McKim Theatre was almost full on Tuesday evening as Kimberley’s Mayoral candidates took the stage to answer questions from voters.
In his opening remarks, Mayor Ron McRae focused on the accomplishments of the past three years, saying the City was well into the commercial development strategy and will be aggressively pursuing improving broadband connectivity, the redevelopment of buildings in commercial areas, building a stronger working relationship with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies and assisting emerging developments like Taylor’s Mill.
Candidate Doug Johnson said that Kimberley had been through hard times in the past but he had never seen it as low as it was currently.
“That’s what this election is about,” he said.
Candidate Don McCormick said he was speaking from a business perspective. There is an urgent need to take control of city finances, he said.
“The 13 year transition from mining to tourism has hit a bump. Tourism doesn’t generate revenue for the city. Taxes are substantially higher every year. It’s not sustainable.”
Candidates were asked what their vision was for 2015, three, five and ten years out.
“My number one priority is to keep this town alive,” Johnson said. “We need to stop the hysterical raising of taxes so I can keep my house.”
McCormick said his first priority was a full public service review.
“We need a baseline on where we are spending money,” he said “We need to live within our means and minimize tax increases.”
For the future, McCormick’s focus would be economic development, which doesn’t happen overnight, he said.
McRae also said a service review was a priority in 2015.
“A full service review is an analysis of all the business operations of the city. What should service levels be like and how can we adjust them?”
He said that in three years he’d like to see the flume completed, in five and ten years to see increased capacity within the community so that there is the capacity to support growth.
Another question dealt with light industry, how would candidates bring more employment to Kimberley?
“Part of what needs to happen, and a good body of work is underway, is to identify specific sectors that we would like to market to,” McRae said. “Industry must align with community values and provide for a well-rounded community. Tools are in place with the branding process and we need to build on that. We need to be persistent and tenacious but don’t pester.”
“I wouldn’t be specific at all,” Johnson said. “I’d go after anybody who wants to start a business. I draw the line at crystal meth labs, but anyone who wants to give a business a try is welcome.”
McCormick said that he went back and looked at all the promises from the last election campaign in 2011.
“All this rhetoric happens before the election and then it stops,” he said. “That cycle must stop. Kimberley is open for business is not a new concept but we must go to the provincial government with that message and take it to where business is incubated, which is Calgary and Vancouver. A strong focus from the Mayor’s office would help. The thing that has been missing is measurement. We need specific statistics on net new jobs, net new housing starts.”
How would the candidates help local business to prosper.
“I’d get the hell out of their way,” Johnson said.
“I would echo that,” McCormick said. “It’s important for the community to have a strong Chamber of Commerce to hold the city’s feet to the fire.”
“In some respects, Dougie here has nailed it,” McRae said. “It’s critically important at the Mayor’s level to have regular and ongoing connections with the business community.”
Candidates were asked how they would help fill vacant buildings downtown.
A business’s success depends on the business, McCormick said. “The Platzl is a retail mall with 45 different owners. It’s hard to get everybody on the same page.”
Collaborative marketing needs more energy, he said and collaboration between the city, the Downtown Business Association and Tourism Kimberley.
“If we make the downtown vibrant, entrepreneurs will come,” he said.
“We have continued focus on downtown business but we need to consider the broader community, such as Marysville, as well,” McRae said. “Vacant buildings remain a challenge but I don’t think there are as many as people think there are. We need to look at a business improvement program which provides incentives to improve facades.”
“For the last three years Council has engaged the city in a series of wars,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a war against bears, deer, skate boarders, then long boarders. Well now these criminal long boarders are creating jobs with a new skate factory in the old credit union building. I’m just waiting for the city to put out a cease and desist order.”
The question of whether the candidates would support the building of a federal prison came up.
“Only with the permission of my community,” McRae said. “Its not the kind of industry you can attract without significant involvement from the community.
“We are very much a community built around lifestyle and a value system. I’d be happy to lobby for it but only with permission.”
“Of course I’m in favour of it,” Johnson said. “I may look stupid but I am very well aware of the prison being constructed in Osoyoos. It’s a clean, non-polluting industry.”
“I started this conversation about three years ago,” McCormick said. “The goal was to get the community thinking about all kinds of issues. I picked a controversial one but it could easily be about a federal tax centre or something else. The question is how do we get good high-paying jobs. A federal prison is big, it would need to be decided through referendum. The prison is just one thing on a list of possibilities.”