Delta voters finally got the chance to hear what all six mayoral hopefuls have planned for the community, at the first of two all-candidates meetings put on by the Delta Chamber of Commerce.
Sylvia Bishop, Jim Cessford, George Harvie, Moneca Kolvyn, Alex Megalos and Vytas Vaitkus took the stage in front of a packed Equinox Theatre at South Delta Secondary on Wednesday night (Oct. 3). (Vaitkus had not participated in the previous three mayoral candidate meetings.) Each candidate fielded a dozen questions touching on topics ranging from cannabis retail sales to farm and wildlife protection to expediting the George Massey Tunnel replacement.
Bishop, Cessford and Harvie all expressed their intention to work with the provincial government and develop relationships with those in Victoria to get the George Massey replacement project back underway. Cessford and Harvie both specified their preference for a bridge, though Cessford said he is prepared to have the engineering reports verified and go with the safest, most cost-effective option. Harvie, meanwhile, said his slate is the only one committed to maintaining pressure on the government to get the bridge built.
Kolvyn came out strongly against the bridge, saying the people of Delta have been overwhelmingly against it. She expressed her disappointment that the crossing and soon-to-be-built casino in Ladner are not the subject of a referendum concurrent with the civic election, and said the bridge was never about transportation but rather supporting LNG development and increased shipping in the Fraser River.
Megalos took a quick show-of-hands poll of the audience to see how many preferred a bridge versus a tunnel and pointed to the near-even split in the room, saying agreement is needed on the best course of action in order to move forward. He went on to say that choosing a tunnel might get the province moving faster on the project, and stressed the importance of getting the City of Richmond on the same side of the issue.
Vaitkus, for his part, called the bridge or another additional crossing a “no-brainer” and said at some point stakeholders need to move past “analysis paralysis and actually get something done.” He also called for rapid rail out to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, drawing cheers from the crowd, and restricting heavy vehicles during rush hour.
Next, candidates were asked what they would do to improve housing affordability.
Cessford proposed a policy requiring developers to devote 15 to 20 per cent of each build to subsidized housing, rental units or cooperative housing, as well as help provide community amenities.
“A lot of people want to retire in this community, they want to stay in Delta, and we have look for ways to enable them to do that,” he said.
Harvie said the city needs to partner with Metro Vancouver to provide housing solutions, and spoke about opportunities available in Tsawwassen’s new Southlands development and through increased density along Scott Road.
Kolvyn accused council of stonewalling innovative affordable housing options when they come up. She suggested renovating old warehouses to turn them into housing, as well as passing laws to make it easier — and cheaper — for homeowners to rent out their suites.
Megalos advocated for putting low-income housing around recreation centres and hospitals so the residents can more easily access services, and said council should rezone some areas to increase the city’s rental stock. Vaitkus spoke of the need to diversify housing options in the city and raise the level of neighbourhood and area planning to “avoid traffic bottlenecks, lacking infrastructure and an I-didn’t-see-that-coming approach to development.” He also pledged to ensure properties are sold to Canadian owners and not foreign investors.
Bishop reiterated her earlier campaign promise to hold a housing summit within 100 days of being elected to explore and identify policies the city can implement to improve its housing stock, available rentals and affordable housing.
The candidates were also asked if they plan to implement an economic development office at the City of Delta, and if so who would be a part of it.
Harvie spoke about his record of bringing business to Delta, specifically re-invigorating industrial areas, and said the biggest hurdle to further economic development is the bottleneck caused by the Massey Tunnel.
“You can do all the economic planning you want, but until that bridge gets fixed we’re in trouble. We have to get that bridge built and in operation.”
Kolvyn said the people of Delta should be directing the course of business, not the seven people on council “who aren’t necessarily experts in the field.” She said high property taxes are the biggest huddle to attracting businesses to Delta, objecting strongly to the city giving Gateway Casinos a five-year break on taxes and not doing the same for small businesses.
“The bridge it isn’t the problem,” she said. “It’s government messing where they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Megalos said Delta is doing pretty good when it comes to economic development, and doesn’t see the need to do anything.
Vaitkus said implementing an economic development office should part of developing the city’s short- and long-term strategy, noting the need to have the Delta Chamber of Commerce as an advocate for business.
