Eight of the nine candidates for Smithers town council answered questions from members of the media and public last Wednesday night in front of a mostly full Della Herman Theatre. The forum was the last in a series last week for Smithers and Telkwa councils, and the Bulkley Valley School District 54 board of trustees.
The almost-all-candidates forum Wednesday night was put on by the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce. Topics covered ranged ran the gamut from downtown safety to food safety, and many things in between. Candidates were asked questions individually, with the option for rebuttal if they wanted to comment on a question asked of another candidate on stage. The media panel asked its questions after opening statements. The public then had a chance to step up to the microphone to ask a candidate a question on any topic on their mind before closing remarks.
The following is a break down on each candidate’s performance at the forum in the order of their opening statements:
Incumbent candidate Bill Goodacre was at a conference in Prince Rupert on behalf of the town, but did have chamber president Colin Bateman read a statement on his behalf at the start of opening statements.
Goodacre’s statement told of his wish to have whoever is elected take into account citizen engagement when making decisions. He also wrote of working with Northern Health to deal with the health of the growing population of seniors in Smithers. Accessibility for people with mobility issues, affordable housing to combat homelessness, and recreation were also topics touched upon in Goodacre’s statement, which highlighted the work done by Access Smithers and the upcoming improvements to Chandler Park field.
The first-time candidate said he wanted to see more hospital patients be able to find the services they need in Smithers in his opening, without giving specifics on how he would accomplish this. He then brought up creating jobs by boosting tourism.
When asked about his budget experience, Tunnell said his number one job at Canada Safeway Pharmacy required him to always balance inventory. When given the chance to give his view on how far town spending should be involved beyond core infrastructure in the wake of the Ranger Park Preschool closing and reopening, Tunnell said priorities on what needs to be spent had to be made, but gave no specifics.
A self-described “policy nut”, Browne listed six core priorities in her opening statement: value for tax dollars, operating within budget, jobs and the economy, making it easier for small businesses to operate in Smithers, an expanded community airport, affordable housing, accessible healthcare, and engaging young voters. Ideas included lowering the voting age to 16 and letting people who live away from home vote in their municipal elections. Small business growth could be encouraged by having them pay less taxes at first and more later suggested Browne, who said any growth had to be steady and include social license from residents.
Browne answered the budget experience question by pointing to her six years on a school board, where it is the law to balance the books. She added that social, cultural and economic value for the dollar had to be considered at budget time. Browne jumped in on a question about big projects like the new arena, saying a library expansion is important for Smithers educationally and economically. She added when she was on the library board in 2004, an expansion was being talked about then.
When asked if her work with NDP MP Nathan Cullen would help or hinder her in cross government work as a councillor, Brown said the advantages of her experience would outweigh the disadvantages. Advocacy towards the provincial and federal governments is important in areas outside the town’s authority according to Browne.
Highlighting her passion working in tourism, Atrill said she checked to make sure her job with Tourism Smithers would not be a conflict because she did not want to give it up. She pointed to her work with large organizations and confidence in town staff when asked about budget experience.
Atrill said the stalled Russian cargo ship was an example of how local governments get involved and are important in areas that are jurisdictionally the purview of other levels of government. Balance on what the community wants to gain and does not to lose was a balance to consider with economic growth in order to maintain quality of life according to Atrill, who said the town’s official community plan was a chance for residents to say what they wanted to keep or gain.
Holding councillors to account when it came to that plan is easy according to Atrill, who described municipal politicians as the most accessible politicians because of residents’ ability to call them on the phone or stop them on the street to talk.
The first-time candidate spoke of family, his love of northern B.C., and his budget experience helping his wife with her books at Two Sisters Cafe before getting a tough question on downtown safety. Brown said safety was not a simple problem to face because it is a symptom of greater problems. He saw it as an opportunity to address those deeper issues. He added that more activities at Bovil Square was one way to make Main Street feel safer.
Brown suggested there be a referendum on any library expansion, with the public answering what that expansion should look like and how much they were willing to invest of their tax dollars. A cyclist himself, Brown said cyclists who break the rules of the road should have the option of paying a fine or attending a course on how to operate a bike as a motor vehicle.
The Moricetown councillor is running on a platform on closer harmony between Smithers and Moricetown, but did not give specifics when asked. He did say he wanted to focus on education. Mitchell added his years of experience in Moricetown and building the Moricetown multiplex were an asset when it came to budgets, what he described as the most important foundation for working on council.
Mitchell also said the only way to expand the tax base and bring in more revenue was through growth. A way to make it easier for people to take advantage of business growth was with a canopy over Main Street suggested Mitchell. Another idea he had was to create a mobile app for the town that would help people find where they should bring items for recycling or where they could fix things like lamps that they did not want to throw away.
The incumbent councillor said he has come to realize how important it was to balance everyone’s views on council, and said he has voted against his personal views in the interest of upholding what the majority of residents wanted. Wray stressed sufficient and predictable infrastructure building and maintenance funding. He also wants to reduce regulatory boundaries for small business and pointed to the six town budgets he has been involved with when asked about budget experience.
When asked about big projects like the arena and a possible library expansion, Wray stressed big projects do not happen easily and the town should do what it can afford. Getting bogged down in topics of other governments’ jurisdiction can distract from those projects and other town business said Wray, pointing out councillors are part time employees.
Growth has to come steady and not in spurts according to the deputy mayor, who added that while he did not expect to be voting for bike lanes in town, it was something he came to realize made economic sense when it came to maintaining infrastructure.
The incumbent candidate said he came into the last election with big ideas, but this time around wants to break things down into smaller, achievable goals. Ideas he listed included creating a small business task force, and finding a better way to heat the district pool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save on natural gas bills.
Brienesse said town budgets are very different from running a business, and that there was very little money to work with after spending on the requisites like operations and infrastructure. He said a realistic conversation on infrastructure priorities needed to be had in the community to see of a library expansion should go forward.
An interdisciplinary arts centre and chickens in backyards were two of Moisey’s big ideas. Food security was a topic the farmer and musician stressed when given the opportunity. He said feeding ourselves was the first step to putting energy towards others. As for the arts centre, Moisey acknowledged he did not know where the money for it would come and that it would take time to make a reality.
Moisey said his budget experience came while at school, where post secondary students scrounge to get by. He added that he wants to work with airlines to keep flights coming in at the airport up like they are at peaks in the tourism season. When public safety came up, Moisey said it was a mental health issue.