BC local elections: Ladysmith town council candidate Jeff Virtanen

Current occupation- Maintenance Service Caretaker for Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools and General Vice-President of CUPE Local 606.

Background – Born and raised in Ladysmith, I’ve worked for the local school district for over 25 years. Elected to my Union Executive seven years ago, I served as treasurer for six years before being elected General Vice-President this past June. As part of those duties, I’ve crafted budgets for our local, debated district budgets with school trustees, bargained contracts, solved grievances, etc. I’ve been on almost every committee for the school district and our local, and have served on two committees for CUPE B.C., as well.

I’ve also been a long time volunteer in our town. I’ve coached numerous hockey and baseball teams, and am currently coaching one of our Soccer Tots teams. I’ve volunteered at our local primary school, too, for a now defunct reading program, not to mention almost all of my union activities are on a volunteer basis.

Why are you running for council? I’ve been asked to run for council the past two elections, but the timing wasn’t right for me, nor was my confidence. Now, with a lot more experience and knowledge under my belt, I am ready for this. I have a unique voice to bring to the table, as well. Being born and raised here brings an understanding of Ladysmith’s residents and our history. My wife and I had a child a bit later in life, so I bring the voice of a young family, as well. (Our daughter is three.) I am on the soccer fields, playgrounds, and at the beach, talking about issues with other young families who don’t have the time or desire to be going to council meetings. I feel I am a good bridge between long time residents and young and newer families moving to the area. I will make sure both voices are heard at the council table.

If elected, what will your priorities be for the term and how you will tackle them ?

If I’m lucky enough to be elected, I will focus on the progressive pathway we are on while making sure we remain financially responsible. People are working too hard for any level of government to spend frivolously. I understand costs are consistently rising and projects need to be built for future generations, but we can hold the balance between those needs and our bottom line.

I will also focus on things we can improve on to bring more young families into our community, on sustainable development, and keeping/improving services provided by the town.

Most importantly, I will focus on listening to the residents of Ladysmith. According to the 2018 Community Profile, we have 8,949 residents in Ladysmith. That means we have 8,949 different agendas. With my well-trained ears from union activism, I will listen and sort through the ideas/concerns and find the common ground which will be most beneficial to the town.

What’s the best path forward for growth on the waterfront?

The Waterfront Plan is incredibly important for our town. We’ve been searching for an answer for decades, and that’s no exaggeration.

Unfortunately, when a major plan like this is developed, some people tend to narrow the scope. In those cases, the Waterfront Plan has now become all about the proposed condos.

I don’t know how we can have a productive conversation about this if we focus solely on one section of the plan. What about the clean-up of Slack Beach? The Arts and Heritage hub? The waterfront walkway, the Stz’uminus First Nations Cultural Centre, and the commercial fishing wharf to name just a few other components of the plan?

I think the question, “Do you want condos at Transfer Beach?” is unfair (and untrue, as the piece of land in question has never been a part of the park.) Maybe the question should be, “How do you feel about revitalizing Slack Point and maximizing the potential of our waterfront without a major tax hike?”

This is a much more relevant question. If you talk to Guillermo Ferrero, our town’s Chief Administrative Officer, he is fond of reminding you that a 1% tax increase only brings in $70,000. We would have to more than double our taxes to cover the costs of developing a waterfront we can all be proud of, or we could sell a piece of land that has sat untended for the last twenty-five years, or so.

When I was young, Transfer Beach was basically a park with a swimming raft. For the next generation, we added the amphitheatre, the spray park, a great playground, beach volley ball court, etc. I feel it’s time to improve the waterfront for our next generation coming through.

I understand the reluctance to accept change. Change is scary, as we are hardwired to resist it. It doesn’t have to be, though, if you can view it through a different lens and take the entire picture into consideration.

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