The Harrison All Candidates Debate ran one hour over the planned timeframe and drew in hundreds of audience members, including election candidates in the neighbouring District of Kent and the local school board.
Tuesday night’s debate, hosted by the Harrison-Agassiz Chamber of Commerce at Harrison Memorial Hall, included all five mayoral candidates and all nine council candidates. After each candidate had a few minutes to introduce themselves and answer a question by the Chamber, the public was invited to write their own questions for the candidates.
Emcee Allan Roth and a panel of volunteers organized the resulting 150 questions into a handful of wider-based questions regarding green waste, business development, openness in meetings, tourism, recreation, paid parking and drinking water options.
Each candidate had anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds to answer each question, but the two-hour time slot initially planned still wasn’t long enough to handle quick answers from all the candidates. At 9:30 p.m., Roth announced they meeting would continue until 10 p.m.
But the meeting also brought to light some underlying personality conflicts between several of the candidates, as well as allegiances.
It’s no secret to regular attendees of Harrison council meetings that members don’t always agree, and that was addressed by Mayor Ken Becotte in his opening speech.
“There’s a lot talk that we don’t get along,” Becotte said. “And at times that’s true, and at other times, we do (get along).”
Becotte is running for his second term as mayor, against former mayors Leo Facio and John Allen, and newcomers Arnold Caruk and Leslie Ghezeshan.
Facio used his four minute introduction to list off accomplishments while he was in council, including those that came to fruition during the most recent administration, including the Spirt Square and the new reservoir. He also promised to “investigate the lack of development” over the past few years.
Allen, who regularly disagrees very openly with council said “yes, I do get mad” but that it’s because he feels the job of mayor is to ensure everything is done in the proper manner. He believes decisions are made in “back room meetings” prior to public meetings, a statement that Councillor Allan Jackson refuted later in the evening.
“I think Mr. Allen is way off base,” saying that current council goes into meetings with “pre-ordained decisions.”
“I have never made a decision in-camera,” he stated. In-camera meetings are not open to the public and deal with labour, legal and land issues.
Leslie Ghezeshan told the audience he has received feedback that he should have someone editing his printed material for proper English, and he dismissed the idea.
“If editing it, it would not be me,” he said. “I left it ’cause that’s what I am.”
He is lobbying to bring equality to all of the Village’s neighbourhoods, “not just the beach.”
He said he got interested in a one issue at council, started attended meetings, and saw the need for change.
Arnold Caruk feels that tourism needs a boost to keep the community alive.
“We lost the sand sculptures. There was no Poker Run this year, and now we’re in danger of losing the arts, too,” he said.
As the Observer reported earlier this year, the Harrison Festival of the Arts is one of the last big tourism-driving events in Harrison, but is under threat of reshaping or possibly even folding due to a loss in gaming grants. Its future hangs in the balance as the Community Gaming Grant Review is currently being read by the government. The report will be made public in two months.
The issue of paid parking has been talked about for several years in the Village, and candidates were able to voice their opinions on how that would affect local business.
Facio believes there should be paid parking and that the revenue be used to clean up the beach.
Council candidate Sonja Reyerse-Peters said if there were pay parking on Esplanade, then a plan should be in place to manage parking on side streets.
Niek deBrouwer, the youngest council candidate, said pay parking should be considered only in certain areas, and only if the money were to benefit the Village.
Council candidate Andrew Baziuk was one of many to say they wouldn’t support pay parking. That included John Allen, who said people stopped going to Green Point when the provincial government introduced pay parking at that location.
“It wasn’t a good idea there, and it would be really bad for business in Harrison,” he said.
Becotte was more pragmatic about the question, reminding the audience that there already are pockets of paid parking in Harrison.
“Can I get a pass?” he joked at first. “Last election I was against paid parking.”
He suggested time limits for busy areas, to keep people “moving around.”
Caruk worried paid parking would move people into residential areas, and Kenyon said twice: “I’m not in favour of paid parking.”
Council candidates Richard Shelley and Dave Harris both said they see benefits to pay parking in the Village.
“I’m in favour of paid parking if you can have a plan that looks at the side streets,” Shelley said, mentioning people who come to the beach, buy one ice cream cone, spend the day and leave.
Harris is in favour of parking, in order to pay for more parking spaces and create a bigger parking lot.
For more reactions from audience questions, and video clips from the evening, visit us online at www.ahobserver.com.