Council candidate Justin Pelant speaks for small business
This Q&A session with council candidate Justin Pelant is the eighth in a Nelson Daily series with candidates for Nelson City Council in the November 15 municipal election. Previous articles have featured council candidates Anna Purcell, Charles Jeanes, John Paolozzi, Michael Dailly, Valerie Warmington, Brian Shields, and Jason Peil.
Others running for the six seats on council are Janice Morrison and Jeff Shecter, along with incumbent councillors Bob Adams and Robin Cherbo.
Justin Pelant is the owner of Ted Allen’s Jewellers, the President of the Chamber of Commerce (on leave) and a member of the board of the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership (NAEDP). He was an active player in the introduction of broadband internet to downtown Nelson. He grew up in Nelson, left after graduation from LVR, and returned here with his family eight years ago.
Why are you running?
I enjoy being involved. I have always enjoyed being involved in decision-making, and I am not afraid to make decisions. I am in a business where I see 50 to 100 people a day, I hear their concerns, and I feel I want to answer those. I want to have input into the direction our city goes.
What are the main issues for you?
We are doing this big water and sewer upgrade that has been going on for a few years now. I want to make sure we plan it out for the next five years and for another 20 years, to make sure we get roads and sidewalks, that the garbage is picked up, the leaves are cleaned up, the infrastructure is taken care of, and then keep it going. The federal government has just put out a $300 million grant for rural communities, and I want to get some of that money into Nelson.
I want to work with the NAEDP to make sure broadband is being distributed in a fiscally responsible manner, because it is expensive, and we need to get it into the community.
Broadband creates green industry. A buddy of mine has a software company in Vancouver. He moved back here about six years ago and brought one of his employees with him. They both have houses in town now and they both have young families, two jobs, working out of their houses, bringing money into the community. We don’t need a big factory here.
Nelson offers something very few places do—skiing, golf, water sports, a beautiful area, and we have also got arts, culture, heritage. People want to live here, so if we can import people who are tired of commuting, tired of living in a city, to bring their business here, bring some of their employees here, work out of home or rent an office, broadband allows that opportunity.
We need to continue to support arts, culture and sports. The city is doing a good job in that area now.
What other issues concern you?
We have a large contingent of mental health issues in this town. I think our mental health case workers are over-worked. I think on the provincial level the funding of rural communities is not enough. Nelson is an example, where our police department is taking on a job but they are not the ones who should be the front line workers, they should be working with the front line workers and that is lacking.
Two years ago I personally set up a meeting through the Chamber with Nelson Cares, Stepping Stones, the police chief, Michelle Mungall, and others, people from, I will use the terms right and left here. It was a closed discussion no media, because that is one way we can talk about this. When people think this will go on the air, they don’t speak what they truly think. From that discussion the whole table agreed that Nelson could really use a car 87.
It went to Interior Health and they did not do anything to help us. (Police Chief) Wayne Holland petitioned for it and I think they are getting 4 hours a month right now, with the mental health worker working with a police officer. That is a step.
What else can council do about that?
The only thing you can do is keep going with those discussions, behind closed doors, discuss it openly and find out what is needed and advocate for that. It should not be on the shoulders of the municipal taxpayers to manage all the mental health costs. Our provincial tax dollars should be used for that.
The business community are not being insensitive, they are actually saying this is hurting my business, or I don’t feel safe, or I don’t like going on Baker Street because I don t feel safe with my kids. Those are legitimate concerns, I know that the organizations we have now are working very hard and the provincial government needs to step in.
Why, and when, did you step down as President of the Chamber of Commerce?
I have stepped down because it could be viewed as a conflict of interest. I had not stepped down when I announced that I was running because two of the other Executive Council were out of town and we were in the midst of selling our building. So at our next meeting two weeks later, I put forward a motion that I was stepping down. Depending on the outcome of the election I will either come back as past president or I will step down entirely. So I am on a leave of absence right now.
Does this apply also to being on the board of the NAEDP?
No, because it is a partnership between the Chamber, the City, and local businesses. I have talked to other members of the board and they said, “We still want you on (the board).” I will continue on that board whether I get elected or not, if they still want me.
