All 25 candidates for Mission council crowded the Clarke Theatre stage Wednesday evening for a cordial and respectful debate meant to help the public choose six councillors in the Nov. 19 election.
The candidates were broken into groups of four and five, answering pre-selected questions delivered by the moderator, Mission Regional Chamber of Commerce president Cal Crawford.
Since the questions were varied, no single issue dominated the floor, although high taxes, the need for development and environmental stewardship, including the autonomy of Mission water, was discussed at length.
Incumbent Coun. Mike Scudder said the district needs more economic planning, citing the usefulness of the economic development officer.
Larry Nundal, a member of the seven-slate Citizens for Responsible Municipal Government, said Mission needs more commercial and industrial development to increase the tax base.
The CRMG Team continued to hammer on economic issues all evening, presenting their slate as a viable solution to an overtaxed district.
Candidate Tom Armstrong said he wants to conduct a review of critical projects, and then look at secondary projects to see if they’re satisfying the needs of the community.
There was also talk about cutting nonessential projects.
“We would have to reduce right across the board to achieve our target,” said candidate Pam Alexis. “We’d have to ask our staff to do more with less.”
Rhett Nicholson said he would focus on critical issues and minimize grants to arts and cultural services.
But Shelley Clarkson felt even more needs to be invested in the arts, encouraging a partnership with post-secondary institutions to create an arts and culture centre.
Jim Abbott agreed a larger tax base is needed, but is against selective cutting of programs.
Most candidates were against any future P3 partnership with Abbotsford on water access.
Kevin O’Beirne said he didn’t understand how people can make any decisions about water in Mission because they haven’t been given enough information.
CRMG member Dave Hensman said Mission doesn’t have a water problem today, suggesting new developers should pay.
Incumbent Coun. Heather Stewart said Mission will be able to chart its own way, independent of Abbotsford’s decisions.
The issue of secondary suites in Mission was also a hot topic of discussion, with candidates like Tom Armstrong and Gurp Chahal suggesting it’s a valuable means of income for homeowners and provides a way for families to live together.
“Secondary suites provide affordable housing to people but we have to ensure they’re legal,” said Kerm Gill.
Arnold Muir was most direct. “If we weren’t being taxed to death in this town, maybe we wouldn’t need secondary suites,” he said.
There was talk about a balance between development and environmental stewardship.
“Why do people want to live in Mission? Because we live in a beautiful backyard. Destroy that and people won’t want to live here,” said incumbent Coun. Jenny Stevens of Team CRMG.
Rhett Nicholson said the best way to preserve the environment is to make it economically viable through tourism, a sentiment echoed by Pam Alexis.
There was also discussion about a trucking bypass downtown from Muir, Hensman and incumbent Coun. Danny Plecas.
Paul Hockridge didn’t think a bypass was necessary. “Drop the speed limit to 30 (Km/h) and enforce it,” he suggested.
Ultimately, each issue came back to finances.
“I think it’s time to get real,” said CRMG candidate Jeff Jewell. “I don’t think we’ve even paid for the Leisure Centre yet.”
But Stewart took offence to the suggestion Mission’s finances are in poor shape, saying that according to the district’s financial director, finances have never been better.
CRMG candidate Tony Luck said the key issue is in streamlining development applications at municipal hall to grow the tax base quicker.
Stevens agreed, saying it’s critical Mission realizes how it presents itself to potential developers and investors.
“Mission needs to be development friendly and we need to let them know we’re open for business,” echoed Gill.
Kevin Francis spoke to the need for more public involvement, and that as councillor he would create a better partnership between council and the public.
Next Tuesday night (Nov. 15), the four men vying for the mayor’s chair will be at the Clarke Theatre, and questions will be taken from the floor. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the meeting starts at 7.
If a different twist, you can speed date a politician Friday, Nov. 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. at St. Andrew’s United Church.