Candidates for mayor and council of Castlegar met Thursday night for a public question and answer session that covered a wide variety of issues from public communication to bike paths, airport improvement and downtown revitalization.
There was little controversy during the event, although debate did become heated from time to time.
Hosted by the Castlegar Chamber of Commerce, the event featured both mayoral candidates, 10 council hopefuls and a Regional District of Central Kootenay Area J candidate.
The format allowed each participant to speak, followed by questions from the more than 200 people who packed into the Sandman Hotel to watch the debate.
While it was an all-candidates event, many of the questions were aimed at Mayor Lawrence Chernoff and challenger Gord Zaitsoff.
Zaitsoff, an incumbent director representing Area J on the RDCK board, was asked why he chose to make the leap for the mayor’s chair, rather than running for council.
He said he’s taken a leading role to get funding for issues like recruiting doctors, better recreation and more.
“I’m the one pushing for everyone in the area. I don’t sit there on my hands and knees and favour other communities or agree with other communities. I fight for the people of Castlegar and the local area,” said Zaitsoff.
“I might as well take control, take the leadership role and move this community forward where it needs to go.”
He pointed to the Regional Hospital Board meetings as an example saying the city was so close to getting a study endorsed regarding a new facility, but it was voted down. He said he voted in favour, while Chernoff voted against adding the vote drove “a wedge even further between the communities of Nelson, Trail and Castlegar.”
But incumbent Coun. Deb McIntosh objected to Zaitsoff’s comments, saying she saw events differently.
“Being at the meeting, ranting, raving, screaming and being told to sit down because you’re disrespectful is not bringing the region together. We were nowhere near getting that done last year or this year. Because why Gord? Because you sit there and you yell and you threaten and you’re a bully. And that’s what happened. So if you want regional cooperation, start playing nicely,” she said.
Council hopeful Bruno Tassone was asked about transparency and how he will offer it if he wins a council seat.
“When a person or a community group comes to council meetings and has concerns and nobody from council responds to it well… I’m going to make my commitment … I will be there.”
Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff was asked what mistakes council had made and what could they have done to improve. She said often council has to make decision, using their best judgement.
“I know from Connors Road, there were a lot of people that weren’t happy but there was a lot of history there and a lot of public consultation that went on before the deadline. Could we do it differently? Yes we could do it differently in hindsight and as we go forward and are making more bike paths and walking paths … I think we’ve learned and will do it better next time.”
John Phillips replied to those comments saying he appeared before council about that issue and got little response.
“Council sat there and listened to my presentation. They never asked one question. I invited them to come down to Connors Road and meet with the residents … They refused to come down and meet with us. They sent an employee down,” he said adding that he felt the employee “lied” and “misled” people about the project.
Tyler Maddocks said he sees a need for better communication between the city and the public.
`We should be exploring different ways to get people more engaged… We need more feedback and better options to communicate.
When asked about low staff moral, do to the ongoing negotiations with CUPE workers, Mayor Chernoff said negotiations have to continue through proper channels.
“The city council accepted the mediator’s report. The union chose not to accept that report. So where do we go from there? It’s going to be up to the union at this stage. I’d like to see a high moral, I’d like to see efficiency that I see out there. We’ve got good workers, there are great workers out there but we have to do this in a proper manner that we do this,” he said adding that negotiating in the media is the wrong approach.
“We have a bargaining team,” he said.
McIntosh said she felt both the union and the city had equal responsibility for the negotiation stand still.
Kere McGregor was asked how Castlegar can help the airport secure a better landing system.
“Clear processes have to be established. I think we all know that the airport is a huge economic driver for our city and it has to be improved,`he said adding that it can also be an economic deterrent for growth because people can’t get in during the winter.
Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff said they are close to getting help from Air Canada to get an RNP (required navigation performance) system into Air Canada planes and into the airport.
“Once we have reliability in our airport, we’ll have economic growth.“
She expects to have good new by Christmas.