Editor’s Note: This story has been changed to remove statements incorrectly attributed to council candidate Steve Arnett about being part of the Chamber of Commerce. We apologize for the error.
So many people attended the Ladysmith all candidates meeting last Wednesday (Oct. 29) at Aggie Hall that the 200 chairs on the floor were filled, and many more people stood or sat in any available space.
And those people saw a lot of passion and dedication in front of them. Every one of the 14 candidates that spoke (three running for mayor and 11 running for councillor) communicated their passion, conviction and dedication to Ladysmith. Each candidate had their own favoured issues and their own personal insights on the town’s issues to bring to the table, and every answer to the two questions prepared ahead of time by the host Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce demonstrated that each candidate had taken the time to not only talk to members of the community face to face, but also to do personal research on the hot button issues that Ladysmith residents are concerned with.
There were two main themes that became clear throughout the evening. First, there was much discussion of the waterfront and how to develop it and clean it up for public use. Second, candidates discussed the importance of economic development, especially through revitalizing the downtown core.
As mentioned, each candidate had their own strategies on how to deal with these two issues, and invariably discussed these strategies while answering the Chamber’s two prepared questions.
Question 1: What actions or steps will you encourage town council to take to enhance business attraction programs and to create greater economic diversity and growth?
Mayoral candidate Aaron Stone talked about identifying business opportunities and marketing those opportunities to attract business from out of town and abroad. He wants to focus on making the town attractive so business will come and stay, adding to the tax base, lessening taxes for individuals.
Mayoral candidate Marsh Stevens mentioned that being part of CVRD doesn’t work for Ladysmith. He wants decisions made for the town by the town. Stevens also talked about the importance of a community economic development group which would get input from the town but keep the town “at arm’s length” so the group could make decisions that are good for both the town and for the corporate world.
Mayoral candidate Gord Horth had a strong focus on developing the waterfront and using it to good effect. He mentioned cleaning up the areas that are rundown and currently unusable and then working with an economic development group to plan and build a business base and public use plan for the waterfront area.
Leading off the council candidates, Cathleen McMahon discussed the importance of revitalizing old and derelict buildings that are currently unused, especially in the downtown core. According to McMahon, 50 per cent of the town’s population has a high school diploma or less. She spoke of engaging with the town’s youth to educate them and keep them in the area with improved job prospects.
Bob Cross believes in the necessity of a task force to attract business. He pointed out that Ladysmith has specialty shops, not box stores. He believes Ladysmith needs to continue to specialize rather than trying to compete with large chains. He also mentioned that the visitor centre had lots of visitors this summer, and wants to increase community engagement with visitors.
Carol Henderson wants to bring the core of Ladysmith back to life. She discussed a heritage committee working with an economic development committee. These groups would provide guidance for business aspirations. Henderson also talked about filling gaps in retail and tourism, and about consulting with locals on what kind of stores they want. She also wants to attract jobs that pay more than minimum wage.
Duck Paterson talked about hiring an economic development officer, a paid professional, to move business development forward. He also wants to see a bigger partnership between council and the Chamber of Commerce. He also mentioned the importance of business incentives to keep business in the community.
Bill Drysdale also wanted an economic development officer or a commission. Using the input of this individual or group, he wants to find out what Ladysmith wants as a business community and as a community as a whole and help achieve those goals.
Cal Fradin spoke of developing a better local business market using tax breaks for businesses. He envisions a downtown that includes a mixture of residential and commercial space which will create a thriving local business market in the town’s core. Fradin also spoke of the need to connect with youth and provide tourism incentives.
Jillian Dashwood plans to listen to people in the community. She wants to use the business experience and expertise of local business people to help guide economic development, not a special committee or someone the town would have to pay. She believes that through teamwork and internet promotion the town can come up with solid marketing and business plans that could then be actioned.
Steve Arnett wants to continue to “be loyally local to business,” and urged townspeople to make the effort to spend their money at stores in town. He also mentioned the opportunity to capitalize on sports tourism industry and connect more with young families.
Thea Melvin talked about the importance of bringing people into Ladysmith to shop and to stay. She wants to cater more to residents and rather than focussing on tourists, she hopes to encourage tourists to stay and become residents of Ladysmith.
