At an all-candidates meeting Wednesday, the 11 people running in a byelection for two Coquitlam council seats answered questions on a range of topics.
One of the most polarizing concerned the Riverview lands and the province’s recent commitment to consult with all stakeholders to find the best use for it.
Doug Macdonell said a wellness centre would be great, but he’s worried the government has a hidden agenda.
“I would not like to see any of it go to market housing,” he said. “I think that would just be totally disrespectful to the piece of property and the residents here.”
But Kevin Startin went the other way, supporting market housing and drawing a negative reaction from some of the roughly 100 people at the meeting.
“We could have rental units in there, possibly even some market housing in there, which creates revenue streams for the province, community, and then we have a hospital in there,” he said. “I think it all can be balanced.”
Chris Wilson said he’s encouraged by recent talks, but one part of the plan isn’t good.
“It’s going to cost millions of dollars to rehabilitate those buildings in the proper way, and I don’t think we can have a ‘break-even proposition’ on Riverview without developing a good chunk of the land,” he said.
Vincent Wu said he doesn’t want to sell any of the land as it’s part of Coquitlam’s history.
Kurt Zaporozan said it’s time to put a top-grade medical facility for the mentally ill there.
Michael Bell mirrored Wilson’s sentiments on the break-even concept.
“We shouldn’t even entertain the idea of trying to break even on it,” he said. “Basically, it would never happen.”
According to Bell, providing a place for people with addiction and mental health issues has a cost, but if it creates healthier people it’s money well spent.
Teri Towner said spending money on treatment now saves money in the end.
“I think in the long run that will save us money,” she said. “I think a lot of those issues, we spend in other areas of our society, in policing, at the other end of the spectrum.
“Let’s help people get better and help contribute back to our wonderful community,” she added, garnering applause.
The candidates were also asked how they would create jobs and provide affordable housing in the city.
Almost all agreed business taxes are too high and should be lowered to make Coquitlam more competitive with other cities.
“Small business in this province accounts for 98 per cent of all business in this province,” said Ben Craig. “We need to listen to our small business.”
Ben Kim suggested making property developers set aside a portion of development for low-income families.
Candidates were then pressed on whether or not they would support a referendum to amalgamate the Tri-Cities.
Bonita Zarrillo said she always supports referendums, but in her experience centralizing has never been the answer people hoped it would be.
“The savings that we’re looking for when we de-centralize and centralize never seem to appear,” she said.
Barrie Lynch was supportive of a referendum, but said he doesn’t know if amalgamation is the right answer.
The meeting ended with the candidates picking their dream amenity for the city.
Michael Bell suggested an outdoor amphitheatre. Ben Craig called for a community centre in Burquitlam. Lynch and Macdonell wanted a hotel in the downtown core, but Kevin Startin and Chris Wilson said if the market hasn’t driven a hotel there yet, then it’s not the best choice. Kurt Zaporozan liked the idea of a replacement for the Bailey bridge. Ben Kim said he would listen to the public to find out what people want. Vincent Wu agreed.
Bonita Zarillo asked for a covered market, expanding the existing farmers’ market into a year-long affair with a place for people to go and sell goods and have fun.
Teri Towner was a fan of a major sporting facility and convention centre and building a community around that.
General voting takes place on Oct. 26. Advanced polls are available on Oct. 19 and 25 at Pinetree Community Centre, and Oct. 23 at Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex.
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