Two hours, 11 of 19 candidates, 12 questions – and just a dash of mud-slinging – was the recipe for a hastily called White Rock all-candidates meeting, held Monday evening at the White Rock Community Centre.
At least 150 people turned out to ask questions and hear from the candidates at the Democracy Direct-sponsored event, which was moderated by Scott Kristjanson, a member of the organizing group and former council hopeful.
From the outset, Kristjanson laid ground rules for the candidates and residents alike: keep it clean.
And for the most part, it was.
One resident was cut off mid-question when it became obvious it was a personal attack on one of two mayoral candidates. Another who wanted to know which candidates opposed the Bosa towers “we’re now using” also did not get answers, after Kristjanson deemed it “not really relevant.”
The moderator apologized for allowing a question and answer regarding a decade-old incident at city hall that made international headlines. It involved two then-councillors who are both now running for re-election.
“We’ve seen enough (mud-slinging) in the newspaper,” Kristjanson said.
Allowed questions covered topics ranging from purchase of the city’s water supply, to safe beach access, to how to attract business.
Regarding the water supply and how candidates would complete the long-sought purchase from system owner Epcor “now,” incumbent councillor Al Campbell said this is the first opportunity the city has had to purchase its water supply and that “if it doesn’t work for the city, we won’t do it”; David Chesney questioned the liquidation of Epcor’s Oxford Street property.
Dennis Lypka, who said he favours the city tying into Metro Vancouver’s water lines, described the negotiations to date as “very much veiled,” saying he understood the sale of the utility was offered in 2005.
Mayoral challenger David Bradshaw – who also said White Rock should consider linking to Metro water – noted that incumbent Wayne Baldwin didn’t support purchasing the water supply when he was city manager, “and now he does,” then was cut short by Kristjanson when he tried to return to an earlier question, regarding Bradshaw’s call for a forensic audit of the city’s books.
In that, former mayor Hardy Staub asked Bradshaw if he was “suggesting that the mayor and council or city staff are cooking the books?”
“I don’t know if they’re cooking the books,” Bradshaw answered, “but a forensic audit will tell us if there have been any shenanigans… or is it just a matter that the priorities are messed up.”
Baldwin said the call for a forensic audit suggests suspicion of wrongdoing or theft, and was an insult to city staff.
“Before you start making statements about forensic audits, you really should know what you’re talking about,” he said, to lengthy applause.
Councillor hopeful Ross Haugland said a forensic audit would be “overkill.”
“It is (reviewed) every year,” he said. “They’ve done a good job with them. Actually, White Rock’s in pretty good shape.”
Regarding water, Baldwin noted council members are under a confidentiality agreement that prevents them from speaking publicly to the ongoing negotiations.
In response to a question about how they would handle future bargaining with the union representing city workers, both incumbent councillor Helen Fathers and Bradshaw pointed to costs associated with the city’s independent fire service. Fathers said whether the city should continue with the service is a question that will have to be posed to the community “at some point,” while Bradshaw was more blunt.
“Our fire service needs to be amalgamated,” he said. “We can get the same dedicated service from Surrey. We can’t afford this any longer.”
Campbell, noting that a third of the city’s budget goes to fire, police and staff wages, said the city has “got to be very careful what we agree to.”
Where safe beach access is concerned, Fathers and Campbell pointed to a need for education and increased enforcement; and Bradshaw said the issue has been “blown out of proportion” and should be left to railway owner BNSF.
While all candidates were present at an Oct. 30 debate hosted by local business groups, eight – including all six members of the White Rock Coalition – were missing from Monday’s meeting, which was announced last week.
Coalition candidates had booked a fundraiser for the same evening; and Darcy Sangster and Cary van Zanten were also unable to attend.