A group of more than 50 people gathered at the Oceola Fish and Game Clubhouse on Wednesday night (Sept. 21), as Lake Country electoral candidates spoke and answered the public’s questions.
The more than three hour event gave nine council members a chance to answer questions from the public about affordable housing, adapting change to the community, transit and more.
Acclaimed Mayor Blair Ireland was in attendance, as well as acclaimed Oyama Councillor Todd McKenzie and acclaimed School Trustee Amy Geistlinger. The three spoke periodically, giving the other six members running a chance to answer questions. Cara Reed, the acclaimed Carr’s Landing councillor wasn’t in attendance as well as Heather Irvine, who’s running for the Winfield ward position.
The six other members in attendance were at-large candidates Bib Patel, Michael Lewis, and Bill Scarrow. Tricia Brett and Riley Hastings were there, both running for the Okanagan Centre candidacy while Jeremy Kozub had a seat at table as he’s competing for the Winfield position.
Todd McKenzie – “Transit’s been a huge focus, we’ve had plenty of conversations and it needs to be better, there’s no question about that. We’re working on it but I do think we need to push hardly on it.”
Bib Patel – “Yeah, it’s a problem.” “We definitely need to take a look at it.” “We have a lot of landscape and be able to move people around a lot more effectively.”
Michael Lewis – “We need more transit.”
Tricia Brett – “Our transit is not adequate to service all of the areas of our community.” “We need to improve transit. One of the things is increasing ridership. If you increase ridership, you increase the service, so one way to increase ridership is making it free up to 16-17 (years old) because you create users from a early age.”
She also said that more transit will help with parking issues around Lake Country.
Jeremy Kozub – “Yes there’s a problem with transporation and yes, council has tried to address is, the issue is it’s a privately-operated company, provincial funded so we really have no say except to berate the people who came and talk in front of us.”
“If it’s not reliable, people won’t wait for a bus.”
Blair Ireland – “Transit is a priority but the way transit is run right now sucks for us…this money should be reinvested in these communities for transit. It’s a service that we need and it needs to expand and grow.”
Bill Scarrow – “In any other province in Canada, there is no such thing as Alberta transit, no such thing (as) Saskatchewan transit, no such (as) thing Manitoba transit. The transits are run by the cities in all of those provinces. for some reason, we have something called BC Transit which evolved out of BC Hydro which used to have the ferries and everything in it and now all of a sudden, BC Transit manages everything that happens in BC.”
“We budgeted for new rides, rides to Oyama, to take The Lakes (neighbourhood) bus and use it differently. We have that in our budget, sitting there, the money, waiting. Five years later, BC transit hasn’t approved any additional runs so my question is BC Transit is first ‘why are you there?’, secondly ‘why did you hire a contractor out of Glasgow to take 20 per cent profit out of the service and the taxpayers?’ The contracts need to go to the cities or to smaller developers rather than this global thing and pays no attention to the problems here.”
Scarrow has been a bus driver in Kelowna for 20 years.
Scarrow – “If you talk to some of the developers, most of them don’t want to build that, they want to build the million dollar Lakestone houses.”
“Low cost housing is a challenge from our province and the developers and as far as our council goes, I’ve never noted anyone of us to vote against something that included rental or low cost of single family housing.”
Notes that had approval for 55 units for single mothers with children and low rental income but the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) turned down funding it, saying Lake Country was too little and needs were greater in other parts of the province.
Riley Hastings – “One of the biggest things that we’re going to have to focus on is what parts of our infrastructure can actually hold up to the density, and maybe we’ll have to look at rezoning some areas that still have some availability left.”
“Obviously, right now it’s a good time for low income housing.” He noted that builders are charging $300 per square foot, two houses he built were $100 and $125 per square foot.
“Parking is critical. We’ve got to make sure that whatever we put in, it’s going to have the parking. It’s not going to be street parking, it’s going to be parking for the units.”
Noted low-income housing in Kelowna is renting out parking spots to people who don’t live in the housing to get money back.
Kozub – “Affordable housing, that’s always the hot topic and that’s my number one platform, is bringing affordable housing because I’m tired of seeing these Lakestone homes that are massive, empty homes for multiple months of the year and we have other people that can barely even afford an apartment.”
“We’re trying our hardest for affordable housing.”
Brett – “Affordability is not explicitly related to supply of housing, I think that’s something that gets put out there a lot, that the only way to improve affordability is to build more homes, well I would say that we would need to build more targeted homes.”
Noted there needs to be rental accommodation.
Lewis – “Yes affordable housing, subsidized housing is a good thing, I think it’s great but it’s not a silver bullet, it’s not going to fix out housing crisis. We need varied degree of houses.”
“We need varied, diversity of houses for different people whether it’s aging populations, three, four bedroom townhouses for families to get into the market.”
Patel – “To buy a house depends on your income at the end of the day and we’ve seen homes increase to values so we have to keep an eye on the trend we’re in right now.”
“For attracting young people to Lake Country, we have to be able to give them a place to stay, and maybe not just rent, a place to buy.”
“We should always be looking at the bigger picture, making sure there’s an ability to get into the market and guidance on how.”
“We have a lot of space here and we need to use it wisely, and that it doesn’t take away from the community but adds to it, the more voices and the more demographic that we can attract, the better for us. We need to focus on what’s in our control.”
ADAPTING CHANGE TO THE COMMUNITY
Patel – “Am I an advocate for change? Yes, when it’s necessary. There are great ideas that we have, that we need to do more of.”
“I’d like to look into a better identity for Lake Country.”
“Sometimes we have to change to keep things the way they are. We have to accept that people are coming, that we’re growing, and some of the ways we conduct ourselves have to change in order for us to keep our identity going in the direction we want to.”
McKenzie – “One thing that’s quite clear is not everyone wants change. Some people wants things to stay the same, some people want new.”
“In some cases change is good, in some it’s not. Even if I have a personal opinion on something for Oyama, that’s fine but I like to represent the whole community.”
Lewis – “We have many plans at the District of Lake Country, we have great plans for change, the plan is there, no one is trying to change the plan but I do think we can do a better job to execute the plan. I want the change we all kind of agreed to and planned on and that were working towards.”
Brett – “Not everyone wants changes and that’s part of it but we are community is growing…I don’t really see any problems, I see more opportunities for increased engagement.”
Kozub – “People say ‘vote for change’ but the district is continually changing…it’s changed in the last four years since I’ve started and one of the positives we’ve worked on is that we’ve hired more by-law officers and we’ve expanded the amount of time those by-law officers are out in the field…it’s making a more positive community.”
Hastings – “Absolutely I’m a fan of change. We need to have stuff for our youth, for our younger generations to do.”
“If we had amenities here for our kids, bet you’d we’d see that increase (lower rate in schools).”
Scarrow – “Ever since I’ve been on council, it’s changed every week, month, we’ve changed our priorities.”
“It’s up to us councillors whether were old or new to keep up with those changes. Am I for change? Well, it’s inevitable.”
Acclaimed Mayor Blair Ireland was asked what happened in regards to his opponent that dropped out of the race.
“I had an opponent, he phoned me and said he was dropping out of the race…we talked for a long time. I’ve never met him before but I think we had a pretty good conversation. he told me a lot about why he wanted to run and what he wanted to do. he told me about some of the issues he was having and some of those issues I agree with. I was kind of surprised he phoned me and I think he was a real gentleman to call me first and let me know.”
The mayoral and council elections are taking place on Saturday, Oct. 15.