If the All Candidate’s Meeting in Okanagan Falls was any indication, voters in Area “D” are going to have a difficult choice to make when they go to the polls on November 19.
The three candidates vying for the regional district Area “D” directors position – Janice Johnson, Alan Whitman and Tom Siddon – were poised, presentable and prepared for the forum, each candidate emerging from the October 24 meeting certainly no worse for the event. For many in Area “D,” it may come down to a simple contest of who the voter personally likes better when they visit the polling station.
Both candidates and audience behaved civilly throughout the meeting, with some minor finger pointing and sniping taking place between candidates Wittman and Siddon, mostly in good humour.
The candidates fielded questions ranging from the prospect of incorporation for Okanagan Falls and the lakeshore communities of south Skaha to creating a regional GMO free zone, from roughly 40 or so residents in attendance.
Sponsored by the Okanagan Falls Chamber of Commerce, chamber manager and moderator Bonnie Dancey posed the first three questions to the candidates, who were each given a limited time to respond. Questions were then opened up to the floor, and once again each candidate was given a chance to respond to each query.
The question of creating a GMO ( Genetically Modified Organism) free zone in the regional district saw candidates provide a range of comment. Johnson indicated that she would promote a GMO free zone, while Whitman noted that the regional district does not control agriculture, and a director’s motion on the matter at a recent RDOS board meeting turned down the motion because there were no experts on hand to inform and advise them on the issue.
Candidate Siddon commented that there wasn’t enough evidence supporting a ban on GMO’s yet.
“Genetic modification has been going on for decades,” he said, “we shouldn’t be afraid of this because of insufficient evidence. The issue is a political one.”
Candidate Siddon was taken to task for a letter to the editor he wrote regarding economic performance in Okanagan Falls. Asked what he would do to improve business performance in the community, Siddon spoke of “building a consensus,” noting that there were environmental contamination issues in town that needed to be dealt with. He cited Unit Electric as the kind of success story that Okanagan Falls should continue to build on.
“I don’t want to be hard on what we have,” he said, “ but I am concerned that we haven’t done enough – we must move forward agressively.”
Johnson noted that every community has issues of this kind, and that Okanagan Falls had made some strides forward with regard to improving business performance.
Whitman noted that the original question was in regard to a particular quote by Siddon in his letter to the editor.
“The director’s responsibility is to be upbeat,” Whitman said, “he should be talking more positively.”
One audience member’s question and comment about creating a theme for the community had the candidates speaking favourably about building a community wide theme based on historical aspects of Okanagan Falls.
Eastside Road improvements were on many residents’ minds as some discussion ensued over the need for improvements to the roadway in order to make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Johnson said that she was trying to get the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to pay attention to the poor shape the road was in, while Wittman contended that it was one of his issues to lobby the government for improvements to the road.
Siddon cautioned that resolving the issue would involve more than a lobbying effort.
“We have to deal with costs and technical issues,” he said, referring to the six million dollar expense of the recent improvement work at Yellow Lake on Highway 3A.
“There is a plan already in place to fix the road, but it has been halted due to lack of money.”
The new Fortis transmission line was also a hot topic at the meeting, with near unanimous condemnation of the project.
Answering to the question of what to do about the transmission line towers, Johnson answered that it was a hard question.
“ It never should have happened,” she said. She noted that the citizen’s association in Heritage Hills was continuing to work very hard on the issue, and that she had a few ideas to share with the association.
Wittman admitted that he had been concerned about the issue for over a year now.
“They want those lines moved,” he said of the Heritage Hills Citiizen’s Association, “ it’s a fight worth fighting.”
Siddon said that he knew that the power line was coming several years ago when he was associate regional district director, but had no idea how intrusive they would be. He spoke of “three steps” to be taken.
“First of all, dull them down,” he said regarding the shiny finish that reflects sunlight, making them stand out even more.
“Next, zone a new utility corridor over the ridge, and restrict the use of the existing one. Third, we have to get through to the Fortis board of directors that this line is costing the neighbourhood millions of dollars in lost property values due to this stupidity.”
A question on the issue of rampant deer populations in south Skaha communities brought varied response from the candidates.
“The deer population problem is a concern,” Johnson responded. “Damage to property, gardens and the potential for physical harm are issues.
There are solutions around deer population. I am not in favour of going down the street and shooting them.”
Wittman admitted the deer issue came to him as a “sleeper issue.”
“ It may cost me votes, but I feel a partial cull is necessary,” he stated, “the deer have become a problem – I don’t want to see all the deer culled – just a partial cull.”
Siddon noted that he had passed six deer on the street in Kaleden on his way to the meeting.
“There is a toll and a cost to these deer populations,” he said, citing vehicle collisions, gardens and landscapes ruined by the ruminants.
“We need to do something about these deer. They’ll stare down your dog.” Siddon suggested tranquilizing them and removing them into the mountains.
“Fencing our properties is no solution,” he stated, “they are very adaptive animals. I don’t think they will have any trouble surviving up there.”
In closing statements, Johnson pointed out such priorities as Eastside Road improvements and water issues as a key focus of hers should she be elected.
“I like helping people and solving problems,” she said.
Wittman told the gathering that he had done his homework for the position, noting that he had attended most of the regular board meetings over the past year, including attending other community meetings.He promised not to make any significant tax increases without consultation through a referendum.
Siddon admitted freely to having taken positions on certain issues, but added that his directorship would be “subject to determining the will of the people.” He noted such personal political successes as the creation of the Steveston wharf in Richmond as examples of what he hoped to emulate for Area “D.”
“I’m trained as an engineer,” he concluded, “and I like to solve problems.”