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Meet the Mayors: Kamloops

The Price is Right at home in Canada’s Tournament Capital
2018 Kamloops City Inaugural
2018 Municipal Election Inaugural Celebration

Ever considered moving to Kamloops? You’re not alone – and for good reason. With a diversified economy no longer dependent on mining and forestry, Kamloops has become a hot spot for a growing number of British Columbians in search of affordability, opportunity, and lifestyle without sacrificing big city benefits.

Ideally located with the Lower Mainland only a short drive away, Canada's Tournament Capital has changed dramatically in recent years – and no one knows that better than the city's current mayor, Ken Christian.

The Price is Right:  Mayor Christian, as you begin your first full term in the mayor's office, I'll ask you the very same question we asked Prince George mayor Lyn Hall last week. What is right about your city?

Christian: The list is long. You know, Bob, I came here 40 years ago on a whistle stop. I was only going to stay here for a couple of years and move on. But like so many, I fell in love with the city's livability. When you think about it, we've had a very steady growth rate, so we've avoided the peaks and valleys of some of the economic booms and downturns. And through all of that, we've invested in our infrastructure. Things like the "Tournament Capital" program, the investment in parks. It's a great place to be and in my situation, it has been a great place to raise a family.

TPIR: Is there anything wrong with Kamloops?

Christian: There are some things that we need to work on right now, no different than most other Interior communities. We are starting to have a serious problem with housing affordability and homelessness. As a community, we have to address those. We can't chase that problem to Vancouver or Kelowna.

As we have grown, homelessness has become much more evident on our streets and it's starting to impact people's sense of safety and security.

Another thing that I'm concerned about is the fact that the Trans Mountain pipeline has been postponed. That pipeline is important for Kamloops in a couple of ways, not the least of which is the issue of the plethora of oil trains going through our city. The other issue is moving oil by train places our river systems at risk. Everybody talks about the risks to the killer whale population, but what about the risks to the Adams River salmon run and the natural beauty of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers?

The other part of that pipeline discussion is the construction of that project will generate scores of jobs in Kamloops, not to mention that it will also expand our utility tax base. As you might know, we have a fairly serious imbalance with our heavy industry tax base here in Kamloops, a historic artifact of our Weyerhaeuser days. We are now working hard with both Domtar and Tolko Industries to adjust that.

TPIR:  How do you view the local business climate in Kamloops and is that climate being impacted by senior levels of government?

Christian:  Well, one of the things we've done is really work on our relationship with the business community. We have also worked closely with Tourism Kamloops, the airport authority, and Venture Kamloops to establish a "Team Kamloops" kind of approach. And I believe it has worked with building permits going through the roof. Downtown Kamloops is enjoying its strongest development in 10 years and we are starting to see fewer and fewer vacancies in the commercial sector.

I'm not so sure that the B.C. government has helped us so much with the Employer Health Tax, however! The federal government, I don't know that they play that much of a role in terms of business success in municipalities anymore...but certainly the province does, and one of the things that I've tried to do is build relationships with this new government. Like it or not, they are the government and I've made it my business to get to know the members of cabinet the best that I can.

TPIR: If a business leader in downtown Vancouver is reading this, what is your message to convince that person to consider Kamloops?

Christian: There's a number of reasons for that. First and foremost is the fact it has never been more difficult for young people to set themselves up in Metro Vancouver to raise families. I know from my own kid's experience. They are making well in excess of $100,000 a year and still can't afford to buy a place in the Greater Vancouver area...and, in fact, are renting for $2,200 a month on Commercial Drive. That kind of cost is not sustainable.

So for a company in the Lower Mainland to relocate to a place like Kamloops, you have lower land prices, lower construction costs, an affordable city where your employee group can transfer to and buy a home and contribute to the community. Kamloops also has access to everything people want to do within 15 minutes. We are also close enough to major centers like Vancouver and Calgary.

TPIR: Do you as the mayor of Kamloops have a leadership philosophy?

Christian: Absolutely, I do. I have spent 37 years in leadership positions with the health authority. I chaired the Kamloops Thompson School District for 8 years and I have really focused on team building, to use everybody's talent within that team for specific purposes and sharing in the success that we achieve together. That is also how I approach the office of mayor.

It's not my office but rather belongs to the people of Kamloops. I simply have the honour and responsibility of occupying it for the next four years. We will, however, be measured by the success of our entire council and the corporation of the city of Kamloops.

Next week, The Price is Right heads to the Interior's largest city for a visit with Kelowna mayor, Colin Basran.

Do you have a story idea? As always, I encourage your feedback on Twitter: @kammornanchor

Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.