Economic development is always a big issue in any election at any level. The balancing act for municipalities what kind of business do they want to attract and how.
The candidates in the upcoming Telkwa byelection had some ideas on this issue. We asked them what kind of job they thought the current council was doing, what kind of business they would like to see come to Telkwa and whether they were in favour of the Telkwa Coal Project and why.
All the candidates thought council was more or less on the right track in terms of focussing on infrastructure upgrades to make the village more attractive to business, but felt more could be done.
Dave Livesey believes the village is ready to start actively going after new business.
“The current list of strategic priorities that the Village is following does not actually include economic development,” said Livesey. “This is unfortunate, but was necessary so that the current Council could address water and sewer upgrade issues that needed to be completed before more development could occur. Some of these issues have been fixed, and now it is time to start looking at improving the business choices in Telkwa. The by-laws and zoning are ready for new development, it is now a matter of attracting it.”
Erik Jacobsen suggested there was still more work to be done in preparing the village for development.
“In my opinion, the Village Of Telkwa priorities should be to upgrade all old services, water and sewer, with the final goal to make it possible to encourage new business.”
Kraft fell somewhere in between, noting that while work of preparing for economic development is ongoing, it’s not too early to start trying to bring in new business.
“Expanding the tax base is a necessity that needs to be considered,” he said. “In this regard council must be proactive in ensuring that the land and tax base are made attractive enough for industry to locate to our community.”
WHAT TO ATTRACT
Kraft had one specific idea in mind.
“One business that council could lobby the provincial government for is a recycling depot,” he said. “Our area has been without a major recycling depot far too long and with a little effort, land and support could be made available. The self-haul system we have now is great, but we need to encourage people to do more.”
Jacobsen also had a specific suggestion.
“During the spring and summer months, I’m often asked by tourists if there was a place to eat in Telkwa; perhaps a restaurant would be great in a central location open for all meals during the day,” he said.
Livesey had a more generalized vision, noting that while currently a bedroom community to Smithers, Telkwa doesn’t have to stay that way.
“I think that we, as residents of Telkwa, should be trying to attract the kind of industry and business that will help to change this and make the village more self-reliant,” he said. “Telkwa could use more retail stores, like grocery stores or specialist supply stores to fill the gaps not covered by our existing businesses. Doctor’s and dentist’s offices would definitely be appreciated and well-used in Telkwa, not just by locals but from others in the region. Massage therapy and physiotherapist businesses would benefit people and reduce the often-painful car trips to Smithers for their patients.”
Kraft also referenced the bedroom community nature of Telkwa, but didn’t necessarily see it as a bad thing.
“Many families choose to live in Telkwa for various reasons,” he said. “It is their work life, shopping and other functions that takes them to Smithers. If Telkwa evolves into a mainly family-oriented community, then it only stands to reason that these homeowners will have to shoulder the cost of this community developing into something we can all be proud of. I believe that the bicycle connector path between Smithers and Telkwa is one small step towards this type of community development and cooperation.”
Of course, the elephant in the village is the Telkwa Coal project. Resource extraction projects in general tend to be controversial and Telkwa Coal is no exception.
Only Jacobsen came out definitively for or against the project saying he was in favour of the development.
“The company appears to take our environmental concerns seriously,” he said. “The mine operation will not affect the residents of Telkwa a great deal because of the bypass road to the railroad facility. Further, the project expects 150 jobs during peak construction, 170 jobs during peak operations and approximately 255 indirect jobs during the mine’s overall 25-year life. With that in mind, more housing will be in demand.”
Kraft on the other hand, while acknowledging the project could have economic advantages, thought it was too early to have a definitive answer and noted the ultimate decision is outside the village’s jurisdiction.
“A lot of questions still need to be asked and answered before this project is given the final green light,” he said. “Any of these resource projects are always a matter of trade-offs . What assurances are there in place that the jobs will be local or that there will be economic spin-off and growth? Can the village handle the influx of people that may choose to live here and the expansion that will inevitably happen? Will the potential dangers to the Telkwa River’s ecosystem be properly addressed and considered?”
Livesey did not say specifically yay or nay to the project, but clearly believes Telkwa would be better served going in a different direction.
“The future of Telkwa does not need to rely solely on large resource extraction industries which involve great risks to our water supply,” he said.
In any event, he noted Allegiance Coal, the Australia-based proponent for the Telkwa Tenas Project, is more focussed right now on a project in Colorado that promises much more immediate returns on investment meaning any potential benefits of Telkwa Coal are a long way off yet.
“At the same time, the company is working on the Environmental Assessment for the Telkwa area project,” Livesey said. “It still needs to come up with finalized water supply and treatment plans to satisfy both the provincial government and the Office of the Wetsuwe’ten, the two authorities who will have the final say on the project. It doesn’t appear that this project will be the economic driver to power Telkwa’s growth anytime soon.”
Whatever direction council takes, if Telkwa is to grow, it will depend on infrastructure and housing. Next week we will ask the candidates to weigh in on that issue.