More than 200 people packed the bleachers at the Elphinstone gym Oct. 9 for the Gibsons Chamber of Commerce all-candidates forum.
The setting prompted one mayoral candidate to jokingly promise comfier seating if he was elected.
None of the four men running for mayor, Blake McLeod, Bill Beamish, William Moysey and Les Thomson, has ever served as a councillor or mayor before and the first question they tackled was explaining what they thought the role of mayor should be.
Beamish, who has a long history in government administration, said he’s been an advisor to several mayors in the course of his career and he likened the role to a “go-between” between the council, which makes the decisions, and staff, which implements them. “If council was to decide to paint the building green, the mayor has got to say, ‘How soon will it be painted?’ not ‘Let’s paint it purple, I don’t like green.’ He can’t change that decision.”
Moysey said he agreed with Beamish’s description, and his approach would be to act as a facilitator. “Discussions are made, decisions are made and [mayors] make it happen. Implementation and facilitation.”
For Thomson the role of mayor is as the voice of the community. “You elect us. You put us in the position and we speak on your behalf,” he said. “It’s all about communicating – that’s the most important part of this job.”
McLeod said being mayor would be a grave responsibility that “involves more than just public engagement.”
He said when an issue arises that is “powerful enough within a community that the community rises up to represent their interests,” the mayor, councillors and administrators have to educate themselves on the issue and take action that builds trust.
“The role of mayor is to guide all of that and to listen and to take counsel and in some ways even instruction and to act as figurehead in some ways, but also as a follower,” he said.
Seven council candidates attended the forum. The only absentee was Angie August who Town officials have since confirmed has withdrawn her candidacy. Chief administrative officer Emanuel Machado said August’s withdrawal came too late to have her name removed from the ballot.
The council candidates tackled questions on affordable housing, development, aquifer protection, and dealing with aging infrastructure – and, for the most part, agreed on the broad themes.
One of the few moments of tension came during the question on infrastructure when Carol Doyle noted the tens of thousands of dollars the Town has spent fighting lawsuits from community groups “could have gone toward our failing infrastructure.”
Suzanne Senger, who was president of one of those groups, said the Town “wouldn’t have to spend so much money in court” if it did a better job protecting natural infrastructure.
Some candidates tried to separate themselves from the pack by talking about the work ethic needed for the job.
Stafford Lumley, the only incumbent among the seven, said in his closing statement, “What happens when you get into office, you roll up your sleeves because then you have to start working and you’ve got to work hard. Now it’s up to the community to decide who they think is going to roll up their sleeves and go to work for them and have their best interests at heart.”
David Croal picked up on that idea. “It is a difficult job – there’s huge tasks ahead of us. It’s a full-time job with quarter-time pay… You’ve really got to work with the community and ensure you can devote to the job the time and the energy it takes.”
Annemarie De Andrade said the Town is facing some difficult issues, but she hoped to use her “passion for community building” and experience with “multi-stakeholder collaboration” to help council “balance the forces” to create a plan to deal with those issues.
Aleria Ladwig said strong leadership will be needed to achieve “sustainability in our economy, our environment and our social well-being.” She said the next council will need to be skilled advocates to advance the Town’s goals.
Verna Chan, who was one of the last candidates to give a closing statement, echoed the ideas around collaboration and community engagement that were a running theme for much of the evening and put out a call for “artists, engineers, lawyers, carpenters, builders, financial experts and more” to come to council with “ideas and insights” to creatively solve the Town’s problems.
The forum was carried live on Coast TV, Eastlink channel 10, and will be repeated Oct. 14 at 2:30 p.m. The Sechelt Chamber of Commerce all-candidates forum that was scheduled to be broadcast live Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. will repeat Oct. 12 at 5:30 p.m., Oct. 13 at 9:30 a.m. and Oct. 15 at 2:30 p.m.