The race for a seat on Pitt Meadows council heated Monday at an all-candidates meeting, with one mayoral candidate questioning the competence of others.
John Becker opened his speech to a packed room at the new South Bonson Community Centre by stressing he would put in whatever hours were necessary to do an “excellent” job.
“To settle what remains of this issue once and for all, I am 100 per cent committed to the job of mayor,” said Becker, a lawyer with a practice in the city and who has faced criticism that he might not be able to dedicate himself to the position full-time.
“The choice to be made in the mayor’s race is of the most competent person, not who has the most free time.”
A three-term councillor, Becker set his sights squarely on fellow city councillor Deb Walters, who is also seeking the mayor’s chair, a spot that’s been held by Don MacLean for the past 12 years.
Walters, a well-known volunteer and former citizen of the year, has no job other than councillor, but has previously held management positions in catering and retail, worked for the school district, Ministry of Tourism and done appraisals for B.C. Forest Service.
“Community volunteerism can take many forms and is not limited to flipping hamburgers,” he said.
Becker went on to announce he would implement a “zero” increase in taxes in budget process, which would mean each year staff would have to pitch a preliminary budget with no increases in the amount of cash the city draws from its residents.
“Council and all of you would see what zero means by way of potential cuts to programs and services. Only then would we look at any tax increases,” he added.
Even the first question posed by a member of the audience asked whether Becker would be quitting his job.
“I’ve spent 31 years building a business. I have 20 people who depend on my business to put food on their families tables. I’m not going to apologize for running a successful business in Pitt Meadows,” he said, forcefully adding that he has reorganized his life to do the job for mayor.
“It isn’t a contest between who is the most unemployed. I am not going to burn down my office. I am there. Becker is better and I am here for you.”
The mayor’s position doesn’t come with a “trainee hat”, Becker quipped later.
Walters, a two-term councillor, set herself apart from Becker by highlighting the positive things that are happening in the city. Her red-T-shirt-clad supporters clapped and cheered loudly after her speech.
“Taking advantage of grant and partnership opportunities have been the right thing to do and we have celebrated many successes during my tenure,” she said, adding she would focus on fiscal responsibility by paying down debt.
Transportation, development, the natural environment and communication are also keys to her platform.
“I am dedicated to the job and working for your family. Pitt Meadows is a growing city and our citizens expect and deserve a full-time mayor.”
Gary Paller, who is also vying for the mayor’s position, took to the microphone by apologizing for not having a written speech.
“I have been a hard working individual for many years and I don’t like the waste of money that’s been going on here,” he said. “I think we are choking people out of here with the way our taxes have gone. I want to say a lot of things, but sorry, I didn’t bring a speech with me.”
Besides the trio seeking the top position, 10 out of 11 other candidates seeking the five other seats on council attended Monday’s meeting, which saw the crowd spill out of the room and into the corridor. John Clancy was the only candidate who did not attend.
The council candidates faced questions about their experience, how much time they would dedicate to the position if elected, as well as queries about their stance on agricultural land and support of the arts.
Candidates highlighted their skills and occupations, which include: Charm Prophet, a business owner who has previously worked as a corrections officer in Vancouver; Rick Kreklewetz, the assistant vice-president and controller of Peoples Trust Company; Gay Conn, a program coordinator with the North Fraser Therapeutic Riding Association; Dave Murray, a CUPE executive member and George Coghlan, a retired cop.
Incumbent councillors Bruce Bell, Gwen O’Connell and Tracy Miyashita – who support Walters bid for mayor – also pointed out recent council achievements, including the renovations on the city’s hockey arena, the new community centre and civic centre projects such as the seniors’ housing and library.
Coun. Doug Bing, the lone Becker supporter on council, pitched himself with three key words – trust, experience and leadership.
Janis Elkerton, a former Pitt Meadows politician who is seeking a return to council, told the crowd the city was at a turning point.
“There will be a loss of at least 27 years of experience on council. I am seeking a return with 14 years of dedicated service to the city,” she said.
“Pitt Meadows needs strong, experienced leaders that have a proven track record of working hard and getting results.”
• The Pitt Meadows Community Association will be posting a video of the all-candidates meeting to their website by Friday, Nov. 11. For a link, visit www.pmcaonline.com.