Mayoral hopefuls in Lake Cowichan faced a barrage of quick-paced questions at the all-candidates meeting, hosted by the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce, held in Centennial Hall on Oct. 8.
The questions, which came from the floor and online, covered a wide range of topics and issues, including what each of the candidates would do about the shortage of affordable housing in the community, how they would improve ease of access for city services, how they would support businesses, and what would their priorities be in the remaining two years of their mandate.
Four of the five candidates to replace Rod Peters, who resigned in July for personal reasons, in the byelection on Oct. 24 were on hand for the meeting, which was broken up into three sessions over the day for social distancing purposes, and broadcast live for those at home to participate.
Candidates Bob Day, Ross Forrest, Mike Hallatt and Corrie Helliwell attended the meeting, while Jayne Ingram was absent.
As for her priorities over the next two years until the next municipal vote, if elected, Helliwell said she would work hard to provide good leadership for council and the town, as well as working with the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations in the community.
“I’d try to finish the jobs that council is working on and move forward,” Helliwell said.
Hallatt said he would look at growing the town’s economic base by considering opportunities for businesses like value added enterprises, such as furniture making, in the local forest industry instead of just shipping raw logs overseas.
“I would also work toward’s making the town’s technology more efficient,” he said.
“But I realize as mayor, I could only accomplish so many things.”
Forrest said he would work to blend together with the current council during the rest of its mandate.
“Council already has some priorities for the next two years and I would try to provide the stability that’s needed now during the pandemic,” he said.
Day said he would advocate for a yearly review of the town’s CAO position and management staff.
“I would enhance the town’s online presence to make it easier for people to make payments and access other information,” he said.
“I would also find ways to move along work on the sewer treatment plant, town hall and other town projects.”
As for providing more affordable housing in Lake Cowichan, Day said he would sit with the town’s planners and CAO and review the plans for subdivisions in the community and whether affordable housing components could be added to them.
“We could look at secondary suites as well, and ensure we have good representation at the Cowichan Housing Association which can help us access funding for projects,” Day said.
Forrest said there’s no doubt that the economic success in the community over the past 10 years has driven up house prices.
“We could look at our zoning in an effort to have more secondary suites,” he said.
“A lot of people are fighting to make their mortgage payments and this would help them with that.”
Hallatt said the lack of affordable housing has become a political football, and the problem is getting worse.
“Tiny homes can be designed, but they run into all kinds of problems with municipalities,” he said.
“Why don’t we consider setting up a tiny home park here?”
Helliwell said there isn’t much rental stock in Lake Cowichan so developers could be encouraged to construct apartment buildings, and BC Housing could be asked to help subsidize such developments.
In regards to what could be done to support local businesses during the ongoing challenging times, Day said the town could help businesses connect with the appropriate institutions that can make them more innovative, including using more online technologies.
“The town and businesses also need better strategies to deal with lots of people in the summer months,” he said.
Forrest said the town needs to develop a comprehensive plan to help local businesses, that could include providing parking exclusively for tubers which would free up parking for the businesses.
“We’ve had a good year, but winter continues to be a challenge for businesses,” he said.
Hallatt said he had discussed the problem of what to do in slower winter months with some local businesses.
“We need businesses that would warrant people coming from Duncan and Nanaimo to shop at them,” he said.
“To do that, I think we have to incubate some new business ideas for the town.”
Helliwell said that during the busy tourist season, more parking spaces are required, so parking spaces for just one to two hours should be established so tubers wouldn’t take them up all day.
“We also need more online exposure for businesses in the slow season,” she said.
“I’ll help the local businesses any way I can.”