NANAIMO — Some candidate debates during an election can see fierce fighting between the council hopefuls. But at the candidate forum on Monday night, many of the comments and passions were focused on the current Nanaimo administration.
“Put your hand up if you're quite happy with how the previous council represented Nanaimo,” Pele Gouda asked during his opening remarks, to a room of lowered hands.
Much of the discussion during the debates followed a similar theme of candidates discussing not how they would be better than their peers at the table, but how they'd be better than those sitting at the council table.
Watch the fish bowl forum and all the candidate's answers here:
With so many candidates, they were randomly split into five groups with each one answering a specific question and debating the answers during the “fishbowl” style event, hosted by the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce in association with the Facebook group Our Nanaimo.
“I think the public is geared in that direction anyway,” attendee Robyn Hewer told NanaimoNewsNOW after the event Monday night. “We as a community have spoken against what's happening currently. Not necessarily against individuals on current council, but certainly about the lack of productivity and the direction the last four years has taken us.”
It wasn't so well-received by others, however.
“I think we shouldn't be looking backwards, all the candidates should have been looking only forward,” Ed Heese said.
Both did say they felt they had a better grasp of the candidates after the forum, a sentiment shared by many NanaimoNewsNOW talked to after the event..
“I had two candidates on my list who I've now stroked off and replaced with other candidates,” Heese said.
Council hopefuls faced a mix of questions, ranging from if they endorsed using surplus and reserves to lower property taxes, to how they would represent Nanaimo on the Regional District board.
The two most contentious and longest discussions were focused on neighbourhood plans and how to get a more sure grip on the homelessness crisis.
Regarding neighbourhood plans, all candidates in the group who answered the question as well as many in other groups later in the evening, talked about how neighbourhoods are constantly shifting as Nanaimo drastically expands.
"I agree that flexibility is important," former coun. Wendy Pratt said after many statements from others in her group on the topic. "I don't believe the official community plan should be written in stone. I think they should be revisited often. Things change and we know things are changing rapidly."
Candidate Guy Beaulieu said he heard from numerous people on the campaign trail about how work was put into creating neighbourhood plans which were then never put into action.
“Too many times...there are no update reports for projects,” he said. “Councillors randomly ask what's going on with certain things and they a 30-second random answer.”
When asked about the recent decision to not enforce an eviction notice against downtown Nanaimo's sprawling tent city, the candidates answering were more divided.
“What we need to do is support the surrounding communities with bike patrols, reinforce with bylaws,” Brian Loos said. “People walking down the street don't want to be asked for money every 10 seconds. We need to be compassionate but firm.”
“The council showed no leadership right at the start,” Jeet Manhas said. “This is an issue which council needs to show leadership. It is a provincial issue but it is in our backyard. We need to deal with it ourselves.”
Peter Kent said he was in favour of keeping the camp where it was at 1 Port Dr., which he admitted was an unpopular decision.
“Spreading the homeless out into the community at this point does not serve anyone.”
Given the length of the debate and the number of candidates, NanaimoNewsNOW isn't able to delve into every answer at length.
You can find a list of candidate profiles here. Any councillor who doesn't have a profile hasn't submitted their answers to the questions posed to all by NanaimoNewsNOW.
The second of two advanced polls is on Wednesday, Oct. 17 with voting day on Saturday, Oct. 20.
On Twitter: @spencer_sterrit
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