On Bishop’s turn, she pointed out it was her slate who introduced the idea of opening an economic development office at the city, saying having a dedicated staff person will bring business and jobs to Delta. She added the office would also help small-business owners, not just larger operations.
Cessford supported the idea of creating an economic development office, saying Delta needs to be fiscally prudent and “balance between the needs of the community and a healthy financial outlook.” He also said that tourism should be included in the office’s portfolio.
On the subject of fostering tourism in Delta, the candidates all had different ideas of how best to go about it.
Kolvyn said she would ask experts in the field what they think, and pointed to the numerous environmental attractions in Delta like Burns Bog and the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
“It hurts my heart to think that we are going to put a casino right on the Pacific Flyway, right backed up so close to a river,” she said, adding the area could better be used to build some sort of “environmentally-based” tourist attraction.
Megalos said more sport competitions and events for people to come to, especially things to “get the kids involved in,” adding if Delta had cruise ships docking where Deltaport is that would bring in a lot of people.
Vaitkus, on the other hand, would like to see Delta put on the map by capitalizing on Delta’s rich environmental offerings with a “post-secondary institution facility opportunity” to keep people looking at Delta “in a very positive way.”
Bishop talked about the work that’s been done by the volunteer-driven Tourism Delta and said the city needs to implement the strategy that the group has created. She said if elected she would work with Tourism Delta and the Delta Chamber of Commerce to increase tourism.
Cessford reiterated the need to create an economic development office and a tourism office, as well as upgrade the city’s bike paths, parks and recreation facilities, and establish a “tourism route” so visitors can see all the great things Delta has to offer.
Harvie pointed to the lack of places for visitors to stay in Delta, saying the hotel at the casino is a “great opportunity to finally get going on tourism.” He said the casino is more than just gambling, calling it an “entertainment area,” and said the owners had assured there would be room for a tourism office inside the facility.
“We need to ensure that we work with this asset rather than ignore it,” he said.
Harvie’s comments elicited scoffs from the audience, who had to be reminded to be respectful of the candidates when they’re answering the questions.
All of the candidates except for Megalos were opposed to allowing retail sales of cannabis in Delta. Megalos said the laws governing marijuana should parallel those covering alcohol, and said retailers should be kept to one defined area.
Bishop opposed cultivating cannabis on food-producing land but supported growing it in industrial areas. She also said she would push for cities to get their “fair share” of cannabis revenues to “offset any municipal costs as a result of any problems that law enforcement has to deal with, as well as educating the public, particularly our young people.”
Cessford expressed his concerns about growing pot on agricultural land, odour issues and distribution. He said the province is taking the lead and it’s up to the city manage it and keep it away from young people.
Harvie would keep the existing zoning banning retail sales in Delta, saying Delta is “ahead of the wave that’s coming.” Any potential retail location would have to go through rezoning, public hearing and consultation, giving city control over where —and if — cannabis sales will happen.
Vaitkus and Kolvyn took their opposition to retail cannabis sales a step further and spoke against legalization as a whole.
Vaitkus called marijuana a “gateway drug” and stressed the need for education to keep kids safe, while Kolvyn called it hypocritical to ban sales but still want a share of the revenue from the province, and spoke against growing cannabis in Delta, especially on agricultural land.
The candidates also fielded questions about protecting the environment (which led most candidates to talk about protecting farmland), improving services for seniors (most talked about expanding Delta’s seniors bus program and lobbying TransLink for better service), electoral reform (Harvie and Cessford are for keeping first-past-the-post, Megalos is leaning that way, Kolvyn, Vaitkus and Bishop are undecided) and improving Delta’s biking infrastructure (everyone agrees it needs to be done).
As well, candidates also spoke on a number of issues specific to South Delta, including developing Ladner village, the need for an overhead pedestrian crossing at 56th Street and Highway 17, and a brewery/distillery in Boundary Bay.
The Delta Chamber of Commerce is holding another mayoral all-candidates meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 10, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at North Delta Secondary (11447 82nd Ave.). Members of the public are invited to submit written questions prior to the meeting by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Written questions will also be accepted from the floor at the meeting.