The valley’s economic future and the possibility — or lack thereof — of new recreation and culture facilities dominated the District of Invermere’s two mayoral debates, as incumbent Gerry Taft and challenger Al Miller did their best to sell their visions for the community to potential voters.
Taft made the argument he’d return to for both events almost immediately, during opening remarks at the first debate of the election season, an all-candidates forum held at David Thompson Secondary School.
When looking at the candidates, voters need to ask three questions, he argued: “Why are they running? What is their motivation? And can they do the job effectively?”
While the district’s incumbent mayor pointed to his record as mayor so far — “ensuring there are pretty flowers downtown and taxes stayed low” — as proof he could do the job, Miller touted his work in the community through groups such as the Columbia Valley Rockies hockey club and Invermere Business Committee.
Miller’s own favourite themes of the two debates appeared to be economic development, including the hiring of a development officer to act as a “mentor” for the area, and the possibility of building a new performing arts space, rec centre or even a swimming pool.
The two clashed over both those proposals, with Taft expressing skepticism about both the usefulness of an economic development officer and the district’s ability to build any new community spaces with its current budget.
“We should dream big and we should look at opportunities, but we should be realistic,” he told the audience at the second, Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce-organized debate. “We should work on programming before we build the brink and mortar.”
Miller countered money for projects like an arts or recreation centre might not have to come from taxation, but could involve philanthropy from wealthy second homeowners, or collaboration with local groups who would use the buildings.
“I’m not suggesting I’m going to go out and put everyone into the big dark hole of debt, but if we get the groups, the community groups, the different people, if we simply give them the support… and I’m not talking financial, we can figure this out as a collective group,” he said.
Other questions at the two debates included candidates’ plans to stimulate job creation — Miller’s suggestion: minimize red tape and get business owners more involved with the council process; Taft’s: improve off-season events, while looking at ways to diversify the economy in the long term — and how to improve tourism and relations with the district’s second homeowners.
The two also outlined their main goals for the next council term, should they get the nod to lead the district.
Taft: economic diversification, investment in infrastructure and increased regional co-operation.
Miller: strengthening arts and culture in the district, more affordable housing and jobs.
“Bring it on,” Miller added. “Bring in more families.”