In an interview with Gagandeep Ghuman, Rob Kirkham, the incumbent mayor seeking re-election, says Oceanfront, economic development, and bringing disparate groups together have driven his desire for re-election
Q. How have these three years been for you?
It’s been very exciting. One part of my election campaign was to bring the Oceanfront to the market and it was critical to get a developer involved and realize that vision and to relieve us of the burden of that responsibility. We are pleased that we have gotten to the point where we have.
Q. Let’s talk about some of things you have been able to accomplish?
Well, there is the transformation of the community as a livable, more exciting vibrant that many are proud to call it home. The transformation of downtown initiative is key part of that and it’s been a real success with all the events activities we have had over the summer. We connected the downtown with the blind channel with the acquisition of the waterfront property there and that opened an access to the public. I’m very pleased with the transformation the Stan Clarke Park has had in the same regard. It’s a great example of a transition that we have been able to accomplish over the last few years, from taking it from a generic grass area to a place where you have families and children over there. Then, there is enhancing the experience with the paving of the corridor trail with east-west connections that is still going on, the commitment to fund SORCA for the Trails maintenance work. Last year, we made the commitment for the ongoing source of funding.
Then, there is improvement in the transit, getting additional evening and weekend hours, coordinating with the school time and introducing additional routes. For regional transit, we have been working with the province to do a study on doing a commuter transit.
Q. You mentioned bringing investor to Squamish as one of your election platform.
A. Well, that is one of the aspects we have lots to improve and that has to be a major focus for this council. About three or four years, we had a very bad reputation on how we would respond to developers. We have done a significant transformation and we are seeing a large influx of people looking for business opportunities that require planning and moving them through the process. Solterra’s ability to build in Squamish and get tenants is because of the tax incentives we provided them in the business park. We still have a few years left on the incentive program and we have just had a report on employment land strategy.
Q. Why do you want to be re-elected ?
Well, there are so many new people, young and energetic and really excited about the future of Squamish. In 2015, we will review our OCP and this will be a time to connect with new people and understand where we want to go in as a community. And when you are looking at electing a Mayor, it’s a question of leadership. There is a fair bit of anxiety in our community as to where we are going and it’s fairly important that we bring people together and create some unity and common vision. There are so many fantastic groups that are doing really good work but they are very focused on what is important to them. I need to bring those passions and enthusiastic people together. We need to share stories and have conversations for a united vision. For example, some people are saying industry and tourism they don’t mix, but my perspective is yes, and we are proving that. But we need to have collaboration and sharing or people are going to be concerned about a lack of information.
Q. What else is on your re-election agenda?
It’s really important to me that we bring the Oceanfront to reality and I really want to have a part in accomplishing that and delivering that to the community. And that is a good example of the anxiety that is out there and we need to be better able to communicate and converse on these topics. We have come a long way and I compare it to coming out of the dark ages. We hired a communications person and we get out the e-news, Twitter, Facebook and we have engaged the community in council meetings and budget exercise and I think that is a good example of that.
Q. How would you assess Coun. Heintzman running for Mayor?
A. I’d leave that for the people of Squamish to decide. I have no comments.
Q. Coun. Ted Prior and Patricia Heintzman say you don’t share information with councilors?
A. I provide regular updates to the council and I have an open door policy for councilors and any councilor can come meet me any time and Ted Prior has met me on a number of occasions. I’m not conducting any backroom deals. I’m not suggesting that the Mayor’s schedule is a big secret and it’s just that I get requests from some people who would like to talk to me and if they say they want to have a private conversation and then I need to respect that. If we are going to entertain a development proposal, it has to go to staff and planning and engineering and everyone makes decision about that and it eventually comes before council.
It’s a question of leadership. There are six different councilors that have diverse backgrounds and priorities and over the last three years I have done a great job of keeping them able to work together and respect each other’s perspectives and move ahead with business, considering all of their individual backgrounds. With this position, you have to be respected and well-connected with other governments and it’s really important that we be able to communicate to them. I need the provincial and federal government to listen to them. It’s also critical that DOS works hand in hand with Squamish Nation and they are the largest landowner.
Q. Let’s talk about economic development?
A. That is very important for me and going forward, economic development and job creation will continue to be a major focus for me. Business people that will interact with us and a big part of our economic development is business retention and expansion and it’s where most of the business comes.
Q. How will you control the taxes?
A. With taxes, it’s all about balance. As a community we have a pretty high expectation level of services and I personally feel we need to provide a fairly high level service. When you have the pressure of RCMP, union contracts then you have so many pieces of the budget that are pressing our budget even higher.
My perspective is about balance and we need to make effort and we need to increase our industrial tax base which also fits with the local jobs in town so people who live here have the chance to work here. We need to generate more taxes from industry, which also implements employment and small business prosper. We have the natural industry, we have highway, we have railway and we have a deep sea port and for employers. Our economic development department fields enquiries frequently and there are educational institutions that are also looking to come to Squamish.
Q. What are your views on LNG
District isn’t in a position to decline the project as out OCO calls for industry on that site. There are a number of benefits but my big concern is impact to environment. That is an overriding concern and that is why I directed staff to set up this LNG committee. We have decided to get an actual expert opinion, whether it’s impact to the marine, air or the land.