If the packed gymnasium at the Pitt Meadows Recreation Centre for Monday night’s all candidates meeting is any indication, the community is paying close attention to the 2014 civic election.
Candidates spoke to the audience of 300 about how this one is a key election. Coun. Janis Elkerton noted that it was the largest turnout she has seen through the seven elections, since 1993.
The mayor’s job is up for grabs with Deb Walters not running again, and the three mayoralty candidates distinguished themselves in how they answered three questions.
They were each asked how they would preserve the safe, small, clean character of Pitt Meadows?
“A crime wave in Pitt Meadows is two people blowing the stop sign at Old Dewdney Trunk Road,” noted John Becker. “And we need to be thankful for that kind of community.”
He said the city needs to maintain its farm character and resist urban sprawl. Council also needs to ensure there is a good tax base through development, and attract “mortgage paying” jobs.
And, he said council needs to ensure seniors can continue to afford to live in the community, and provide recreation opportunities for young people.
Michael Hayes said council needs to develop its industrial lands, and the North Lougheed Corridor, to increase the tax base, and ease the tax burden on citizens.
“There’s only so much land that we can develop and grow, so it’s very strategic and important for us that we take a strong look at these lands that we are developing,” said Hayes. “We’re not in a hurry to grow. I treasure the size of Pitt Meadows, and that’s one of the charms that brings people here,” he added.
Gary Paller also said the key is a sustainable tax base, and saw developing the North Lougheed Corridor as a way to do that.
“We need to solve the problems of the north side, and we need to get on with it.”
Another question addressed the division on council, and asked how the mayors would deal with it.
Paller, who ran a motion picture special effects company, said teamwork was essential to success in that industry.
“In my business, it was always about working together,” he said, and noted that those teams were 150 people, “not six.”
“I think that requires a lot of mayoralty influence – getting people to work together.”
Becker emphasized his experience, having served nine years on council.
“I’ve worked with all these people before. They’re all good people, and I have every confidence that I, as the leader of the group – not the loudest voice, but the leader of the group – will be able to bring everyone back working in a consensus environment in fairly short order,” said Becker. “I’m a trained mediator, I’m a trained facilitator. If I can work through child custody battles I can probably handle my friends at city hall.”
Hayes said his background includes having been the general manager of his Hayes Developments construction company, before he pursued a computer science degree and career with a software company. He has “a host of management training and team building experience.”
He took a shot at Becker’s team, which includes council candidates David Murray, Bruce Bell, Mike Stark and Elkerton.
“First and foremost, we need an independent council,” said Hayes. “We need a council that is of their own mind, and first and foremost puts the citizens of Pitt Meadows first in all their decision making.”
In final remarks he added: “My decisions will be based on what is good for the entire community – and not just the party line.”
Coun. Gwen O’Connell echoed those sentiments.
“Each issue deserves to be looked at independently and fairly. I will vote the way I feel is best for all of the residents, not the pre-arranged group is going to get the vote,” she said.
Bill Dingwall added: “I’ll ask the tough questions, and independently vote my conscience.”
Bell was critical of tax increases at city hall, and said the proposed 25 per bump over five years is not sustainable, and pledged to work for no tax increase, without cutting services.
Elkerton said council needs to diversify the tax base, “but not at any cost.”
She noted that the North Lougheed Corridor development proposed by SmartCentres could cost taxpayers more than $18 million.
Murray opposed big box retailers at the site, saying it could impact existing businesses.
“You’re only going to be creating more empty storefronts,” he said.
Stark said he doesn’t support taking the land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“We’re going to need our ALR land in the future,” he said.
He got a round of applause when he added: “We’re living in a fertile area here – it should be used for growing food.”