to publicly declare they will stand for re-election. The nomination period is set for Sept. 4 to 14 while campaigning is allowed Sept. 22 to election day.

But for now, Harris said, finding willing candidates is CORE’s priority.

“At this point we’re looking for people who are out there, who have an agreement with the idea and the vision that we’re trying to espouse, that we need to get back to basics and make a livable, vibrant city once again. If people agree with that, they see our stuff and they can help out, that’s what we’re looking for.”

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Nelson had never previously had a political party in a municipal election.

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