Delta mayoral candidates square off

Four hopefuls talk development, transportation and ports at S. Delta meeting.

Candidates (L-R) Krista Engelland

The four candidates vying for Delta’s top job had a chance to speak out about major issues facing the municipality at a mayoral debate on Tuesday evening (Nov. 1).

Presented by the South Delta Leader and Delta Chamber of Commerce, the event was held at Ladner’s Genesis Theater as a lead up to the Nov. 19 civic election.

All candidates were given a two-minute introduction. If elected mayor, former longtime Delta councillor Krista Engelland said she would enforce a tight rein on spending, make municipal hall more accessible, and build a better community. Incumbent candidate Mayor Lois Jackson said she wants to “keep Delta on track,” noting her administration’s strong fiscal record. Current Delta councillor Heather King said, if elected, she would refresh the North Delta housing stock, revitalize Scott Road and Ladner Harbour, and instill trust in municipal hall. And UBC professor John Meech, who said Delta’s “no growth” policy is unsustainable, wants to see proactive change instead of resistance.

A panel proceeded to ask the candidates questions submitted by the public.

To develop or not to develop?

The question everyone was anticipating was posed early in the evening and drew an audible reaction from the audience—”Where do you stand on development of the Southlands property?”

Jackson said she would keep an open mind as the Century Group development proposal moves forward, while King vowed to listed to the public and continue to review studies. Meech, who previously served on the Southlands Community Planning Team, said he was in favour of possible development on the Southlands, while Engelland felt otherwise. “I do not support changing the agricultural designation,” she said.

Asked what the mayor-elect would do to ensure the wishes of neighbourhoods are respected when it comes to infill single-family development or rezoning applications, King said she would hold more public gatherings to discuss and collaborate. Meech said the revitalization of North Delta is “long overdue” and infill is one way to address housing problems. But he added it is fundamentally important to make changes through a “bottom-up process.”

Engelland said neighbourhoods are being “picked apart” and pocketed with dense infill developments that don’t conform to the rest of the community without proper consideration of citizen input. She said she doesn’t believe proponents should be able to ask for whatever they want on property. “If it’s not in conformance with the area plans for the OCP (Official Community Plan), then it’s not appropriate to accept the application,” she said.

Help for seniors

With Delta’s aging population, seniors’ issues were a hot topic at Tuesday night’s debate. All four candidates agreed that forming a Seniors Advisory Committee as a council committee would be a good idea.

Candidates were asked about plans to improve sidewalks, street lighting, curbing and intersections to ensure safety of pedestrians—especially those with mobility aids.

“We’re getting to a position now with our debt being as low as it is that more funding should be able to be made available for streets, steeps, sidewalks or possible changes to intersections,” said Jackson.

King, who chaired the now-disbanded Traffic and Safety Advisory Committee, said the municipal budget of $300,000 a year equates to just 500 metres of sidewalk, and that’s not enough. Engelland said she would allocate funding annually to upgrade and improve aging infrastructure to improve safety.

Improving traffic, transportation

Candidates tackled the issue of easing traffic congestion in areas of Ladner, Tsawwassen and the George Massey tunnel.

“What we have to do is look at attracting people into our community who are going to work here,” said Meech, noting traffic wouldn’t be intensified if people lived and worked in the same community. He added that we need to find another way to move people across the Fraser River.

Engelland said she would team up with Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington. “We would go to Victoria and we would sit on the (Transportation) Minister’s doorstep to ensure that the George Massey tunnel was going to be upgraded,” she said.

Jackson said she brought the tunnel issue to the federal government on a recent delegation to Ottawa, asking that money be set aside for the project. “They (Ottawa) know of our needs,” she said.

King said she would resurrect a regional transportation committee to advocate to Ottawa and Victoria for money. In the short term, she said she would sit down with mayor of Richmond to ease traffic at Steveston Highway, as well as talk with Deltaport to try and disperse truck traffic during daytime hours.

When it comes to improving public transit for Delta, Engelland said she would advocate to reinstate the express bus service between Delta and Downtown Vancouver so riders don’t have to transfer at Bridgeport Station. King plans to liaise with neighbouring municipalities to improve transit south of the Fraser. And Meech said losing the express bus was “devastating” to seniors in particular. He said the root of the transit problem is Delta’s “no growth” policy and the municipality needs to encourage TransLink to re-evaluate how it establishes performance.

Beyond the municipal realm

In Delta, there are a few large-scale projects on the horizon that extend beyond the jurisdiction of municipal hall. Asked for their position on a proposed jet fuel facility on the Richmond side of the Fraser River, all candidates agreed the option of transporting fuel to Vancouver International Airport through an underground pipeline would be the best and safest option.

When it comes to the proposed Deltaport expansion, King said, “I do not believe that there is enough capacity required to expand Deltaport.” She noted the port at Prince Rupert as a “perfectly viable option.”

Meech said port expansion supports our country and we should be cognizant of the fact that goods move through this province to get to the Pacific Rim. Engelland was a founding member of citizens group APE (Against Port Expansion), which opposed the previous third berth project. “The business case does not demonstrate that we need Terminal 2,” she said.

“I don’t think we need it either,” said Jackson.

Jackson is the chair of Metro Vancouver, which developed a regional waste plan including the incineration of garbage. She said a waste-to-energy incinerator would never be located in Delta unless the people wanted it. Meech said a waste-to-energy plant is the right solution for Metro Vancouver, but it shouldn’t be located in Delta.

But Engelland said incineration is not the answer to Metro Vancouver’s garbage woes. “I cannot support initiatives that may cause serious threats or irreversible damage,” she said. King said the current landfill practice is “very archaic,” but waste-to-energy is “extreme” at this point. She’s waiting on more scientific evidence and, in the meantime, would like to see more waste diverted from landfills into composting.

For those who weren’t able to watch the forum live, DeltaTV will rebroadcast the debate on Friday, Nov. 4 at 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 5 at 7 a.m., 2 p.m. and 9 p.m.

– by Christine Lyon

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