Sechelt’s three mayoral candidates were on the same stage, fielding questions, for the first time in the campaign at a Sept. 27 event called “A Forum For Us, By Us” that was organized to highlight the concerns of Sechelt residents under 50.
A show of hands suggested most of the crowd of more than 100 at the Chatelech Secondary theatre were in their 30s or 40s and included young families, single parents, renters, homeowners, and a lot of people who work in construction or the trades.
The forum opened with the usual brief statements from the candidates, incumbent mayor Bruce Milne, Al Holt and Coun. Darnelda Siegers.
Then, the candidates took a back seat to hear from four people who’d volunteered to talk to them about key issues.
For one participant, environment was the top concern and the need for Sechelt “to be an example to other municipalities,” with a local focus on landfill, water, single-use plastics, derelict vessels, parks and green space, and encouraging sustainable development.
Another participant, who said they were involved in tiny homes and sustainable and off grid buildings, talked about the need to explore “incentives that can be brought in to encourage people to build smaller houses on their properties” to increase the affordable housing stock.
A young mother of two said she’d like to see Sechelt support more child care, especially for those with special needs, by “thinking of allocating space for a centre, or working with young families to see what they need.”
The fourth speaker, a small business owner, said Sechelt is lagging behind other coastal communities.
“It kind of comes across that Sechelt doesn’t really care about moving forward in terms of the downtown core, creating new business and economic growth. Gibsons is all for it; there’s breweries, there’s restaurants, the waterfront is amazing. Powell River is the same,” she said.
Affordable housing was among the first things to come up, when the audience had its chance to ask questions.
Milne and Seigers both acknowledged more needs to be done to bring the private sector to the table.
Holt got a bit of a rise out of the crowd when he threw the question back to the audience, asking how they’d define affordable housing. He said unless people are clear about what they mean by wanting affordable housing, it’s hard to tell if the solution is “a bylaw allowing basement suites without an issue” or something else.
The forum wrapped up on two questions that haven’t come up very often so far in the campaign.
One was how the candidates would deal with a perceived lack of community spirit and vision in Sechelt.
“Vision of Sechelt has to start with the people and the values and the way we interact and get along or not… The branding externally is more complicated,” Milne said. “We start with the values, people will identify what they love about Sechelt and we can focus that into why they come to visit.”
Holt said the key is enhancing downtown, and talked about one of the first things he thought about after moving to the area from Chilliwack. “Pull out the weeds they’ve planted on the sidewalks and put in palm trees… Why wouldn’t you have palm trees down Cowrie – both sides?”
He also said Sechelt isn’t making the best use of the waterfront. “In Sechelt we have to show people where the water is… We don’t present ourselves the way we should.”
Siegers also focused on downtown.
“When a community is looking to have a brand, it has a place where people can come together. Downtown in Sechelt, after five o’clock, what’s there? Not much,” she said. “We still don’t have any places for families … to come together… We need to start getting some more density downtown so there’s more people to support the businesses, [and] have some gathering spaces, so we actually create that buzz.”
The second question was about how willing Milne, Holt and Siegers would be to push the boundaries of municipal authority on issues in the provincial or federal purview if it was for the good of the community.
“I think municipal governments need far more authority than they have now, so I would push for more authority,” said Milne, who added that it was something he grappled with when he first ran for mayor in the ’90s and he described himself as a conservative mayor on the question of stepping outside that authority.
“I would, in fact, follow process and listen to staff, listen to the other councillors and not step out where my personal views are… We do need far more authority to deal with issues that are impacting our community and our lives, and we simply don’t have that.”
Holt said he agrees that municipal governments need more authority.
“Just watch me,” said Holt. “If I was king the most important government would be municipal, and you would pay up the line and not try to suck the pennies down the line... That’s the way it should work.”
Siegers said, “I think as the mayor we need to be the advocate and an ambassador for our community, wherever that community wants to go and impact.”