For better or for worse, the Bowen Island Municipality-hosted all candidates meeting Saturday afternoon was a tepid affair.
Bowen’s need for more affordable and rental housing emerged as the afternoon’s thematic cornerstone, with transportation, environment and the necessity of council teamwork filling out the discussions.
Candidates’ answers to the pre-selected questions (for time’s sake no questions were taken from the floor,) if not fundamentally the same, were for the most part complementary.
Experienced facilitator Andrea Rayment oversaw the proceedings.
The afternoon gathered the seven candidates for the West Vancouver School Board, both mayoral candidates and ten of the eleven candidates for councillor. Bowen’s longest-standing municipal political figure, Alison Morse, was unable to attend the meeting as a family member was in the hospital.
To ease the audience into the afternoon’s proceedings the West Vancouver School Board trustee candidates introduced themselves. All five incumbents are standing for re-election, including chair Carolyn Broady, vice-chair Nicole Brown, Sheelah Donahue, David Stevenson and Pieter Dorsman. Lynne Block and Charlotte Burns are the newcomers. Dorsman is the only candidate not from West Vancouver (he’s from Lions Bay,) but Block mentioned that she is a former Bowen Islander.
Next to the stage were mayoral candidates Gary Ander and Melanie Mason.
Explaining why he’s running, former Air Canada pilot, part-time contractor and current municipal councillor Ander said that he has deep roots and many grandchildren on Bowen. “I love this community. I love everything about it. I love everybody in the community,” he said.
Mason, an Islander of five years and current councillor with two young children, spoke of affordable housing out of the gate.
“It’s been really, really difficult to see so many of our friends and neighbours leave the island because of lack of rental or attainable housing,” she said.
Adhering to a Q&A format, both candidates gave one-minute answers for each of the seven questions.
The first question asked candidates to name a polarising issue council would face in the coming election and how they would manage council members’ differing opinions.
Ander didn’t name an issue, but noted that hopefully matters wouldn’t go so far as being polarising. “As mayor, obviously I’d work for consensus on any issue we were doing, but if we don’t have consensus then we go to a vote, that’s the system we have,” he said.
Mason said that there could be differing opinions on how council should manage residential matters, but she pointed to community engagement as a tool in managing the issue.
Climate change and the environment were reoccurring topics throughout the afternoon. The mayoral candidates dealt with them early on when they were asked what immediate steps Bowen could take to address climate change.
“First and foremost we have to agree about climate change that it is a real thing,” said Ander. “There’s sort of a cause and effect here. We know what the cause is, and we have to do everything we can to eliminate the automobile on Bowen Island,” he said, then pointing to the need to enable transportation alternatives such as biking and walking.
Mason also highlighted the need for transportation alternatives, “Through the transportation plan, we noted that 90 per cent of our island’s [greenhouse gasses] come from transportation, 40 per cent of which come from all our off-island transportation choices,” she said. “When we’re looking at planning, perhaps going from a car-dependent island to car-optional.”
The plan Mason refers to is Bowen’s first twenty-year transportation plan, adopted in early summer. It’s available on the BIM website.
When asked about the tension between Bowen’s growing population and the need to preserve Bowen’s beauty, Mason suggested that along with smart planning there be “gentle density closer to the cove while trying to protect the areas further out.”
In a similar strain, Ander touted another key term of the afternoon, “conservation development.”
The idea with conservation development is to concentrate housing and buildings while protecting swaths of land, particularly environmentally sensitive areas. Instead of 20 houses with one acre each, cluster the houses on a few acres while leaving the rest of the forest be. This preserves forest cover and (theoretically) prevents lots from being rezoned and subdivided until a full-fledged neighbourhood erupts.
“We could build it right into our building process and our permit process,” said Ander.
When asked about the community centre, both Ander and Mason came out in support of the initiative. Both candidates are on the project’s steering committee (Ander chairs it). Ander noted that Bowen is one of the few small towns in B.C. without a community centre while Mason commented that BIM doesn’t currently own any of its own programming space.
After Bowen’s property taxes rose by 6.6 per cent in 2018, Ander and Mason were asked if they were in favour of raising taxes again to pay for more amenities for a growing population.
“Absolutely not, that’s an easy answer,” said Ander.
“Last year was a bit of a shock. We had some exemplary, sort of extraordinary, expenses we had to deal with,” he said. “The normal tax increase is just sort of an inflationary thing, somewhere 2.5 plus or minus.”
“I’m not in favour of raising taxes for new amenities,” said Mason. “I believe we’ve been really good at identifying external funding sources to pay for things.
”However, we do need to look seriously at how we’re are going to be paying and maintaining our current assets,” she said. “In that instance yes we might have to consider increasing property taxes.”
