Castanet News has distributed a questionnaire to each candidate running for local council in the South Okanagan.
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 available here and is being updated daily.
Election day is Oct. 15.
Penticton candidate: Katie O'Kell
Why would you make an effective city councillor?
A big challenge facing the new city council will be teamwork. There are a lot of people running, and everyone is very passionate about our city. Sometimes passion also brings stubbornness. A group of seven equally passionate and stubborn people will get nothing accomplished. The leaders we elect need to be able to work effectively as a team.
I have worked in the wine industry for 11 years. Winery owners are also a group of passionate and sometimes stubborn entrepreneurs. While sitting on the board of the Naramata Bench Wineries Association, my job was to bring all the member wineries together for a common goal. I needed to find compromise between all the opinions of our members. I plan to utilize these skills on council to keep us on task, to work towards a better future for everyone in Penticton.
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?
In my opinion, affordable housing is the biggest issue in Penticton right now. Achieving this requires a multi-pronged approach. More units is the first step. As a city, we can encourage the densification of downtown through duplexes and townhomes. We should also incentivize home owners with secondary suites to use them for long term rentals instead of short term rentals. We need to make it easier for people to renovate and create legal suites if they choose.
The second step is to work with partners and stakeholders to create more subsidized housing. There are federal and provincial grants that the city can apply for. In Charlottetown, they recently received $566,000 through grants from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the province to create affordable rental units for seniors and families. Private/public partnerships are also a common method for creating affordable housing. Our city council can and should be exploring every avenue to ensure that all our citizens can afford a roof over their heads.
How would you make Penticton more affordable?
The first thing we need to make Penticton affordable is housing – see my answer to the previous question.
The next thing we need is better paying jobs for people who live here. We need to make it easier for small businesses to open up shop here, and we also need to make it easier for them to stay in business. There are a lot of jobs in manufacturing and tourism, but we need to diversify.
As a city we need to attract other industries that have a variety of skillsets so we have better paying jobs for people who live here. A strategic choice would be the film industry. It has started to flourish here but there is no clear "home base" yet. This industry has well paying job openings with a variety of backgrounds and skill sets and would be a strategic addition to Penticton.
What is one example of a time you agreed with city council over the past term, and one when you disagreed?
City council voiced their support of the Car40 program, which pairs a mental health nurse with RCMP officers on some routes. Our current council met with the province’s Mental Health and Addictions Minister but left without any commitment or support. The Car40 program has been proven effective in cities across Canada, and I support our council’s efforts to expand it here.
The SOS Medical Foundation was gifted two properties from the late David Kampe with specific instructions on how he wanted those properties used. While they raise funds to execute those wishes, the Foundation is using the lots as a parking lot. The Foundation did not realize that these properties would incur a tax liability in 2022, as medical buildings are usually exempt. They requested a one-time grant to excuse their tax liability and promised to budget for taxes moving forwards. That request was turned down. This led to the Foundation being unable to purchase much-needed medical equipment. In my opinion, the city should have given the Foundation a one-time break.
If you had $1 million to spend on anything in the city, how would you spend it?
The Penticton Fire Department is under funded, under staffed, and in need of equipment upgrades. I would use the $1 million to provide upgrades to their equipment and bolster their budget for more staff members. More staffing is a recurring expense, so the $1 million would be spent over several years to ensure they continue to have the money to hire enough people.
I would also invest a portion of the $1 million into existing programs for mental health and addictions services in our community. These programs are crucial to helping people in need in our community and are historically under funded.
The other option I considered with $1 million was to invest in affordable housing, however the sad fact is that $1 million doesn’t go very far when constructing a building.
Picture Penticton 20 years from now. What are the key aspects that are making it thrive?
In 20 years, my hope is that Penticton is thriving. I hope that we have protected the lakes, beaches and forests that surround us and that make us so unique.
We will have secured affordable housing so that everyone has a place to live. There are a variety of industries providing diverse job opportunities. We will have advocated for stricter sentences for prolific offenders, while providing wrap around services for those in our community that need them. Mental health and addictions services will be available for those who need them.
Our focus on providing better amenities and services for all our residents will have fostered a better community spirit. The fear, frustration and anger that many feel will have subsided, because everyone has access to the things they need.