Vernon mayoralty candidates (L-R) Victor Cumming, Art Gourley, Erik Olesen and Darrin Taylor at Chamber of Commerce forum Tuesday.
Economic development, homelessness, the plight of young families and the proposed arts and culture centre were the main issues facing the candidates at last night’s mayoral forum hosted by the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.
The four candidates vying for the mayor’s seat in the Oct. 20th civic election each got a turn to answer a series of questions from chamber members in front of a polite crowd of about 100 people.
With a background in economic development, Victor Cumming pointed out that “most of the growth will occur internally” and not come from outside sources.
With Vernon’s lack of industrial land, Cumming said the city must partner with neighbouring communities that have lots of it.
“The critical part there is to partner with Spall, partner with OKIB, partner with Area B, partner with Lumby,” Cumming told the business crowd. “That’s got to be the foundation of future industrial growth for Vernon.”
Businessman Darrin Taylor said there was a role for the mayor to play in economic development, working alongside city staff and proactively engaging investors.
Taylor, who chaired the Activate Safety committee concerned with homelessness and criminality in the downtown, said economic vitality was the number issue for Vernon.
“Does that tie into the issue of the homeless in our city? Absolutely,” stated Taylor. “There’s
a place for balance, between compassion, compassion in community, but there is also a need to balance that out with the need to have consquence for bad behaviour.”
One question dealt with young families, struggling at times between paying rent or a mortgage and eating.
Candidate Eric Oleson, who ran for the NDP provincially in the last election, said he had been on the telephone with mayors in other cities discussing that very issue and how to change things.
He said apart from the homeless, about 500 people were looking for housing in Vernon.
Three candidates, Cumming, Taylor and Oleson expressed support for a 40-million-dollar arts and culture centre proposed for downtown.
Oleson said it would bring more people to the downtown and help resolve another issue.
“There are a lot of different things going on that are feeding into the criminal activity we’re seeing,” Oleson said.” I think public safety is key to the community.”
He said the arts and culture centre would allow more traffic and “bring something new to the downtown core” to alleviate the trouble faced by businesses.
Candidate Art Gourley, a painter by trade, opposed the proposed cultural centre but called for more activities for local people.
“They’ve taken the race track away, they’ve taken car racing away,” complained Gourley.
He said the city could buy a helicopter to bring in handicapped people to the downtown to increase investment, and even suggested a mini-version of Vancouver’s Sky train to help with transportation.
Gourley said there was a need to find jobs for new arrivals to Vernon “by filling empty buildings around town” — with the help of the Chamber of Commerce.