Seven councillor candidates made their way to the City of Fernie Community Centre last week for the all-candidates forum, hosted in a prepared question and open-mic format.
During the nearly two-hour forum, the candidates were asked questions regarding seniors housing, affordable housing, the lack of community involvement in local politics and issues with snow removal.
The topic that seemed to come up again and again was affordable housing, an amenity several councillor candidates feel the City of Fernie is lacking in, especially during the winter season.
“We have a phenomenon here called ski season where people flock to the town and look for temporary housing for the winter. I think they [Fernie Alpine Resort] need to step in to that and help with the housing of the people that they’re bringing in, a staff housing type of thing that would take some of the pressure off of full time people,” current Coun. Dan McSkimming noted.
McSkimming also brought up the Veneto housing project and how the community embraced it.
“That’s the direction we have to go,” he said.
Candidate and current Coun. Willard Ripley agreed with the concept of affordable renting, asking, “Is ownership something that is part of the definition of affordable housing? I think the more important thing is that you have to be able to afford housing, so you need to be able to find gainful employment and be successful on some level so you can afford to rent a house.”
When asked by a member of the public to define affordable housing, candidate Ange Quallizza, who is running for her first term in the City of Fernie, noted that by definition, affordable housing means using 30 per cent of your earnings for housing. She also said that several entry-level workers don’t make enough money to live in the community.
Senior housing was another issue that was addressed by the candidates, with each candidate expressing the need to further develop senior residency within the community.
“One gap that we have is we do not have seniors housing in the form of privately owned small house developments,” Candidate and current Coun. Phil Iddon said noting that his vision is to develop senior housing adjacent to New Horizon Village or the empty field across from 901.
“A lot of time, as seniors, we may not want go into a home,” candidate and current Coun. Joe Warshawsky added. “It wouldn’t be bad to live with a whole bunch of people, and we could basically share common areas,” he noted, stating that shared seniors housing would be a chance for seniors to take care of each other while living comfortably.
Another important issue that was addressed was the lack of residents engaged in local politics, something that was ironically emphasized in the lack of locals in attendance at the forum.
“I think it really starts with tackling certain demographics who feel a barrier, whether realized or not, to approaching us,” Qualizza noted. “Having high school outreach programs is a fantastic way [to solve this issue]. Also targeting women; certainly in this community, we need more women in politics.”
First time candidate Dennis Schafer addressed his desire to target the younger generation of 20 to 40-year-olds in the community.
During his closing remarks Schafer reiterated his intentions stating, “This has been pretty stressful for myself. There’s been some questions that I haven’t really had answers to but I know I’ve always, in my life, been a social person. If elected, I plan to get out there, get into the community, hear concerns, educate myself, do all that I can.”
Jon Levesque, who is also running for the first time, noted the stigma attached to politics and the need to address that stigma in order to deter it.
Unlike Schafer, Levesque was outspoken during the forum, humouring the audience.
During his final remarks Levesque said, “I don’t think you guys could go wrong today; you pick any six here and the city’s going to move in the direction it’s been moving in, it’s going to be exciting.”