Rob Hutchins believes the correct strategy for business is attraction, retention and expansion. Bring new businesses in, encourage them to stay using business incentives, and then look at how businesses in town can also expand outward. He talked about the importance of proper transportation and how important it is for people and businesses to be able to get to Ladysmith and bring customers to Ladysmith.
Joe Friesenhan talked about the importance of an economic development committee and his desire to reinstate the committee for consultation and decisions about the best way to move the town forward for development.
Question 2: Please describe the two highest priority changes that you believe the town must address over the next four year term and what will you suggest to address these challenges?
Stone talked a lot about better communication between the municipal government and townspeople. He wants to engage the town in decisions by making council meetings available on the internet. He also wants to push social media and use 2014 technology to make information about the town accessible. He also mentioned having town hall meetings where townspeople can express questions, concerns and opinions.
Stevens talked about transparency. He discussed making full-time job descriptions of town employees available so all positions can be held accountable. He discussed format changes to website to make it easier to use and access information, as well as increasing paper access of bylaws and other information. He felt it is important for local government to become more accessible and to demand the best from town staff. Stevens also feels it is time to take action on waterfront development.
Horth feels a strong, vibrant downtown is an important key to Ladysmith. He wants better signage and exposure of what the town has to offer. He talked about improving infrastructure such as roads and increased parking. In short, Horth feels it is important to direct focus inward. Horth also spoke about the waterfront. He feels it is important to find out what the townspeople want and to move forward with those goals and visions quickly.
McMahon talked about reviewing tax shifts and how they affect the community. She questioned whether the current tax burden for individuals is realistic, and she wondered if current tax burdens prevent more businesses from start up because of high property taxes and more.
Cross discussed making a plan for harbour clean-up to begin addressing the issue of the waterfront. He also discussed the strong importance of infrastructure improvements, comparing Fourth Avenue to infrastructure in Guyana, one of the third world countries in which he has worked. His point was not to disparage, but to place a focus on improvements.
Henderson talked about the importance of improving council’s relationship with citizens. She wants to increase the regard for citizen concerns and she wants increased follow through from council in response to those concerns. She spoke of the need for a new fire hall, for retaining walls to prevent erosion, and for the need to deal with failing infrastructure. She spoke about the importance of building confidence in council decision making, and focussing specifically on basic essential services.
Paterson discussed how it is time to stop “downloading by other levels of government” and start saying “no.” He focussed on how important it is for Ladysmith to have control over decisions that affect Ladysmith, rather than having those decisions made by other governing bodies like the CVRD. Paterson wants a viable plan for Ladysmith’s waterfront, one that has community buy-in. Once this plan is created, he spoke of the importance to getting it done soon rather than waiting for months to begin work.
Drysdale talked about the importance to develop the waterfront. He wants to partner with First Nations for future development. Drysdale also discussed the failing infrastructure of Fourth Avenue and talked about the watershed. He talked about the importance of finding out how much growth the watershed can support and then beginning plans based on those findings.
Fradin discussed how it is important to prioritize spending. He mentioned infrastructure as one point but he also wants to review current municipal spending to identify what are the urgent needs and move forward on those.
Dashwood talked of redoing a waterfront plan in a timely manner and then moving forward with development. She also spoke about downtown and how development could include infill in empty lots for more business and lower taxes.
Arnett spoke about control, ownership and protection of the watershed. He also spoke of the need to bring youth back to town instead of letting them move away for jobs. He wants to capitalize on business innovation that could begin right in Ladysmith and utilize current technology better.
Melvin stressed the importance of improving essential services like police, fire and ambulance. She talked of fixing the fire hall, Fourth Avenue and other important infrastructure. She also discussed the need to protect the watershed for the security of the community.
Hutchins talked about the need to make a stronger relationship and to partner more with First Nations. He wants to develop waterfront lands, and do so with consultation from First Nations groups in the area who will also be affected by such developments.
Friesenhan stressed the importance of fixing failing infrastructure such as roads and the core of the town. He wants to ensure viable downtown businesses that will support business taxes and lower the tax burden on individuals.