A packed house at Centennial Hall listens at candidate Tim McGonigle answers a question during the Lake Cowichan all-candidates meeting Tuesday night. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)

Voters get earful from all candidates at Lake Cowichan meeting

During two-hour session, hopefuls for mayor and council stated accomplishments, plans

More than 200 people packed Lake Cowichan’s Centennial Hall Tuesday night to hear the hopefuls for town council in an all-candidates meeting.

Housing, tourism, help for business, cannabis legalization, and lots more were on a full agenda that kept everyone glued to their seats for two hours.

Among the mayoralty candidates, Bob Day said that the first headline he saw in the Lake Cowichan Gazette when he moved to town was “Lake Cowichan: Boom Town or Ghost Town?” In the years since then he’s seen progress, with businesses such as the Co-op gas station, Country Grocer, Tim Hortons, and the Riverside Inn now employing many people, and there are fewer vacant buildings around town. Asked what his style was, Day said, “helping.”

Ross Forrest said that he’s “deeply invested in this community” and was proud that while he’s been in the mayor’s chair, “cohesive councils have been able to achieve great things.” Offering “pride through recognition” has been the object of such projects as the Sports Wall of Fame and the new columbarium site. Asked what his style was, Forrest said, “respect.”

Rod Peters said, “the Town of Lake Cowichan is a business,” and stressed his business experience. Among “the couple of things I’m not pleased with” are the road coming into Lake Cowichan, which needs revamping because there are no left turns. He also wants to see the town’s sewer lagoon work finished, and more effort made on seniors’ housing. Asked what his style was, Peters said, “delegation.”

The candidates for councillor were ranged across the front of the stage.

Carolyne Austin talked about her volunteer experience, the importance of teamwork, the need to enhance tourism and new business, and upgrade the town’s infrastructure. She stressed that she made “thoughtful, informed decisions” on what she thought would be best for the majority of the town’s residents.

Tim McGonigle, a council veteran, said he considered his experience, fiscal responsibility, and open mindedness to be his strongest assets at the council table. He pointed out that councillors have to be “mindful of the effect of their decisions on residents.” He wanted to see more effort on policies that would enable attainable housing development, and improve neighbourhoods.

Beverly North drew a laugh when she said, “there are a few issues that annoy me.” As a mainstreet business owner, “the summer parking issue” was one of those but on top of that, “we need public beach access for people, especially those with mobility issues,” she said. North also wanted to see electricity brought into the town’s campsite for the large number of winter campers who want to stay at the Lake.

Loretta Puckrin said, “the town is at a watershed moment.” Residents must decide if they want to be “a bedroom for Duncan or a viable community.” She said council needs to get out into the community more. “We have a vibrant wealth of talent here, and we need some way to create an environment so we can be self-sustaining.”

Kristine Sandhu said she liked a balanced approach from council members but stressed that “the official community plan must protect our watershed. Climate change is real, people,” she said. In addition, “young people need some reason to stay, and seniors need to be able to stay in the community they love.” However, voters need to remember that the primary role of council is “policy making” not operations.

Lorna Vomacka said she now has many roots in the community, working with various groups, as well as owning her own business, and this allows her to offer a listening ear to many residents so she can be their voice. However, “I will work with whoever you put at that table,” she added.

Rocky Wise simply said, “I want to serve you people so we have a proper town to live in.”

Councillors were asked for their “number one priorities”.

Vomacka, Sandhu, North, McGonigle, and Austin each listed “housing” as being at the top of their lists. Puckrin said, “a completely open, transparent council” and Wise said he had no single issue.

When it came to attracting business, candidates had a variety of ideas.

McGonigle and North wanted to streamline Lake Cowichan’s bylaws while Austin and Puckrin said that businesses that are here must be able to survive, and Vomacka and Wise said that “more help at the front counter” when business people come to ask questions at the municipal office would be helpful.

Another topic that raises its head every election is political amalgamation of the Cowichan Lake area.

Wise was for it because amalgamation would give more control of the watershed. Vomacka would approve “as long as those areas are in favour of it. Sandhu and North said they’d need to see more research before saying yes or no. Puckrin liked the concept but wondered if the other areas would agree. Austin said she though the south side of the lake might agree, but didn’t expect Youbou to ever want amalgamation. McGonigle said “this is a question for a public committee not an elected official.”

The question of getting information from council also comes up every year.

Many candidates liked the idea of an “open door day” when the mayor and councillors would be available so people could come in and see them for a chat. Online coverage of meetings was also mentioned, and even mailing out updates was suggested.

However, as Vomacka said, “lots of people say they don’t do computers, or they don’t look at our notice board, and they don’t come to meetings. There’s not a lot more we can do.”

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