As Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian reflected Monday night on a “wonderful year” at the helm of the city, the man vying for his chair — William Turnbull — said the city needs to move into the 21st century.
“We have the status quo right now,” Turnbull told about 450 people who attended KTW’s civic election forum at Thompson Rivers University on Monday.
Incumbent Christian has a lengthy resume, working in public health for nearly four decades and working his way up from school board to councillor before defeating four challengers and receiving 64 per cent of the vote to replace former mayor Peter Milobar in last year’s byelection.
Christian said council did a good job keeping down taxes during that first year and noted $50 million of construction attracted into Kamloops.
He said he is proud of the recent memorandum of understanding signed with TRU and building relations with Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, Interior Health and the Kamloops-Thompson school district.
If re-elected, Christian said he would prioritize affordability, infrastructure, relationship-building and revitalization of downtown, Tranquille Corridor and TRU precinct.
“It’s about building relationships and forming teams that will make a mayor that will lead Kamloops to the next level,” Christian said. “I want to be that mayor.”
Turnbull, meanwhile stressed vision for the city beyond what he called the “status quo.
“We can get the performing-arts centre happening. We can get the homeless off the streets,” he said. “We can get living-wage jobs in town. We can get some of these bridges on the surrounding areas, so we can get the big trucks off the downtown routes.”
Calling himself a “friendly redneck,” Turnbull, who is retired, is chair of his strata council and is serving a second term as president of the Downtown Neighbourhood Association. He makes donations to local groups under the moniker Turnbull Humanitarian Foundation, though it is not a registered charity.
During the forum, residents quizzed the mayoral hopefuls on climate change, walkability, cannabis-related law enforcement, homelessness and cardiac care.
Christian said the issue of climate change needs to be collectively addressed, noting the city has changed its development and engineering department in the past year to the development, engineering and sustainability department.
“In terms of citizen participation, we have a number of different vehicles by which we get that input. The most recent one is the Let’s Talk app that we have,” he said.
Turnbull said he would be in support of citizen input, particularly from Tk’emlups and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, as well as neighbourhood associations.
“We’ve got a lot of experts in this town,” he said.
A Sagebrush resident inquired about adding benches to walking routes around town to increase walkability for the city’s aging population.
Turnbull said it would be “great” to have benches and shelters at bus stops. Christian said benches would be an asset on steeper pitches, but noted challenges arise due to sidewalk maintenance and limited sidewalk space, with no plans in the works by the city.
TRU professor Michael Mehta asked candidates about proactive measures related to wildfire smoke following back-to-back socked-in summers.
Christian called forest fire smoke a “serious issue” that is getting worse. He noted shopping malls and libraries as places where the homeless can seek refuge and messaging to residents about staying out of the smoke and avoiding exertion, based on advice from Interior Health.
“The problem that you have when you declare a state of emergency on the basis of smoke is that you don’t know where to take people that it isn’t smoky,” Christian said. “So we have been quite reticent in doing that as far as a response.”
Turnbull, however, said the city needs free places to seek refuge, as well as extended hours.
Another resident asked whether the city will beef up law enforcement with the legalization of recreational cannabis.
Turnbull said bylaw services should come around more often to move along smokers.
“Yeah, it’s on everybody’s mind,” Turnbull said. “I’d like to smoke a joint right now, but it’s not legal.”
Christian, however, said he doesn’t believe in solving problems that have yet to arise. He added creating a bylaw with a fine would create unrealistic expectations, with residents phoning the city when they spot someone toking up in a banned area.
“In fact, it’s a very difficult thing for them [bylaws] to deal with,” Christian said. “We prefer to use signage and those types of mechanisms.”
Asked about concrete solutions to homelessness in Kamloops, Christian said it starts with a roof over someone’s head to promote wellness and recovery.
Turnbull, however, said that strategy has not worked — but without authority or money from the provincial government, he said the issue “gets dumped” on the city.
“We’ve heard housing first, but we’re getting pretty tired of that,” Turnbull said.
Voters head to the polls on Saturday, Oct. 20.
For more information, go online to kamloopsthisweek.com and click on the Civic Election tab.