Two down, three to go 

Debate scene for Squamish council unfolds

Jorli Ricker foretold deep integration and Donna Billy said the Cultural Centre was built too far north. Debra McBride fancies her views and Greg Gardner’s mom is a singer. Paul Lalli plugged his municipal lottery, Alan Forsythe called for better architecture, and, after nearly four hours with his brow perpetually furrowed, John McIllwraith asked if he could go home.

David Clarkson called it pandering, though the moderators billed it as debating. The first two all-candidates sessions have come and gone from Squamish’s overcrowded campaign trail, and all but two candidates — Terrill Patterson and John Erickson, who didn’t show for either — had a chance to field questions from the public and special interest groups alike.

Both debates were themed. The first, put on by the Arts Council, saw roughly 35 people pile elbow to masochistic elbow in the so-called seat of Squamish’s arts community — essentially a tiny building at the end of Cleveland Avenue. The medium, in this case, was not the message; the building was.

“I think we get the point,” said Rob Kirkham.

Indeed, all candidates acknowledged the cash-strapped nature of the scene, though minds like Corinne Lonsdale’s suggested better collusion within the arts community, as effective organizing breeds effective lobbying. For his part, Gardner suggested better focus, a strategy that builds on what’s there, namely the cultural heritage of railways and mining.

To Lalli, the answer to art funding — in fact, the answer to many a dearth in funding — lies somewhere outside the tax base, hence his municipal lotto idea. Meanwhile, Patricia Heintzman and a few others suggested leveraging developer dollars, of which, if all the construction means anything, there’s a substantial sum. For his part, Clarkson said that was just a temporary solution.

Whatever the case, McIllwraith summed things up with eloquence: “It’s the culture that creates the art, and it’s the art that defines the culture.”

But culture is so much more than just the arts. Culture, especially in this corridor, is equal parts sport. And so the second debate was hosted by SORCA in the Sea to Sky Hotel, a veritable Pacific compared to the confines of the Art Council. Using a different format, Squamish’s recreation groups peppered the could-be councillors and mayor with a slew of questions, from bike lanes to dirt bike tracks, rock climbing to trail building, not to mention Garibaldi at Squamish (G@S) and the balance between recreation and the environment.

The line of questioning was more aggressive, with interest groups and the public trying hard for commitments, a tactic that won a few promises. For example, Catherine Jackson said 10 per cent of the paving budget should go to bike lanes. Mind, promises sometimes find their roots in semantics. For example, once it became clear that there was no financial basis to the question, a number of candidates fell over themselves pledging support for a dirt bike track.

Throughout all this, Ron Bahm — whose last name was correctly pronounced almost exclusively through his own lips — cracked innumerable jokes, as did Larry McLennan. Some were funny. When not gunning for grins, both men tossed up a pledge apiece: Bahm would scale the budget back by 10 per cent, and McLennan would usher in a new school.

After a total of nearly eight hours, one thing became clear. There’s a disconnect between interest groups and council. “There are so many diverse groups in this community,” said Forsythe. “We need to keep this dialogue going.”

He meant post-election, of course. But, until then, there are three more debates to attend: one on Nov. 1 at the Sea to Sky Hotel, another on Nov. 7 at Totem Hall, and a mayoral showdown on Nov. 10.

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