There were no real fireworks nor did a clear winner emerge from Thursday night’s debate.
To no one’s surprise, the two people running for Smithers mayor and the four candidates for the one town council seat kept it fairly civilized.
The event was closed to the public because of the ongoing pandemic but it was broadcast live online and viewers were invited to submit questions digitally.
The evening started with opening speeches but affordable homes and the housing shortage crisis dominated questions afterwards.
Businessman Joe Bramsleven was the first to giving his opening remarks.
“I grew up here, went to school here and now here I am today running for mayor. We need a different approach in the future about the way we spend our money and look at our current situation,” he said in his 45 second speech.
The other mayoral candidate, Gladys Atrill, spoke next and talked about her experience on council. She focused on supporting people and local businesses during the pandemic.
“As my role as a mayor, I would use my experience and ability to listen, to draw people together and bring diverse ideas and creative solutions to the table,” she said.
The four councillor candidates introduced themselves next.
Randy Bell went first and said he was running to bring common sense back to council. He used the example of the Town’s multiple Paperweight awards, an annual showcase of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’ picks for red tape headaches for business owners across the country.
Meanwhile, candidate Sam Raven wants to take her perspective as a labour activist advocating for positive change and improving the daily lives of workers to the council chambers.
Mika Meyer spoke next and said she is running to support Smithers’ vibrant economy, maintain high quality environmental standards, find solutions to address housing availability issues and work towards creating more child care spots.
Colin Bateman drew the shortest straw and spoke last but was the only one to use up the entire 3 minutes allotted to the opening remarks. He spoke about his experience in the tourism sector and his time volunteering with youth sports and the chamber of commerce.
Candidates were then asked questions that were submitted from the public and from the media.
There were a lot of questions about the housing shortage in Smithers with everyone agreeing there is a problem.
Randy Bell said while creating suites and apartments within existing homes is a good idea, there needs to be a long term solution.
“The overall solution is lowering general property tax for new development as well, any program we can come up with to allow people to further develop and make more houses is a good idea. I’ve been here for 25 years and there has always been a shortage of housing. We need to get rid of the red tape so industry will build more.”
Sam Raven responded by advocating for more homes within homes.
“By utilizing existing residential infrastructure we aren’t creating new developments and it could make it easier for seniors perhaps who may not be able to keep up with maintenance on their homes. They can use home equity loans to create suites and create another sense of community by having the renters help with snow removal and yard maintenance.”
The airport and its sustainability also came up.
Atrill said Smithers must make sure we have continued air service.
“It is about literally connecting the community. It is about the Town, the business community, the chamber, different sectors to figure out the needs during COVID. Travel has changed,” she said. “We don’t have the same demand in February but there is still demand and putting that together and supplying the information to the airlines so that we can connect service to demand.”
Bateman echoed the need to keep the airport alive and said affordable air travel from YYD must be a priority for town council.
“It needs to considered a necessity rather than a privilege,” he said.
Bramsleven also spoke in favour of the airport but said more research needs to be done to expand it and be more competitive.
“We need to come up with plan to grow our airport. Our airport needs more industrial business in order to grow,” he said.
A question about the Telkwa Coal also came up and Meyer was asked if she supports the project.
“It is important that we trust and listen to the provincial and federal assessment to determine if the project should go ahead or not,” she said.
Very few candidates used up their response cards and most questions were only answered by the person they were directed to. Because of this, the debate wrapped up slightly ahead of schedule. In total, there were 6 rounds of questions.
About a hundred people viewed the event online live. It can still be watched on The Interior News’ Facebook page and a recording of it is available through the Smithers and District Chamber of Commerce.
Voters head to the polls on October 17.