The Castlegar byelection is taking place April 24. There are five candidates running for mayor — Lawrence Chernoff, Kirk Duff, Gord Lamont, Florio Vassilakakis and Gordon Zaitsoff.
We asked each candidate to answer the following five questions.
What is the biggest issue you see facing the city and how would you address it?
Chernoff: I see the biggest issue being COVID-19. Like the rest of the world, our community has been put to the test. It is through these events that our community comes together. Having been a paramedic for 29 years, I am familiar with the various agencies of Public Health. I know and understand the importance of working together to support the citizens of our community. Furthermore, online council meetings via zoom have been a great way for community members to get a first-hand look into the meetings. We want our citizens to be engaged and to see the transparency of council.
Duff: Housing and homelessness — It can be argued, that the most at risk of homelessness are women with children and elderly women. If you have a mix of unit sizes, density in neighborhoods with access to transportation and services, people regardless of their life stage will chose housing size to fit. A townhouse with a secondary suite or a carriage house on a single family lot are both housing forms for families, students, and seniors. Once more density and form options are provided on single family zoned lots, the lower end of the market availability reopens to income stressed demographics.
Lamont: The biggest issue that I feel exists is a disconnect between the citizens of Castlegar and those that lead the city on council. This needs to change immediately. It can be accomplished by a simple sit down with the council and our communications person so we can all get on the same page. Once council is on the same page we can then have open and honest dialogue with the citizens.
Vassilakakis: A serious issue facing Castlegar at the moment is housing affordability and shortage. This has been exacerbated by COVID, the transition from urban to rural living, low interest rates and high constructions costs. The effects of this can be seen in the increase in homelessness and is felt throughout the community by our citizens looking for housing and businesses who are trying to attract workers. As councillor, I have supported initiatives to provide land for local housing projects in addition to supporting a housing strategy that will guide our policy decisions and efforts in the short and long term.
Zaitsoff: It has become very apparent and visible that the homeless situation is growing in Castlegar. This is not a low-income housing issue but a medical health issue driven mainly by mental illness and addiction. I would immediately engage with Interior Health and the Ministry of Health to provide the proper facilities and medical needs for these individuals. The Talarico facility has full wing space, undeveloped in the basement level which potentially could be utilized to accommodate professionals and patient needs.
Is there a past city leadership decision you disagreed with? Why? What would you have done differently?
Chernoff: During my time as mayor, there were understandably times when we, as a council, did not agree. We are elected to make difficult decisions based on sound judgment and what is in the best interests of our citizens. It’s important to have a leader who is proactive, resourceful and open-minded; we work together as team and make decisions as a team. The decisions are a product of input gained from senior staff, council and community members. This is particularly important in financial planning and resource allocation.
Duff: I believe that the city agreeing to hold the last Recreation Complex referendum was a mistake for the reason that not counting the ballots from Area I, Area J and the city in one pot more or less guaranteed its failure. As mayor, I would have stopped the referendum and done two things — asked for a realistic re-evaluation of our future recreation needs and recommend to council and the rec commission that we take another look at the managing and financial structure of the Rec Complex.
Lamont: A past decision that I disagreed the most with is Phase I of Columbia Avenue. I understand we received funding for adding the bike lanes the way we did, however the bike lanes were very poorly designed. The decision was made to build the Cadillac of streets. We went all in on the extras and the basic needs of the street still have not been met. I would not have spent millions on the extras I would have put more money into the function of the street.
Vassilakakis: Part of the difficulty of looking back is that it is hard to understand the political/economic atmosphere in those times and I don’t think it is fair to judge decisions or presume I know better, because it might have been right for the time. I think sometimes councils get caught up in the now. Forward-looking ideas and vision become non-prioritized. This creates reactive policy making verses taking a pro-active approach (think affordable housing shortage). Certainly the zero-per-cent tax increases of 20 years ago have put pressure on today’s council to catch up. Someone always has to pay the piper.
Zaitsoff: The gaming centre located at the airport would have been better situated in the downtown core. Having a catalyst of this magnitude would have helped revitalize the downtown core and businesses. It would have provided numerous opportunities for restaurant and dining. The people would have also accessed businesses along this Columbia corridor en route to the city centre.
How do you think the city could address the shortage of affordable housing?
Chernoff: In my many years of experience in municipal politics, this has been a recurring theme. With the cost of living being so high, affordability for families has become difficult. This needs to be a partnership with all levels of government by means of grants and funding. A strategy needs to be developed to get this moving. I am committed to this community and the people that live within it. I have been a member of this community and have served this community my whole life.
Duff: In addition to my biggest issue response, the city should complete the housing strategy, encourage private sector housing stock development by reviewing and updating our Official Community Plan, reviewing and updating any appropriate bylaws, considering any appropriate zoning changes, reviewing development cost charges, and advocate on behalf of renters by lobbying the province to remove discriminatory language in the Residential Tenancy Act that is seen as barriers for certain demographics such as renters who are women with children.