Mason and Ander then left the stage and eight councillor candidates took their seats (Morse being away). Vying for six councillor positions, there are four incumbents: Sue Ellen Fast, Michael Kaile, Maureen Nicholson and Alison Morse. One past councillor is running: David Hocking. The other four candidates are: Robin Burger, Rob Wynen, Peter Williamson and Lawrence Phillips.
Due to time constraints, not all candidates answered all the questions. Each question got five responses (again, one minute per response.)
The question period began by asking what candidates considered to be the highest priority environmental issue.
With last year’s near-miss of logging on Bowen’s Crown lands, Fast, Hocking, Kaile and Nicholson were quick to point out the virtues of the forest and its role in maintaining our limited water resources (Burger’s answer was similarly that we need to protect water.) Hocking is one of the key players in Defend Island Forests, a group dedicated to preventing logging on Bowen and Fast, Kaile and Nicholson were, of course, part of the council vehemently opposed to the proposition last year.
Candidates were then asked what the two most important priorities in the transportation plan are.
“We are a completely car-dependent community. We need to do everything we can improving our transportation infrastructure, improving our bus service, lobbying translink for funding to improve bus service on the island to get people out of their cars,” said Phillips.
Williamson noted that we need to “enable people to get into town without using their cars” and to lobby for a direct passenger link between the island and downtown Vancouver.
Wynen, a member of Bowen Island Municipal Transportation Advisory Committee (BIMTAC), noted that the current approach to transportation is “a bit reactionary.” He said he’d like to see a cross-island path and a pedestrian ferry to sea bus terminal.
Burger said that she’d prioritize “connections, including buses on-island and in North and West Vancouver,” as well as consistent land and water taxi service.
Fast, also a member of BIMTAC, said that she’d like to see a foot passenger ferry or something to take the pressure off the ferry and for Horseshoe Bay terminal to become a sort of transportation hub.
In referencing the 2018 Island Plan (there has been one each year since 2015 and it can be found on the BIM site), candidates were asked their top two priorities from said plan.
Hocking said that he’d like to see the fire hall and community centre built and to improve the opportunity for diverse housing.
Kaile said he’d like to see the health centre built and he’d like to see some of the Community Lands sold. “There is a real cost that we pay in interest payments,” he said. “It’s been $550,000 since 2006. And this year because we turned the paying principle in interest, it’s going to go up considerably more.”
The Community Lands, six lots in and around Snug Cove, were purchased in 2005 for somewhere around $2 million. The municipality had to borrow money to buy the lands and the idea was that some of the lands would be rezoned and sold to pay some of the debts. To date, none of the land has been sold.
Nicholson highlighted community-driven initiatives brought to council that allow for collaborative projects, such as Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing and the health centres’ proposed uses of lot 3 of the Community Lands in Snug Cove.
Phillips said that Bowen needed more diverse housing intitiatives (BIRCH is a start but not an end) and the community and health centres.
Williamson said that Bowen needs “a robust and resilient island economy.”
Every candidate asked agreed that housing is a critical issue on Bowen and diversity in housing (as single-family housing makes up most of the Bowen market) is necessary. Wynen and Hocking noted cove proximity and high density as being important in creating lower-cost market homes.
Kaile pointed to private investors to create more housing. “We have to provide greater certainty for investors,” he said. “We have to have a very open and straightforward process.”
Burger, whose masters thesis dealt with Bowen’s housing situation, said that Bowen needs to look to policy development and community engagement.
Four candidates are standing to be Islands Trust trustees. Fast and Morse are looking for re-election while Williamson and Kaile are looking to take over Bowen’s two seats in the federation of islands. To be elected to Islands Trust, candidates must also be elected to council.
Kaile said that while he supports Bowen’s participation in the federation, he’s running for Islands Trust in part to revise the relationship between the organization and the municipality.
“This arrangement [between Trust and the municipality] has been around since the turn of the century. It’s also an arrangement that cost us this year $300,000,” said Kaile.
Williamson, who had earlier voiced his strong support for the federation said, “I think it’s important that we’re at that table and we continue to have a strong voice for the environment and the Salish Sea.”
Fast, having sat as a trustee for the past four years said that having the backing of the trust is important. “I can see how the different island support each other,” she said highlighting the eelgrass mapping that’s been done around Bowen.
Facilitator Rayment closed the meeting with a reminder for all eligible islanders to get out and vote.
To watch the entire meeting visit the Bowen Island Undercurrent’s Facebook page or the Bowen Island Municipality website.
Advanced voting is October 10 at BIM and election day is October 20 at BICS. Both run 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For more information please visit bowenislandmunicipality.ca/election-voters.