Castanet News has distributed a questionnaire to city council candidates in both Kelowna and West Kelowna to help voters get to know those putting their names forward. Between the two cities, 45 people are running for city councillor.
All candidates have been given the same questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity when needed. Responses will be published daily in the weeks ahead. An interactive database of Okanagan candidates, including previous questionnaire stories, is here and is being updated daily.
Election day is Oct. 15.
Kelowna candidate: Chris Williams
Why would you make an effective city councillor?
I am a team player committed to representing all citizens of Kelowna with an emphasis on honesty, integrity and accountability. Having served this country as an RCMP officer for over two decades, my background uniquely positions me to understand and address our current crime crisis and the related issues of opioid abuse and homelessness. I have successfully worked with foreign and domestic law enforcement partners, indigenous bands, police management boards, community consultative groups, NGO’s, business groups and other provincial and federal agencies. My work on the establishment and implementation of the RCMP’s Inadmissible Patron Policy Program served as a model for the RCMP and is just one example of my ability to find solutions to complex issues that have benefitted this community and others across the province. Link to more information on my background is here.
In your view, what is the number one issue facing the city today, and how would you deal with it knowing city hall only has so much power?
Kelowna’s number one issue is undoubtedly community safety. Approximately 1/3 of our municipal tax revenue funds a public safety strategy that continues to fail us all. Kelowna currently ranks #1 in Canada for Criminal Code incidents and has had the highest number of opioid incidents per capita for the past 3 years. This is unacceptable. It is offensive to suggest that the strategies employed over the past four years to address crime, homelessness and addiction have been effective. It is time for leadership that will be innovative and truly bring some “real progress” on these issues.
I encourage the immediate establishment of a City of Kelowna police management board that would engage directly with RCMP senior management and police union representatives on a bi-monthly basis. This police management board would ensure accountability to the citizens of Kelowna on community safety priorities, police spending, RCMP contractual obligations and the ongoing management of human resources (including general duty policing minimums). The establishment of this board will greatly enhance accountability, officer wellness and safety, protection of persons and property, and can only serve to enhance police-public relations/trust.
It could be decades before a second bridge is built across Okanagan Lake. How do you deal with Kelowna's transportation bottleneck in the meantime?
A second bridge is not realistic for the foreseeable 10-plus year future. Being pragmatic, we cannot lose sight of the reality that a significant percentage of people must and will continue to drive to work, school and recreation. Beyond Harvey Avenue congestion, new developments on Lakeshore Avenue raise significant concern with respect to the increasing traffic on the Lakeshore and Gordon corridors. Being a former Upper Mission and Kettle Valley resident, I have seen this problem grow significantly over the past 10 years, especially in the mornings when people are trying to get to work and school.
In the more immediate future, I support exploring the options of extending Clement Avenue to Highway 33, a Burtch Road extension to KLO and a Frost Road extension as a south perimeter. Making these improvements would take pressure off of the Harvey Avenue, Gordon Drive and Lakeshore Road corridors. The preservation and expansion of existing transit, cycling and walking routes must remain a high priority as we commit to preserving and expanding our amazing outdoor spaces.
Do you think Kelowna is growing too fast?
“If you build it they will come”, and they have. Kelowna has quickly become one of Canada’s most desirable cities to live, play, and work. People will continue to regard Kelowna as the place they want to visit, raise a family and retire. While growth is inevitable, it must be done responsibly. We must ensure that our infrastructure and human resources are able to support and sustain such growth. It has become increasingly apparent that this has not been adequately considered or addressed.
According to the monthly Canadian National Rent Report Kelowna is now ranked as the 5th most expensive rental market in the country. Our police chief has said that it is difficult to get police officers (who now make $90K+ per year) to move here due to the high cost of housing. If we don’t get this issue in check how will we attract and keep construction workers, labourers, nurses, doctors, police officers, civil servants, service industry employees and all those that make and keep our city liveable. In the interest of functionality we must protect the interests of our working middle class.
How would you make Kelowna more affordable?
Local government has a responsibility to ensure that Kelowna is not reduced to two resident classes, “haves” and “have nots”. Although there is no magic fix, rezoning, reducing costly and bureaucratic red tape, incentivizing builders of affordable homes, providing access to affordable public transit and collaboration with provincial and public sector partners can all help move the needle on affordability in the mid and long term. More immediately, effective property crime management would also help protect our community’s investments. How many times can a construction worker replace his stolen tools?
How many times can a small business replace a smashed window and stolen inventory? How many times can a student replace their stolen bike? For many, being the victim of a crime can be a tipping point. Replacement costs, higher insurance premiums or deductibles and lost employee hours cause a ripple that ends up affecting us all in the end. Protection of our homes, businesses and property will help keep life affordable and improve the overall health and wellbeing of our community.
If you had $1 million to spend on anything in the city, how would you spend it?
$1 million is not a lot of money but I would use it to address our community’s most pressing needs. I would allocate $500K to combat property crime through the re-establishment of a community citizen’s patrol, block watch groups and other crime reduction programs that allow for stakeholder engagement, steering and participation. I would allocate the other $500k to innovative programs that would address the plight of our homeless and vulnerable populations.
This would include a program aimed at facilitating the compassionate return of any willing non-permanent resident to their home communities where they can benefit from the family support needed to properly address and support them and their addiction and mental health recovery. Sadly, alone on our streets and without that kind of family support, many of our struggling homeless have little chance of improving their circumstances.