Mayoral candidates Gladys Atrill and Joe Bramsleven have opposing views on the challenging topic of the environment.
In 2019, Smithers Town Council declared a “climate emergency.” At the time, Atrill, then a councillor, made the initial motion, which narrowly passed in a 4-3 decision with Councillors Frank Wray, Lorne Benson and John Buikema opposed. Atrill defended the motion as the right move.
“The declaration joins Smithers with others in our region, our province, and around the world; 300 communities in Canada have made that declaration,” she said.
“The climate is changing, and the effects are being felt around the world, including B.C.”
Atrill feels there are things that can be done locally now and into the future to give the declaration meaning.
Diverting organic waste from landfills, building more charging stations for electric vehicles and building better buildings are key areas of priorities for her.
“We won’t be alone in this effort but working with other governments and with you,” she said.
Bramsleven does not necessarily agree with the Town declaring a climate emergency, he said.
“Declarations are very dangerous,” he said. “The town of Smithers has a perception of being anti-industry, and we need to change that perspective.
“We need to attract more industry so that we can increase our tax base. If we don’t do this our [tax] rates will have to go up in the future.”
“This is one of those items that make some people feel good, but in reality, what we can do as a town has to be in the best interest of the town.”
That is not to say he thinks the environment is not an issue, but believes a climate emergency declaration is the wrong approach.
“We absolutely need to be aware and concerned about our environment,” he said. “Do we need to sign on with other bodies’ declarations to show we are concerned, no.”
One of the specific action items council passed in response to the declaration was converting the town’s vehicle fleet.
The 2019 Town Council Strategic Plan directs that electric vehicles be phased into the town fleet, although the Town has yet to buy a single electric vehicle.
Bramsleven said buying electric vehicles sounds like a good idea in theory, but may be impractical.
“We need to look at the reality of where we live, what type of use these vehicles will receive and, of course, ultimately what is in the best interest of the taxpayer.
“Let’s face it, the bulk of the town owned-vehicles are not passenger vehicles, they are work vehicles, so we need to use common sense when looking at these replacements.”
Atrill believes there are now options for both passenger and work vehicles and is ready to pull the trigger.
“I would like to see that phase-in begin in 2021, but each vehicle purchase must be reviewed on its own merits,” she said.
“I support buying the right vehicle for the task, but in most cases, there is an EV option available now.”
Looking to the future, Atrill believes environment and finances go hand-in-hand.
“First, recognize that environmentally responsible decisions are often fiscally responsible too, especially over the long term,” Atrill said.
“When we balance initial capital cost with long term maintenance costs, greener technology often makes sense.”
She sees this as being applicable in all areas of the town’s business.
“We know the cost of traditional energy sources is rising, so efforts to move toward better buildings with lower long-term energy requirements is sound planning.
“It sounds so simple but if we purchase and build wisely, both our equipment and buildings will last longer. That is good for the environment and our collective pocketbook.”
Bramsleven would look at every decision on an individual basis.
“Just like everyone else, I am concerned about the environment we live in and want to ensure the Town takes all reasonable and available measures to reduce our carbon footprint when possible,” he said.
“But this needs to be done with common sense to make sure that any investment gets maximum value for Smithers taxpayers.”