KELOWNA - Kelowna mayoralty hopefuls were given the opportunity to land the knockout punch last night but no one landed the blow.
Contender Bobby Kennedy gave it his best shot but, when it came to the final question at the Black Press sponsored forum at last night, Oct. 16, the two leading contenders played nice.
Their question was: In recent elections across the globe there’s been a lot of commentary about the growing ugliness about the political arena. How would you characterize this race?
While four men are running for mayor, this is clearly a contest between incumbent Colin Basran and his former friend and former president of Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Tom Dyas.
Dyas launched his campaign in mid-September by attacking Basran for a lack of leadership and a lack of consultation at City Hall. He’s also questioned Basran’s honesty and integrity.
Basran’s strategy has been to keep positive by running on his record of governing a city that is economically strong, diverse and inclusive with a need to stay the course set by he and council.
Rather than rise to the challenge of that final question and suggest that Dyas had tried to hit below the belt, Basran continued to take the high road.
“Everyone is doing their best, around this table, to get their vote out and to get people to support them,” Basran said. “Some of us will use different tactics than others but, at the end of the day, we all care about our community, we all want to make it better.
“At the end of the day, regardless of who the winner is, we all need to come together and put that aside and continue to make this city an awesome place to be.”
Dyas, who spoke next in the rotation, opted not to continue his criticism of Basran.
“There will be differences between us. There will be conversations.” Dyas said. “I think the beauty of this is, we all want what is best for this community, in our own way. I think good conversation and good debate will only make the city stronger, at the end of the day.”
That doesn’t mean some sparks didn’t fly at what was the most entertaining mayoralty debate of this campaign.
Each candidate had one minute to answer each question then could give a 30-second rebuttal. That led to a sometimes humorous exchange over a question from former Kelowna city councillor Michelle Rule about Airbnb’s being allowed in downtown high-rises.
Dyas supported the Airbnb concept as long as the city’s hotel tax to promote tourism was paid.
Kennedy managed to segue that into at slightly snarky exchange between him and Basran over Kennedy’s proposed City Cannabis Tax.
“The provincial government is yet to say what portion of revenues municipalities will be receiving (from cannabis sales),” Basran said. “We can’t make any plans before we know how much money we’re getting. If we’re going to implement our own municipal tax, we need to make sure it’s not so much that it’s going to push the price up and force people to buy on the black market, which we are trying to prevent with legalization.”
“Are you afraid that I know more about this issue than you do?” Kennedy shot back. “This is the biggest opportunity since the prohibition of alcohol for our economy. So, if you knew a little bit more about it, Colin, you will know the provincial government actually just imposed a 15 per cent tax that will go on top of the 12 per cent tax that would take you up to 27 so if we went there with a three per cent tax that would take us to 35 or it could be 32.
“The cities are absolutely allowed to make their own one. And this city cannabis tax is only going back to your city."
Whenever there is a mayor’s forum, the audience — as they did last night — clapped loudest for Basran. Kennedy, as is so often the case, ranked third in crowd support with the fourth contender Bob Schewe far behind.
But, to Schewe's credit, he gave one of the most informed responses of any candidate in this election season when it came to the Airbnb question.
As a former bylaw officer he was frequently called to deal with complaints about such rentals.
“Quite often, it’s out-of-town owners renting the properties and they become party houses,” Schewe said.
If they’re going to be allowed, he said, the municipal ticketing process is not good enough as an enforcement tool. Penalties have to be raised to the court level to make sure there are real consequences for owners who don’t follow the rules, he said.
Basran did point out that city council has already reviewed possible regulations for Airbnbs. Those will be brought to the new council to be elected Saturday, Oct. 20.
The final forum of this election season is tonight, Oct. 17, at Rutland Centennial Hall, starting at 7 p.m. It includes all Kelowna city council candidates.
The forum is hosted by the Central Okanagan Early Years Partnership and B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition. It’s billed as “part of a broader, coordinated initiative to drive awareness and action to reduce poverty in the Central Okanagan.”
It’s one of the few occasions for council candidates to be questioned in public.
Last night, Kennedy did take time to promote those councillor candidates he felt would be best on his team when he becomes mayor. That included incumbent Brad Sieben along with newcomers Loyal Wooldridge, Dustin Sargent, Jeff Piattelli and Gordon Lovegrove.
Kennedy also promised to hire Schewe as a liaison between the RCMP and bylaw officers and promoted an election night Everybody Votes Showcase at Habitat. Wearing an “I voted” sticker from polling booths is the cost of admission.
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