Housing, health care and demographics are emerging as Quadra Island’s hottest election topics.

It was a full house Tuesday evening at the island’s community centre as Area C regional director candidates Robyn Mawhinney and Marc Doll fielded residents’ questions in advance of the Oct. 15 B.C. municipal elections.

The two candidates were quizzed on a variety of local concerns. But the housing crisis pushing young families and employees out of the market and the greying of the island’s population and the impacts on businesses and services were top issues. As were concerns around ensuring continued supports for seniors with the persistent lack of doctors and emergency responders on the ferry-dependent island.

Both candidates have suggested the official community plan (OCP) — which guides land use decisions on the island — needs to be reviewed and were asked what they would change in the document.

Both promised not to change the OCP without community consultation, noting it wasn’t a decision an individual director would make on their own.

However, Mawhinney said the community might want to examine the plan and include alternative and affordable housing options, such as tiny homes or mobile homes, currently not included in the document.

The community needs to re-evaluate what hasn’t been achieved in the plan over the past 15 years, particularly in areas set out for densification, such as Quathiaski Cove, Doll said.

“It’s more about the question: ‘Are we achieving the goals it was set up to achieve?’” he said. “And if not, are there changes we need to make?”

Mawhinney said she’ll advocate for upgrades to the sewage and a water system in the cove as one way to deal with densification stumbling blocks posed by Island Health's concerns over water capacity.

The housing and health care crises, coupled with an aging population, were the issues dominating Quadra Island’s all-candidates meeting Tuesday. #BCpoli #2022MunicipalElections

The candidates were asked if they’d support a bylaw limiting short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, inside the primary residence on a property, so secondary residences would be freed up for long-term rentals for young families.

Both candidates deferred commitment, citing the need for community consultation, but agreed vacation rentals were impacting the rental market on the island and needed to be examined.

A recent housing report showed the number of vacation rentals on Quadra had tripled since 2016, Mawhinney said. But she also noted many residents rely on vacation rentals for income or to help pay high mortgages.

“We need to find a solution that fits our community,” she said, but noted other coastal tourism-based communities such as Ucluelet and Sechelt have recently passed bylaws placing restrictions on short-term vacation properties.

Agreeing, Doll noted the lack of rental or affordable housing is also having a knock-on effect that is “hollowing out” the community and leaving local businesses without labour. Elderly island residents also can’t find people to hire to do work or provide supports that would allow them to age at home, he said.

In response to questions about health care and community services for seniors, Doll noted devising solutions to doctor and ambulance shortages was critical, given seniors are outpacing every other demographic on the island.

In B.C., 20 per cent of the population is aged 65 and over. But 37 per cent of Area C residents, who mostly live on Quadra, are over 65 or older, with a further 17 per cent aged from 55 to 64, according to 2021 census data. And the median age of Area C residents is 58.4 years old, compared to the provincial median age of 43.

The best approach to solving the doctor shortage will involve tackling it as a community rather than relying on the province or the health authority for results, Doll said.

Following the example of Port McNeill, which is uniting with other rural communities to have a greater voice with the province around the medical staff shortages in small communities, is also a possible solution, Mawhinney said.

Both candidates said they’d collaborate with the community to respond to the housing and health-care crises, diversify the economy, attract young families to the island, and shape transportation plans or road safety.

But the framework for community input differed between the two candidates.

Mawhinney said she’d create a volunteer community advisory council with representatives from all Area C communities, sectors and community groups to get input on important issues to better advocate on behalf of the island.

However, Doll pitched the creation of a permanent Quadra Island community association with an elected volunteer board — that existed independent of the regional director — to define the community’s priorities and devise solutions to issues like the housing crisis.

As director, he might bring information and his views to the table, but the community association would set its own agenda and create a vision for the community, Doll said, noting a single director isn’t capable of doing so.

“It’s not about me as a director seeking input, it’s about the community developing its own voice independently.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer