Skip to content

Housing dominates Smithers civic election all candidates forum

Both mayoral candidates and almost all of the council hopefuls show up for the all candidates forum
Thom Barker, left, moderates the Mayoral Candidates Gladys Atrill (left), and Murray Hawes. (Deb Meissner photo)

Thursday night’s all candidate debate at the Della Herman Theatre was mostly civil and respectful.

Aside from a few jabs, the panel of 10 candidates stuck to the issues.

Housing, property crime, and government mandates during the pandemic were all hot topics as the two mayoral candidates, incumbent Gladys Atrill and newcomer Murray Hawse went head to head.

Also in the ring were eight out of the nine people vying for one of the six council seats.

Nick Briere, John Buikema, Calvin Elliott, Adam Koch, Jason McCrindle, Genevieve Paterson, Sam Raven, and Frank Wray were on the stage. Laura Leonard (Stanton) was not in attendance.

The first question mayoral candidate Hawse fielded was about his ties to the Freedom Convoy that took place earlier this year.

He said he made the trip to Ottawa after listening to the radio and hearing about the trucker convoy.

“I’m a very curious person, I wanted to see what it was all about,” he said.

“I headed off by myself, caught up to them outside of Winnipeg, I didn’t officially take part. I was in it at parts and at some points I was ahead of them. I interviewed many people, young, old people, people from every walk of life, every nationality. It came very apparent, what people were upset about was the overreach of government. We’ve had that too often. They breached the Charter of Rights and Freedom. It was so evident how people were feeling, people were so emotional. People were crying, saying what has our country come to, where’s the democracy?”

He said what he found mainly was people were upset about government overreach.

He added that he walked the streets of Ottawa with his aunt who lived downtown there. He said she felt comfortable there and was astounded that the leaders of the federal government didn’t come to talk to the protesters. He felt the issue could have been resolved much faster if heads of government came to the streets to talk.

READ MORE: Housing a hot topic on campaign trail in Smithers

Incumbent councillor candidate Frank Wray used a rebuttal card to remind the forum of the purpose of municipal government.

“Those have you have followed my career through council know that I have some opinions on things and others have had opinions on things. But we need to remember what we are here for. We are here to provide the services that the municipality covers,” he added. “I agree with some of the trucker convoy things and some things that you might consider left wing but I don’t feel they are in our wheelhouse. We have a lot of new candidates up here. We need to make sure the council stays focused.”

The lack of housing and affordable housing was the most popular topic covered Thursday night.

Raven said the housing shortage also affects healthcare.

“I was talking to a local nurse who said she had five friends who were fully certified nurses that would work full time and take positions at our hospital, but they couldn’t find places to rent. We need to have spaces for them and then we can have the healthcare that we need here for the residents,” she noted.

Elliott agreed that fixing the housing shortage will also help in other areas in the community.

“We are in a labour crunch, we need people,” he said. “I’ve seen help wanted signs all over town. We need people to move here and we don’t have the housing for that.”

McCrindle added that he thinks the problem can be solved by removing red tape.

“Housing is a tough one,” he said. “As a municipality, it isn’t our responsibility to build houses. But we can change some bylaws, we can change lots from R1 to R2 to increase density. We can only do so much, but we can have the land ready, we can change bylaws and allow variances to go through to allow for more housing.”

Koch suggested the housing problem could be solved by building up.

“We need to focus on high density,” he suggested. “I want people my age to come back like I did to the community and raise a family. How many apartments do we have? And when were they built? We need more apartments, less single family-family homes.”

Paterson added that council can focus on getting government grants to help pay for more housing, specifically for shelters.

“There is a homeless community action grant that we can apply to but there is also $291 million being allocated through the provincial government to build supportive housing, especially modular homes that come with 24/7 supportive staffing, so nurses and healthcare.”

Atrill defended council’s record in terms of the housing crunch.

“We haven’t said no to much when it comes to housing,” she said. “When people have a creative idea, we work it through. People make applications to the Advisory Planning Commission, we get recommendations from the commission to council. As a rule, things that have to do with housing make it through, sometimes they are massaged a bit. But there is an expansion to the R2 zone. We approved land for supportive housing, we have approved and remediated land for housing for next year. Pretty much every idea that has come to council—innovative and creative, that will actually build housing…. when we have partners it works. We need people in not-for-profit and private sectors. This is about working together.”

READ MORE: Council hopefuls discuss crime on the campaign trail

However Hawse said some of those solutions will hurt the town in the long run.

“The town needs to grow and we need more housing. But what we can’t do as a tax base is give land away and then pay to remediate it,” he said. “That doesn’t work because that comes out of all of our pockets. Already, we are in a crunch where our taxes are going to go up probably double digits because of decisions that were made in the past because of the lack of foresight in seeing what was going on in the economic world. We’ve known infrastructure has been underfunded for 20, 30 years, we didn’t have a big plan to look at that. That is a problem when you take dollars that could go somewhere else to pay for remediation and give the land. I have no problem giving the land and let them pay for remediation but not both. That both comes out of all of our pockets.”

The recent uptick in property crime was also a hot button topic.

Briere mentioned that having more RCMP officers will help, but in the end it is the courts that need to be fixed.

“It is our judicial system that is failing us. I’ve worked with the RCMP quite a bit in the past ten years. They are doing a bang up job but the judicial system is not. Having 24-hour coverage is already planned by the detachment, but they are spread thin right now.”

Wray said it would be nice to have more officers but they come at a cost.

“Every year the RCMP come to council with the work plan for our blessing but we don’t direct the RCMP, we can ask them for certain things. We went from nine to 11 officers and that is a big part of your 10 percent projected tax increase this year,” he said. “We aren’t wasting your money. We have thrown all our resources… that we can at it. RCMP additions are expensive.”

Buikema added that working toward putting together a group of citizens who participate in a community-based crime prevention program in co-operation with local law enforcement would be ideal.

“We have been in conversation about having an active Citizens on Patrol again. There was a time when our community was served very well by COP, we had quite a number of community members serving. One of the beauties of the COP is that they are often out there when crimes are being committed. That is something we’d like to work on.”

The advance polls will be open on Oct. 12 and general voting is on Oct. 15



Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Candidates spoke with the public prior to the all candidates forum on Oct. 6, in Smithers. (Deb Meissner photo)
The public asked a variety of questions of the candidates at the All Candidates Forum Oct. 6. (Deb Meissner photo)

Marisca Bakker

About the Author: Marisca Bakker

Marisca was born and raised in Ontario and moved to Smithers almost ten years ago on a one-year contract.
Read more