Mayoral candidates debate at City Hall

Mayoral hopefuls spar over Kingston youth and retail sale of cannabis

Incumbent mayor Bryan Paterson takes questions from residents at City Hall on Thursday.

On Thursday night, mayoral candidates gathered in City Hall to answer questions from the Kingston community.

Candidates Eric Lee, Rob Matheson, Bryan Paterson, and Vicki Schmolka discussed making the city attractive to young people and the retail sale of cannabis.

The night began with the candidates’ opening statements, outlining the key points of their platforms.

In his introduction, Lee focused on housing and landlord Vacancy Rebate and Reduction Tax. 

“We should not have to pay tax on properties we don’t own,” he said. “We end up with empty stores, empty offices, and higher unemployment.”

When asked how Kingston can attract young adults, Lee focused on the struggles of Kingston’s seniors and didn’t mention youth. 

He also expressed concern about the density of cannabis retailers when asked if the city should opt out of private marijuana retail before the mid-January deadline.

“Every second block we’re going to be selling pot,” he said. “Come on folks, gee whiz, there must be more to downtown than that,” he said. 

In his responses, Matheson said he’d tackle infrastructure, drawing on his background as a cab driver and educational experience in the social sciences, business administration, and public relations. 

If elected, Matheson also hopes to address Kingston’s sustainability, homelessness, and vacancy rate—which is the lowest in Canada.

“We need to make Kingston a better place for all of us,” he said. “We’ve done some good work in the cultural and economic aspects—depending on who you are—but societally and environmentally we are lacking, and we need to fix that.” 

Additionally, Matheson said the City could attract young adults by considering its inaccessibility.

“We would need to expand our transit service to allow our seniors to use it, perhaps free of charge, and allow students and young people to use it free of charge,” he said. “We need to make our city accessible and connected to everyone.”

On cannabis policy, Matheson was in favour of the opt-in for private retail outlets, calling them a “social and economic driver for our community.” He said the demand wouldn’t be high enough to overwhelm the downtown area. 

He added he hoped to protect tenants’ rights as mayor. 

Mayor Paterson based his platform on three pillars: embracing a policy of growth, designing the city for people, and seizing global opportunities.

He also wants to invest in new green spaces, entrepreneurship, and different modes of transportation to Kingston. 

“I believe the job of the Mayor is to be a champion for the city, a team leader for the community, and someone who is willing to get up each and every day to be able to expand and create opportunities.” 

Paterson provided three ideas about how to make Kingston more attractive to young adults: housing, employment, and cultural vitality. 

“We need more housing, so that young professionals can find affordable, decent places to live,” he said.

He also suggested collaboration with local high schools to guide students into applicable training for available employment in Kingston. 

Paterson was concerned about the proximity of cannabis retailers to schools and a lack of information from the provincial government about how much zoning agency municipalities will have. 

“If we don’t have that information by mid-January, it’s better for the city to opt out,” he said. “You can always opt in later once you have all the information you need.”

While Schmolka criticized Paterson’s platform, she stressed the importance of ranked ballots, the city’s public transit system, and the need for transparency in City Hall activities.

“I believe that Kingston is at a crossroads,” she said. “Following the current path Bryan Paterson’s path—the city’s roads and sidewalks will have more cracks and potholes. Very few affordable housing units will be built. High rises with expensive rents will be jammed into downtown and along the waterfront, regardless of our official plan.”

Schmolka said the city could attract young people as mass retirement opens up opportunities servicing Kingston’s aging population.

She said a lack of “common pride and a common sense of purpose” divides the community, Schomlka, but didn’t expand into policy suggestions. 

“I just want to acknowledge that we can do much better with respect to young people,” she said. 

Agreeing with Paterson, Schmolka argued it would be pre-mature for the city to opt in with private retail cannabis without all the information. 

However, Schmolka criticized Paterson’s lack of consultation with the public in making cannabis retail location decision. 

“We have to consult with the public,” she said. “It’s up to leaders in the community to help organize a discussion.”

The 2018 Municipal elections will be held on Oct. 22. 

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