Election 2014: Public grills candidates at forum

City of Grand Forks councillor candidates face the public at a forum last week.

Julia Butler

Julia Butler

There is plenty of interest in this year’s municipal election judging on letters to the editor, interaction on social media and just plain chatter on the street.

There was am estimated 275 people out at the All Candidates Forum on Wednesday (Oct. 22) night at Grand Forks Secondary to hear 16 candidates for city council, as well as six candidates for school trustee.

The candidates were given two minutes for an introductory speech and another two minutes for a closing speech. There were also questions from the media and the general public on a number of topics from medicinal marijuana to infrastructure to water meters to budgeting.

Questions had to be directed to a single candidate who had one minute to answer. Each candidate also had two “red flags” in which they could rebut another candidate’s answer.

There was a strong female presence among both the councillor candidates and the school trustee candidates. Of the 16 candidates for council, half are female. Among the six school trustee candidates (two for Area D and four for the city of Grand Forks), half are also female.

With a national average hovering around 20 per cent for females running for office, Grand Forks and area are well above the norm (for candidates). Of course, the percentage of female councillors who are elected to council will be up to the voters.

Lorraine Dick, who also ran in 2009, urged voters to rise above candidate opinions and consider candidate characteristics.

“Consider who we are and what we do between elections,” said Dick in her introduction.

When asked about her plans for the city’s economic recovery, Chris Hammett, who sits on the downtown business association, said she thinks the city is on track to recovery.

“I want to be on the team on that track,” she said. “What we’re seeing now with empty store fronts, the city can’t do anything about people retiring. We need to let people know that we have something to offer here and we should make it attractive for them to come and open a business here.”

Julia Butler, who works at the recreation centre, said the city needs to be “open for business, not hoping for business.”

“We need to get specific about what kind of business we want here and what kind of industry. We don’t want companies that are going to destroy our rivers or our air quality.”

Monique Van Eywk said the city should look to the past.

“Right now everyone is looking for GMO (genetically modified organism) free seeds,” she said. “Why are we not looking at becoming a distributor for those vegetable seeds? We are a border town—we need to look into importing and exporting industries. We are a main town for transportation and we need to build on that.”

Christine Thompson, a former councillor who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2009, said that no one wants to see empty store fronts on Market Avenue.

“If we’re going to encourage small business to come and set up in our city we have to support them,” she said. “Too often people are taking their money and spending it outside the city.”

Cathy Korolek, a local small business owner and Rotarian, said she has been in business here for 15 years and intends to stay, but needs the support of the community.

“I love what I do, I love my town,” she said. “We need to develop these boutique stores as Nelson does and we need to support them.”

If residents keep going elsewhere (to shop) for everything, there won’t be any businesses left, said Korolek.

One issue that came up throughout the answers was that of the importance or non-importance of where a candidate lives. A candidate does not have to live in the area he is running for.

Teresa Taylor said all valley residents consider themselves residents of Grand Forks whether they live in the city limits or Area D.

“We need a community vision that extends beyond those boundaries and recognized that what is good for Grand Forks is good for a lot of people in the Boundary,” she said.

Local farmer Colleen Ross stated that her vision of Grand Forks doesn’t include a McDonalds or Walmart.

“What we need to do is continue to really support the businesses that are already here,” she said. “I farm right here. I’m all about arts and music and theatre. We have so much to offer here. I think we need to capitalize on that.”

Larry Podmoroff said that the city needs to stop wasting money.

“I think we have to start where the problem is: in the city offices,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of expenses we don’t need. We need work done, not coffee breaks.”

Richard Fausten told the audience that he has a strong background in business. He had assisted city council in Richmond for four years as business development consultant, he said.

Some questions clearly put councillors on the spot.

One audience member asked incumbent candidate Patrick O’Doherty how he could say he wanted to protect the people from tax increases when he voted for a tax increase.

O’Doherty responded by saying he voted to lower taxes for Interfor and Roxul.

“These industries hire 500 people here and if you keep raising their taxes they will end up leaving town and the business people in town will be hurt,” he said.

The controversial water meter installation project did not go unsaid. One resident asked why the project went forward when there was a petition with over 800 signatures against it.

Butler, who has long been opposed to the project, said that the city is locked into a contract with Neptune and “we’re not even allowed to see it.”

“I’d like the city to put a moratorium on it until the town can be properly consulted,” she said. “I don’t think people have the right to go into people’s home and force their way in. Give the people the choice.”

Incumbent candidate and former mayor Neil Krog said he has supported the water meter project since the start for reasons such as conservation and the protection of a valuable resource.

“To date more than 1,200 meters have been installed or booked to be installed,” he said. “The public has been very supportive of the project. We’ve had very few complaints and any complaints have been addressed.”

Thompson stated that she understood that the petition was presented to city in “dribs and drabs.”

“I have reasonably asked to see the petition to compare the names to the voter’s list and was advised I would have to go through the Freedom of Information Act,” she said.

Another topic which came up, which is linked to the economic strength issue, is one of how the city can attract and retain young people.

Incumbent candidate Michael Wirischagin talked about how he brought forward the motion for the outdoor athletic park at GFREC.

“We need to be able in terms of businesses and creating jobs in the community we need to have younger families move here with kids,” he said. “Once you have that you can build on the infrastructure to facilitate that.”

Baun Mark, a local business owner, stated that he thinks the community really needs more things for the youth to do.

“I’m all for supporting things that are going to give our youth things to do,” he said.

Zak Eburne-Stoodley, who is running for the third time, said you have to encourage businesses that are sustainable.

“Have a coffee shop/bistro during the day and a night club at night,” he suggested. “That’ll definitely keep people here.”

As a young person, Eburne-Stoodley talked about how tough it can be finding employment.

“There’s just no jobs for youth,” he said. “We need to attract businesses that’ll keep youth here. (We need to) talk to potential investors.”

Incumbent candidate Gary Smith also talked about the importance of keeping families in Grand Forks. He suggested the formation of a youth council to keep youth engaged in the community.

One of the more interesting questions from the audience was about the marijuana dispensary on 68th Avenue. The resident asked why local homeowners were not notified and exclaimed, “What’s next? Pedophiles?”

Krog bravely took up the question and replied: “The city has nothing to do with where business is. The way business works, if someone wants to open a business and it’s zoned properly, you don’t need to notify your neighbours.”

With four incumbents out of a slate of 16 running for councillor, the election will no doubt prove interesting.

Voting day in B.C. is Nov. 15 at Perley Elementary gym at 1200 Central Ave. from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There will also be special voting opportunities at Phoenix Manor, Boundary Lodge, Boundary Hospital and Hardy View Lodge and Silver Kettle for their residents, patients and staff working that day.

Advanced voting is available on Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the RDKB office at 2140 Central Ave. in Grand Forks.





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