Candidates vying for the vacant seat on the City of Castlegar council took part in a debate/forum at the Sandman Hotel on Tuesday

Candidates vying for the vacant seat on the City of Castlegar council took part in a debate/forum at the Sandman Hotel on Tuesday

By-election debate a win for Castlegar citizens

Four candidates fielded numerous questions on a range of topics heading into the Sept. 14 election.

There was a clear distinction drawn between candidates at the by-election debate / forum held in Castlegar on Tuesday, Aug. 26 at the Sandman Hotel.

Tyler Maddocks, Antoinette Halberstadt, Florio Vassilakakis and Kirk Duff are all working to convince voters they are the right person to fill the lone vacant council seat on election day Saturday, Sept. 14.

The distinction mentioned, is one of past experience versus a fresh perspective.

Both Duff and Halberstadt have prior experience on city councils; Duff in Castlegar and Halberstadt in Revelstoke. At one point in the proceedings, Halberstadt called out the other candidates for a lack of experience and cheekily wished them well in the next election.

That statement prompted Vassilakakis to respond that if council experience was all that people looked for, why even have elections.

“Sometimes it’s about fresh ideas and new blood,” said Vassilakakis. “There’s no question that Kirk and Antoinette have a wealth of knowledge, have experience and know about civic governments. I’m a quick study and while the details of the process may take a little while to learn, I think I can definitely step right in and contribute positively right away.”

About 60-70 people attended the event, including a number of current city councillors, which was sponsored by the Castlegar and District Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Suzanne Lehbauer.

After briefly summarizing their qualifications and backgrounds, the candidates fielded questions that alternated between audience members and two members of a media panel, including a representative from the Castlegar News.

As has become commonplace with forums in Castlegar, the topics of a regional hospital, transportation, senior care and economics were up for discussion, too.

Local resident Mac Gregory asked the youngest candidate, Maddocks (25), about subsidizing the cost of running the seniors centre and about healthcare and transportation issues.

“I’m a big believer in studying what other cities in our area do and how things work for them,” said Maddocks. “Given the chance, I would love to work directly with seniors, attend meetings and see what we can do together. As somebody who hopes to grow old in this community, I hope to have all the same [services].”

The topic of regional issues like airport and hospital services prompted comments from a number of candidates.

“It’s a matter of opinion as to what is a regional issue and what is a Castlegar issue,” said Duff, who said two things overlap both. “One is having a viable and financially sound West Kootenay Regional Airport and second is to have the process started to create a centrally based regional hospital in the Castlegar area. For me personally, that is where the interests of the region match the interests of Castlegar.”

Vassilakakis agreed and said there’s a need to convince surrounding communities that Castlegar is the most central and best location for such projects.

Some questions were more pointed, and one audience member asked Duff how she could be sure he would be an individual thinker, if elected.

“When I first got into politics, I wanted to be at that table and make up my own mind,” said Duff. “I always take my time to think about issues and am not afraid to slow down debate or discussion or hold it over until we get more information.”

Another audience member asked Halberstadt if she supported a current city policy of euthanizing found animals if unclaimed after 72 hours.

“I think it’s a very unfortunate policy, but I also understand that it turns out to be quite expensive for a city to manage animals on an ongoing basis if they are not claimed,” said Halberstadt. “If taxpayers say they would like the city to do that because they don’t want the animals to be killed, then I would vote for it.”

Halberstadt added that in Revelstoke, there was a humane society that took care of animals and adopted out animals no matter how long it took.

Duff was asked by Kyra Hoggan of the Castlegar Source what message he felt the electorate was trying to send when he lost his seat by a small margin the last time he ran for council, and what in his campaign had changed that might prompt his re-election this time.

“Losing by 40 votes was not a very good experience,” he said. “One thing that’s different this time is that since I’ve been off council I’ve had an opportunity to re-engage with the community and the wide variety of people who do all sorts of things for no compensation whatsoever. Working with the volunteers really refreshed me and renewed my whole outlook on life.”

Maddocks added that he also learned a lot from his loss in the 2011 election. It was at this point that Halberstadt mentioned the importance of experience and said she would be able to step in without having to go to “councillor school.”

In their closing statements, Duff focused on the fact that whoever wins the election will have a lot of work to do and he was ready to hit the ground running; Vassilakakis said he has strong decision making abilities and urged voters to not go with the status quo; Halberstadt said that though she may be small in stature she is big on effectiveness, courage, collaboration and wants to bring more balance to the current council by having another female present; and Maddocks said his younger viewpoint would be a beneficial change, adding he was enthusiastic and up to the challenge.