Premier Clark recently criticized municipal governments because she says spending on wages and benefits is too high and is outstripping those expenses at the provincial and federal level. Do you think that applies to Nelson?
I do think efficiencies need to be looked at in city hall because the public impression is that it is top heavy. But you need to really get in there and figure out who is doing what. You need to be on the inside to figure that out.
What do you think of the dog by-law?
It is out-dated and needs to be looked at. Three years ago Marg Stacey did a survey through the Nelson Business Association. It was 92% in favour of changing the bylaw. We had tourists writing letters to the chamber and saying I loved your town and would have stayed longer but I didn’t want to leave my dog in the RV.
I think Nelson should take a page out of what Whistler did and have a leash law, where the dog has to be on a six foot leash and we can set up doggie bag stations around town and the bylaw officer has leashes with him. The leash would say “Welcome to Nelson” on it. The city could fund it or I am sure you could round up enough people that would donate to that. We priced it, I think it was $800 for a thousand leashes, so if someone comes into town and doesn’t know about the leash law, you hand them the leash. If people don’t abide by it, you make the penalty very stiff. For a lot of people their dogs are part of the family.
What are your thoughts on condo development?
It’s the most common question I am asked by people on the street. They come in and say, “Fix my watch and answer this question.” There will be growth. Our geographic area is limited, we are on the side of a mountain, there is not a lot of space left. I am not big on high-rises, I don’t like that look. There are some areas where it is conducive to the landscape, but I think it should be done in a responsible manner. There are some areas where we can get away with putting condos or duplexes in, there are other areas we could get away with a five or six storey high-rise.
The city campground is perfect for a senior complex, because you can go five storeys up and you can walk from there downtown. It is not going to interfere with anyone’s view, and we would be densifying urban space. It is an open piece of land and we could build higher there.
The city has made some steps to make it easier to put secondary housing suites in—that is another form of densification, that is a positive thing. We need to make that process easier: provide low cost housing (or moderate cost housing I prefer to call it) where a young family comes in and they can’t afford a $350 thousand house but if they have a mortgage helper in the basement all of a sudden that becomes $200, so it helps younger families get into houses.
What has the current council done well? You already mentioned the infrastructure upgrades and support for arts and sports. Is there more?
They did some upgrades at the waste treatment plant, lowering greenhouse gases and saving money. They have followed through with the climate action charter, signed in 2007 to reduce greenhouse gases. I advocate carrying on with that. Moving forward with infrastructure upgrades, moving forward with Nelson Hydro on its own electrical grid, and setting up sections of grids through town to make sure that if one place goes down the whole town doesn’t.
What could council have done better?
I was disappointed by the dog bylaw, when it was brought to council, that it was not seconded to even have a conversation about it, because you had the business community asking them to at least talk about this, and it was not even talked about.
What to you think of the plans for Hall Street?
The beautification in the top section at IODE Park, that needs to go forward. But in regards to changing road patterns, it is premature because with Nelson Commons going in—they are hoping to have people moving in October 2016, not that far away—I would wait until that is up and running and then look at what traffic is going on and make a decision then on that intersection. That will change the whole dynamics of that part of town. It is a horrible intersection, but why spend money now that you will have to change later?
Is there other issues or problems that business people in town are concerned about?
The business community always talks about taxation, we are taxed at 2.3 times the residential rate, and that is always a concern. The city in the last while has done a good job of keeping streets clean and removing snow, signage, opening up more parking longer term parking, that is fantastic.
What do you like most about Nelson?
The ability to do what you want to do. Coming from a city, when I first moved back, this is such a wonderful community. I am a strong advocate of the shop local campaign, the guys on my soccer team are, “leave it alone already,” but I can’t leave it alone, that is how we keep this town strong. Anything you want pretty much you can get here, it is amazing in a town of 10,000, things you don’t find anywhere else. The people are wonderful, it is family friendly, so much opportunity to live the life you want to live and it is a healthy life, not sitting in a condo watching cars drive by looking at concrete and asphalt.