Despite nine candidates vying for a council seat in the September 21 by-election, only 35 people showed up at the all-candidates meeting last Tuesday.
At first it was tough to persuade people to ask questions, but after Ray Tessier got the ball rolling, others followed his lead.
He asked the candidates what they think should be done with Centennial RV Park.
Larry Schwartzenberger said it either has to be developed as one entire project or left as a seasonal campground.
Jeff Ashe said the previous “Wine Village” proposal for that area was a good fit. He would like to see the site developed into a place of learning.
Rhonda Bruce said she enjoys the green space and would prefer to keep the park the way it is. She pointed out her desire to improve Main Street instead.
Maurizio Basso said he’s in favour of developing the site as much as possible.
“We should look at ways to approach developers to move to town and utilize the space.”
But John Micka disagreed, saying he doesn’t want to see economic development in this area. “I’m in favour of keeping it as a park and expanding it.”
Joanne Bray said there are other places in town that need development, such as empty storefronts.
Dan Robertson said the Town needs the tourist dollars, so the park should remain as is.
Oliver resident Pat Pugsley asked the candidates how they would better save money on council.
Doug Pederson said he would “open up the books” at Town hall and keep nothing secret.
Ashe said as a business owner, he has to watch his overhead. “If you don’t have money to spend, you don’t spend it.”
Bruce said the key is making sure tax dollars are spent properly.
Basso said the current council has been quite frugal with tax dollars, noting he’s not in favour of raising taxes.
Micka said if you don’t invest in Oliver, it will prompt other people not to invest.
Robertson said transparency and open government are needed in Oliver. “People don’t know where their money is spent.”
Schwartzenberger said the Town has been quite frugal, noting that Councillor Dave Mattes is always scrutinizing dollars and cents.
Another resident stressed the importance of promoting the Town to the 250 people coming here to work at the new correctional centre.
Bruce said it is not known how many people are actually moving here, but the Town has to show them what it has to offer.
Basso said they need to be more aggressive. “We need to do a better job at marketing ourselves. We need to show people that we have business space available.”
Micka said planning for the prison now is premature, but he did agree that Oliver has to present itself as a good place to live.
Schwartzenberger said this is a once-in-decades opportunity to market the Town to 250 people. “We may not get them all, but we need to work hard to get the lion’s share.”
Pederson said Oliver will not be a better town because of the prison.
Ashe said they need to bring new jobs to the community and money in people’s pockets. “We need to fight for that.”
One resident stated how important it is to keep migrant farm workers safe, in addition to helping them with travel needs (from farm to farm).
Basso agreed that fruit pickers’ concerns need to be addressed.
But Micka said the Town should not be looking after a farmer’s employees.
Bray agreed, saying it’s not the Town’s problem. “It’s the farms that should be doing that.”
But Bray admitted that French Canadian farm workers are not treated right compared to their Mexican counterparts, who are well looked after with accommodations.
Robertson suggested that migrant workers would benefit from a local hostel operated by a non-profit group.
Schwartzenberger said the federal government should be lobbied to provide French Canadians with the same housing that foreign workers get.
Bruce said it’s very important to keep these people safe.
“Young people are being assaulted,” she pointed out, noting that a 15-year-old boy was recently held down and had a gas nozzle shoved in his mouth.
Oliver resident Ursula Wick asked the candidates what they would do to increase tourism in Oliver.
Micka said the Town should be made more accessible and attractive to older people. He even suggested establishing a racetrack for scooters.
But Bray said Oliver needs more young people in town.
Robertson said the Town needs to advertise all over the country to attract new residents.
Schwartzenberger said Oliver needs to be marketed as a “fitness playground, while Bruce said they need to focus more on advertising the hike and bike trail.
Tiffany Beckedorf asked the candidates for their view on genetically modified foods.
“This stuff is killing us,” said Pederson.
Bruce said she would like to see a policy in place to ban these foods, while Basso said he is totally opposed to them.
According to Micka, people should be placing all of their energy in promoting organic foods rather than lobbying against GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Tessier voiced his concern about the Town’s attitude towards its bylaws, stating it is not legally bound to uphold them. “That’s terrible,” he said.
Schwartzenberger said there is no point in creating bylaws if you’re not going to enforce them. “If they can’t be enforced, they should be rescinded.”
Ashe said he recently enquired about all-day noise at the airport, but was told there is no bylaw in place to regulate that.
Basso, a teacher at SOSS, said if there were no rules and regulations, the Town would be a zoo.
He noted that the unsightly premises bylaw should definitely be enforced, otherwise, people will do what they want.