Keremeos’ mayoral candidates had their chance to speak to the public at the Similkameen Country forum on Sept. 20.
The Similkameen Country Development Association (SCDA) hosted the evening at the Keremeos Royal Canadian Legion Hall.
Three of Keremeos’ four acclaimed members of council — Jeremy Evans, Tracy Henderson and Garry Elliot, with coun. Arden Holly absent — were also present to introduce themselves.
Arlene Arlow won the coin toss to introduce herself first, as well as the first response to the opening question.
Questions over the evening covered a wide range of topics. Questions included how they would deal with handling two jobs, the state of some of the community’s pavement, housing and affordability, attracting small businesses, the sani-dump, improving intersections and addressing concerns beyond a village’s reach such as the need for doctors and public transportation.
Overall during the night, the differences in approach between the two candidates became fairly clear and it was largely in their approach to the position instead of over explicit issues, although there were some that caused quite stark disagreements.
Wiebe was much more measured in his approach to issues, noting many times that solutions would require working with other levels of government such as with the attempts to bring in a 30-kilometre speed limit for the downtown, the need to work with community groups such as the Lower Similkameen Community Services Society and SCDA, as well citing the work that had been done over the last eight years that he had been a member of Keremeos’ council.
Wiebe also pointed to his work outside of council as a board member with the South Okanagan Immigrant Community Services, and how he would like to stay on and support their work building bridges between immigrants, Indigenous, and municipalities.
Arlow was more willing to make bolder promises, such as changing road names to reflect the local Indigenous people and their traditional names, bringing in an upcycling facility as a new industry and getting a pedestrian-controlled intersection with full traffic lights at 7th and 7th. She also noted that she wanted to review the community’s bylaw enforcement and finances to find ways to make them more efficient.
Arlow also cited her work volunteering and experience in book-keeping in her responses to some questions.
Some of the larger breaks on issues came out of particular questions on flood safety, and how to better promote amenities such as the trail network.
When asked on how they would like to better provide information to tourists and visitors to the community, Arlow said she would like to work with the SCDA to create handouts that could be distributed to businesses with locations for everything the community has to offer, while Wiebe pointed to the Similkameen Info Centre and the need to update the info board there, as well as the possibility of exploring QR codes as a digital and paperless way for people to get the same information.
The most heated response of the night from Wiebe came after a question on potential flooding.
Arlow noted that the orphan dikes to west of the village are an issue, and that she would lobby the province to deal with them. She also noted that she went to 1st Street, and finding it largely undeveloped, went to the village’s CAO to propose building a dyke on the west side of the village’s boundaries.
Wiebe took issue with the idea, as the water would instead be directed towards the community just outside of the village limits.
“In case you can’t figure out what that means, she’d like to build a dyke that would flood our neighbours, which is ridiculous. We either all float or we all sink, we don’t watch our neighbours drown and I would never support a plan like that.
“The province isn’t doing their job, but I’ll tell you right now our voice is nothing compared to screams they’re getting from Abbottsford for the failures down there. Because of those failures we have a voice now.”
He noted that the province didn’t promise anything, but he said that they had other options, like a tiger dam, and a need to find a way to instead widen the river and redirect it instead of trying to outright block it.
Asked on whether they had faced previous conflicts of interest, and how they handled them, Wiebe pointed to how he recused himself when there was a proposal from the Elim Tabernacle Church to put up safety barriers for their fireworks display one year.
Arlow, on the other hand, spoke to her first term when she was called on to stop her work as a volunteer reporter for the former Similkameen News Leader by the rest of council.
“I stood my ground, and I did not resign as a volunteer news reporter, but I did make sure I didn’t work on politics. Essentially there was no conflict of interest in any case, because a volunteer reporter does not get paid,’ “But when I know that I’m right and there’s something I want to do for the community, and it’s from my heart then I stand my ground.”
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