Many of the candidates running for positions on Summerland’s municipal council promised to listen to the community as they responded to questions at a forum on Tuesday evening.
The all candidates forum was held in the Summerland Secondary School gymnasium and drew a crowd of around 600 people. It was sponsored by the Summerland Chamber of Commerce and the Summerland Review.
The five mayor candidates and 15 of the 16 councillor candidates were present. Councillor candidate Marty Fisher was sick and unable to attend.
Throughout the evening, candidates were asked their positions on a variety of topics including land and growth, economic development, arts funding and infrastructure needs.
For mayoral candidate Christopher Boisvert-Gilman, his answers often returned to the need for a unified community.
“We need to get together as a group and figure out solutions,” he said. “As long as we’re divided, we’re not going to solve the problems.”
Peter Waterman, also seeking the mayor’s role said he will initiate a mayor’s task force to examine Summerland’s economy.
He added that his decision to vote against the Urban Growth Plan was done with the community’s interests in mind.
The growth plan called for the removal of 80.34 hectares from the Agricultural Land Reserve close to the core of the community while adding 91.7 hectares in the Prairie Valley area to the land reserve. The plan received strong opposition and a petition signed by around 1,200 Summerlanders was presented to council.
“I voted for you in the struggle against the land swap,” Waterman said.
Mayoral candidate Roch Fortin said he would like to revisit the land exchange.
“Are there better options or compromises that can be achieved?” he asked.
David Gregory, a candidate for mayor, said it is time to focus on Summerland’s financial statements, which show a $28 million debt, “due to infrastructure and infrastructure errors.”
Mayoral candidate Orv Robson said growth is needed in the community.
“Summerland’s prosperity is vital,” he said. “Our community needs to keep moving forward.”
Among the councillor candidates, all agreed on the importance of good communication.
“There will be no good excuse for councillors who have betrayed the trust of the voters and have not listened to them,” said councillor candidate John Dorn.
He also said the question period at the council meetings should be held before the end of the meeting.
Councillor candidate Ken Rodocker shared this concern, suggesting that the question period should be moved to the beginning of the regular meetings.
“People want a say in the issues that affect them,” said councillor candidate Doug Holmes. “Public engagement produces collaboration.”
Others also spoke of the importance of good communications.
“The point is to improve Summerland, to make it better,” said councillor candidate Erin Carlson. “To do that, the council has to listen to Summerlanders.”
Earlier this year, Carlson was a vocal opponent of the Urban Growth Plan.
“The best part of communication is listening,” said councillor candidate Joel Gregg. “I’m here to listen and to serve you.”
Several of the candidates, including Richard Barkwill and Toni Boot, suggested reinstating municipal committees which have been disbanded in recent years.
Bruce Hallquist, a member of the present council, said the municipality has a website and a Facebook page.
A question period is held after each regular council meeting.
In addition, he said those at the table are accessible.
“We are all as close as our phones and emails,” he said.
Robert Hacking, another incumbent councillor, said the municipality’s website should be improved.
He added that he would like to see the referendum process instead of the alternate approval process used for big decisions.
Councillor candidate Denise MacDonald said the public needs to communicate with the council members.
“We need the community and the people to tell us over and over what you want,” she said.
Erin Trainer, a councillor candidate, said if elected she will be present in the community in order to hear from the public.
She will also maintain her social media accounts and set up blogs in order to better communicate.
Daniel Papadopolous said he is out and about in the community.
He also suggested the municipality distribute community bulletins, newsletters and other information to the public.
Councillor candidate Janet Peake said communication with the community is essential for a municipal government.
“Public engagement is really important,” she said.
Councillor candidate Mark Smed said the role of a council member is not only about presenting one’s own platforms and opinions to the public.
“It’s also about listening,” he said. “Apathy is very high and voter turnout is low.”
Martin Van Alphen, an incumbent councillor, said he will listen before forming an opinion.
“I am always approachable,” he said. “Sometimes I just don’t agree.”
The election will be held on Saturday, Nov. 15 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Summerland Secondary School and Giant’s Head Elementary School.
Advance polling is on Wednesday, Nov. 12 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Municipal Hall.