Speed dating potential mayors at the Sagebrush

Candidates for mayor tackle issues of property tax and housing and share their vision for the city

A Kamloops byelection is set for Sept. 30 to fill three vacancies on City Council. The election will select one Mayor and two Councillors to serve the remaining one year left on the current Council’s four-year term. This current term will end in October 2018.

On Monday, Sept. 18 the 26 candidates for council and five of the six candidates for mayor gathered at the Sagebrush Theatre to pitch their vision of a future Kamloops to 232 attendees. The five present candidates for Mayor Bill McQuarrie, Glenn Hilke, Stu Holland, Mike McKenzie and Ken Christian took the stage to debate a variety of issues including budget, infrastructure, bringing new jobs to the city, homelessness and their overall vision for Kamloops.

On the issue of property tax

Property tax rates in Kamloops have gone up every year by 2.5 per cent on average. This yearly increase has been caused by a variety of factors including staff wages and benefits, increases to the transit system and other budget increases. The question raised to the mayoral candidates of whether a zero per cent increase without cutting services was possible.

“I’ve been called simplistic, naïve and unrealistic to suggest that we should start a conversation on fair taxation,” said McQuarrie. “My goal for a one-year freeze on taxes is not add $2.6 million to a $162-million budget. To put that in a finer point, the past administration has spent almost two times that simply on the acquisition of the now infamous parking lot on 4th and Seymour.”

“We are all taxed on a flat rate no matter how expensive your home is,” said Hilke. “I think that we need to look at our tax system, and we need to see if we should have a progressive tax plan. Not one that’s flat, but one that responds to the actual situations of people. If you have wealth you could possibly pay more, and we could keep the balance.”

While McQuarrie and Hilke are in support of the idea, Christian is not so sure of the ideas feasibility.

“The low hanging fruit has been picked, trust me. There’s no money to be saved in phone bills anymore, there’s no money to be saved on the mundane small things, we’ve looked at those. The staff that we have do a confident job, what I commit to you is to keep it as low as possible and to keep staffing in check,” said Christian.

McKenzie is in support of low taxation and noted that tax increases were not favourable, his plan is focused on providing more services to better improve the quality of life in Kamloops. Holland, the self-proclaimed blue-collar candidate, said that “tax increases happen when you spend your money foolishly.”

On the issue of homelessness and addictions

One of the many hot-button issues of the evening was around the discussion of social issues and programs, particularly housing first and homelessness.

Holland says that he doesn’t have an answer to the many social issues that Kamloops faces including addictions and homelessness. He says that he has been to the North Shore, the downtown core and sat in the gutter, engaged with the homeless population in Kamloops and is working towards an answer.

“I’ve buried my best friend because he died of a drug overdose many years ago. I made his tombstone [and] when I talk I see him,” said Holland. “Addiction starts at home, and something has happened that’s caused this. Somebody doesn’t just wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to be a drug addict.’”

Christian’s focus is on wraparound services and the four-pillar approach to getting out of poverty. McQuarrie suggested following in the footsteps of a Medicine Hat, Alta. which uses a “let’s do it” housing-first model.

“You do not have to be clean in order to participate. In other words, don’t worry about any addiction issues that you have, come in and we’ll have a place for you,” said McQuarrie.

McKenzie says that his experience growing up partially in Kamloops and partially in an Indigenous community has let him see some of these social issues first hand. His plan if elected, is to take this knowledge to council and bring better awareness to the issues.

“What I’ve been doing is trying to speak for those people who can’t speak for themselves,” said McKenzie.

Hilke has worked 40 years in the not-for-profit community and says that he understands what it takes to tackle the problems Kamloops is currently facing. He adds that the homeless situation in Kamloops is complicated but there are simple solutions.

“We need to build affordable housing,” said Hilke. “If we go and work with and change our zoning, we can get everyone that is living on the streets, with wraparound services and supports to help them stay in that housing. We could get them in there within a year, but we have to have the guts to do it.”

What a future Kamloops might look like

While there were many issues debated and discussed at the forum, the candidates each expressed their vision for the future of Kamloops.

Hilke said that he is frustrated and angry with the way present and past city staff have not taken their jobs seriously. Adding that he is motivated by his anger to action on social programs such as housing first.

“I’m a person who walks the walk,” said Hilke. “We need change, we need forward-moving and growth.”

McQuarrie says that future Kamloops is a place where up to 150 new businesses are budding and could lead up to 2,000 new jobs. He wants to bring a large amount of new business to Kamloops in order to diversify the economy.

“It acts as a shock absorber and allows us to get through the recessions that we know are coming. It also keeps people here in Kamloops, because when a company fails and there is 125 more companies there, somebody doesn’t have to move to Vancouver to get a job,” said McQuarrie.

Christian said that his goal if elected would be to focus on livability in the city. He noted that Kamloops is transitioning from a resource-based economy to a more knowledge-based economy.

“I think we need to do more in the arts and culture area, and we need to complete some of those things. I want to make Kamloops a better place for my family and yours. That’s why I’m doing this,” said Christian.

McKenzie wants to work on building the relationships that matter with regards to drug addictions and other social issues.

“I have been all around Kamloops, and what I can tell you is that I’ve lost too many people my age and younger than me to drugs and addictions and a lot of other things that aren’t being reached out to them,” said McKenzie. “I’m hoping at the very least that I can inspire a new way of thinking in Kamloops. Where we look a little bit farther than our yards and our fences.”

Holland stressed that the reason for this byelection is due to elected officials who quit their jobs and went on to provincial positions. He says that if elected he plans to create more jobs in town.

“My vision for Kamloops is not my vision, I don’t have a crystal ball,” said Holland.

Todd Mcleod the sixth candidate running for mayor was absent due to prior work commitments in Manitoba.

Due to the small size of the election, TRUSU will not have a polling station on campus. The Kamloops byelection will be taking place on Sept. 30 visit the City of Kamloops website to find a polling station near you.