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White Rock incumbents defend record as challengers call for change

Council candidates address Chamber/BIA meeting
Alex Browne photo South Surrey White Rock Chamber of Commerce executive director Ritu Khanna and White Rock BIA executive director Alex Nixon introduce White Rock councillor candidates at a forum held Oct. 2 at Centennial Arena.

Editor’s note: This article was initially printed Peace Arch News’s Oct. 5 edition, but due to a technical glitch the introduction was repeated and the ending was truncated.

It will be reprinted in full in Wednesday’s edition.

An all-candidates meeting for White Rock council aspirants Tuesday night was fair in giving everyone a say – but offered little for those looking for pre-election fireworks.

The meeting, at the Centennial Arena complex, was jointly presented by the White Rock BIA and the South Surrey-White Rock Chamber of Commerce for members only.

Moderated by retired newspaper editor and Peace Arch News columnist Frank Bucholtz and Vancouver-based journalist Hayley Woodin (a former Miss White Rock), the forum’s format of timed 60-second answers to prewritten questions meant there was little room for detailed analysis of issues raised, such as what could be done to improve transportation, or whether the city should allow three cannabis retailers instead of one pilot project.

Instead it was more a showcase of the personality and style of the 20 councillor candidates who attended, with two absent. (another forum for councillor candidates will be held by the Peninsula Homeless to Housing (PH2H) task force on Oct. 9, mayoral candidates will be hosted publicly at White Rock Community Centre on Oct. 12.)

Comments from candidates – both incumbents and newcomers – stressed the need for council to listen to residents, and to operate with transparency, inclusivity, effective communications and respect, rather than divisiveness.

Members of the Democracy Direct slate were most vocal in criticizing the current council.

Member Erika Johanson, noting that council has had “73 closed meetings since 2014,” said important decisions should not be made behind closed doors, and advocated a return of the question period and establishment of regular ‘town hall’ meetings to discuss issues, rather than city-controlled ‘open houses.’

Member Scott Kristjanson said he felt the current pace of development should be reined-in to retain White Rock’s seaside atmosphere, while improving infrastructure, water quality and overall efficiency.

“Memorial Park has been destroyed,” he said. “And it was supposed to cost $1 million and now it’s $5 million.”

“I don’t want another four years of what just happened,” said Christopher Trevelyan, also a member, who added he wanted to listen to, and work on behalf of, residents. “A big issue is the community’s relationship with city hall – there is no relationship and no support.”

The four White Rock Coalition incumbents said they wanted to see through progress that had been made in the city during the last term and stood by council’s record in consulting and being responsive to residents.

“I decided to run again to see through what we started,” incumbent Megan Knight said, adding that, once finished, current work on Memorial Park and the Johnston Road revitalization would be “wonderful’ for the city.

“Team work is one of the things that is part of my vibe,” said Bill Lawrence. “We’re going to be doing something great in this city.”

Lynne Sinclair acknowledged that Johnson Road revitalization is currently “a bit of a mess,” but said it would be worth waiting for. “I have a record of listening and a record of solving people’s problems,” she added. “If you call on us, we work on your behalf.”

Council’s two independent incumbents, Helen Fathers and David Chesney (who have frequently clashed with Mayor Wayne Baldwin and council’s White Rock Coalition majority) spoke of their continuing commitment to the city despite experiences during the last term.

“I hope people see the value of voting people in who respect the community,” said Helen Fathers, who also explained that her principal reason for not running for mayor was that she believes the position is a “full-time job.”

“I’m not a politician – I’m an elected official,” Chesney said, adding that the last term was “a difficult four years – I’d like to give it another shot with a different group of people.”

New White Rock Coalition candidates were focused on relationship-building and problem-solving.

“I’d like to pull this community back together,” said Ernie Klassen (also White Rock BIA president), who stressed the importance of a co-operative approach in improving the city for both residents and businesses.

“I’m passionate about the future of the city,” Balbir Thind said, adding that she believes that the city should “operate in a transparent way.”

“You can’t be loved by every single person,” Nerissa Yan said, noting it’s important to listen to all voices and opinions when making difficult decisions.

“Whatever decision you make that is best for the city will be a decision people will remember you for.”

Independent candidates offered criticism of the most recent council term – emphasizing a need for the city to stick by its Official Community Plan – and also spoke of their desire to make positive contributions to the city.

Fiona MacDermid said she is not against development, but believes that it must be development that is appropriate to the city.

“I know these problems can be solved and that we can really work to get things done and listen to what the people of White Rock want,” she said.

Jeffery Simpson, a video-game developer, said the city could better use software technology to improve efficiency, and that he wants to improve communication, ensuring that it is “a two-way street.”

“We can follow the OCP and have sensible development,” he added.

Michael Armstrong, referring to his background as a CPA, said he would like to take a closer look at the city’s accounting practices.

“We need fiscal responsibility and transparency in the city,” he said.

Moti Bali also said the city should be held more accountable for its actions.

“My loyalty is to the residents of White Rock,” he said. “Their voices should be heard – and I deliver what I promise I will deliver.”

Heather Hildred said she feels she can bring skills to White Rock council that she has developed in her career working with victims services for the RCMP.

“One of the big things we do is listen to, and advocate for people,” she said.

Christian Lane, a peace officer with the Canadian Border Agency, said he is a “big believer in entrepreneurial spirit” but noted he is not afraid to make sometimes unpopular decisions.

“I have long experience in having people not like me,” he said to some laughter from the crowd.

In response to a question about the necessity of affordable rental housing and business leases, Ken Wuschke said “all retail is vulnerable and at risk of redevelopment” in the city, and that there must be limits placed on how far away tenants can be relocated.

“I don’t want people here to have to leave the city to go to another place,” he said.

Mia Pedersen, responding to a question on whether White Rock should permit more cannabis retailers, said she would like more study of negatives of cannabis distribution that Vancouver has experienced.

“I’m an evidence-based person,” she said. “I’d feel very uncomfortable saying yes – I need more information.”

Andy Gibney said he believes in controlled growth in the city, and added that he doesn’t believe in “activist politicians.”

“For councillors to do the best they can for the city, and report to the taxpayers, there needs to be harmony there,” he said.

Elections are Oct. 20 across B.C.

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