Lamont: The city needs to offer incentives to developers ie. tax breaks, reduced development costs so that builders will come here and build apartments, condos, townhouses, row houses. And have a stipulation that in exchange for these reduced fees there will be a percentage of all new builds that will be strictly for low income individuals and families. I know of three developers that I have personally talked to that have fled town after finding out the development costs and the length of time it takes to get approval for projects.
Vassilakakis: We need to continue working with local service providers, BC Housing, higher levels of government and developers on innovative approaches and on ways to remove the barriers to building housing across the spectrum. We have a shortage in low-income and below-market housing, multi-family and single-family dwellings. We have opportunities to create policy on laneway homes, tiny homes, secondary suites and encouraging mixed use developments. Parking requirements, competitive development charges, property taxes, permitting and red tape all play a role. These will be addressed by the nearly complete housing strategy and will need to be acted on with urgency.
Zaitsoff: Firstly, and most quickly, the city can change it’s bylaw to allow for legal basement suites to allow home owners to rent space. Continued works by the low income housing/child care committee to submit their recommendations to city council for timely review and potential implementation. Continue to work progressively with property developers prioritizing the housing needs for Castlegar.
What are your top three city priorities?
Chernoff: My top three priorities would be infrastructure, economic development and quality of life. I grew up in Castlegar and I raised my family here. We’ve come a long way from being a single factory town. I’m invested in this community and I look forward to the growth of Castlegar and the potential it offers from long-time residents to those new to town. Initiatives such as Sculpture Walk, Communities in Bloom and the Millennium Ponds have really put Castlegar on the map.
Duff: Housing and homelessness, work with council to pause, take a breath and hold the line on taxation in 2022 with no increases other than the normal inflation affecting cost of service delivery, and advocate for 24/7 emergency services at the Castlegar & District Community Health Centre.
Lamont: Bridging the gap between city and citizens. Working on housing strategies to get the affordable housing that we so desperately need. Ensuring all future projects that the city undertakes are done with more emphasis on necessity rather than luxury.
Vassilakakis: Affordable housing, airport improvements and reliability and healthcare initiatives are at the top of the list. I have consistently supported all these issues and have made them a priority. From doctor recruitment, healthcare advocacy, recreation opportunities to having consistent and reliable flights all year long to making sure everyone can have a roof over their heads. All of these can be tied to having a healthy citizenry and vibrant business community and all benefit economic development in general. It is important that we look at all issues and strategic priorities in parallel and connect the dots. They are all interrelated.
Zaitsoff: A. Ensuring that the city infrastructure remains reliable and functional along with services affordable to the Castlegar residents. B. Economic development for community sustainability — allowing seamless and timely reviews, cost effective measures for new businesses and investors. C. Improved health care for Castlegar residents — immediate dialogue with Interior Health and Ministry of Health.
What skills or experience do you have that would make you a good mayor?
Chernoff: During my many years as a city councilor and then mayor, I have dedicated my life to serving the residents of this community both as a paramedic and as a member of council. I have been on a variety of committees, including, but not limited to: chair of the hospital board, vice-chair of the RDCK, co-chair of Thunder 2000 Airshow, chair of West Kootenay Transit, and chair of Highway 3 Mayor’s Coalition. During my time as mayor, I committed myself full-time to the position. I care deeply for Castlegar and was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Award dedication to my community.
Duff: This byelection is about leadership style and personality backed by a solid foundation of political experience and community service. I have 18 years of experience as a city councillor and the ability to hit the ground running as your mayor! I have a record of community service with 40+ years in Lions, BC Lions Clubs Society for Children with Disabilities board chair, Castlegar Sculpture Walk past president, Castlegar Library trustee, Castlegar Hospital Foundation past president, volunteered with Castlegar homecoming committee, BC Seniors Games and Kootenay Festival! I’m offering a fresh, respectful restart through positive and level-headed leadership as your mayor!
Lamont: I am a people person, a problem solver and I am well aware of the value of a dollar. I feel my extensive construction experience in building houses from the ground up will be a great asset in planning and budgeting for new projects. I have very diverse life experiences that differ from any other candidates for mayor.
Vassilakakis: Here is what you can expect from me on day one. Fresh leadership to keep the city moving forward by an experienced and informed candidate. Eight years as a city councillor with a track record for doing my homework on the issues, working hard on solutions and defending what is best for the community. As a long-time business person, I understand the importance of hard work and strong fiscal management. I have an understanding of current issues and projects that the city is working on and have shown that I can get things done by building consensus around the table.
Zaitsoff: I was born and raised in Castlegar, residing here my entire life. I have been employed in the forest resource field my entire working career. I was a regional director for the RDCK for four consecutive terms. Acknowledged for being one of the most thrifty and project/economic driven directors. My working career has consisted of supervisory and managerial duties. I have always encouraged input to problem solving for best results. I have strove to make Castlegar a better place to live volunteering countless hours with my business.
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