There was a packed house at the Grand Forks Secondary School auditorium to hear from the six mayoral candidates for the City of Grand Forks and the three candidates for the Regional District of the Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) for Area D (rural Grand Forks).
The three Area D candidates consisted of a rare two incumbents, Irene Perepolkin and Roly Russell, and current Grand Forks city councillor Bob Kendel.
As for why there are two incumbents for Area D, as many people know Perepolkin was elected as the Area D director back in 2011 but suffered a stroke a year later. As her appointed alternate, Russell took over and has worked as Area D director since. Perepolkin was helped on stage by her daughter Nancy.
One of the questions that was brought up by the audience was whether Perepolkin would need her daughter to help her with the job.
“I will be doing it,” she answered. “I will be going to Trail and everything else.”
“It was more so tonight because these are questions that she was put on the spot here and can’t say right away,” said Nancy.
Grace McGregor, current RDKB board chair and area C representative, reminded the audience that both directors have been paid at the same time. She asked Russell if he did indeed work for nothing for the first few months. McGregor also stated that Perepolkin was welcome to return at any time.
“When I first came into the position I was a typical alternate where you aren’t remunerated for anything except for meetings attended,” said Russell. “That includes mileage and so on. For the first while, a couple of months, I did the job essentially as a volunteer. I let it be known that I couldn’t continue doing this as a full-time position. The regional district then made an arrangement where both Irene and myself were receiving the director’s stipend.”
Russell said he worked on the assumption that as soon as Perepolkin was able and willing to come back, he would no longer be in the position.
“For the last 22 months, I didn’t know how long I’d be in the position,” he said.
Perepolkin, through her daughter, said she didn’t know Russell was getting paid in full as well.
“They (the RDKB) put Irene through many different things,” said Nancy. “Every time she tried to come back to meetings, she had tried, they wouldn’t let her. I don’t know what to say any further—she had tried to go back to her job many times.”
Some of the other issues that came up from candidates and from the audience were the importance of collaboration with partners, how to manage agricultural land, how to manage growth, and water usage.
In his introductory speech, Kendel spoke about how he has lived in Area D for nine years after coming to the area “as a transplanted farm boy from Saskatchewan.”
He talked about how he wants to bring change and help the area reach its potential.
“We need to showcase the potential of our area and to encourage growth that reflects our values,” said Kendel. “We all have similar reasons for loving this place and what makes it special to us and how we’d like to see things unfold in the future. We have a choice either to be led into the future or be responsible and take the lead and create the future we want.”
Responding to a question from the audience regarding agriculture, Russell responded by saying that the reason more good agricultural land isn’t in use is due to barriers regarding infrastructure and education.
“There’s a lack of apprenticeship between existing farmers that know what they’re doing and young people who want to get into farming,” he said. “I think there is an opportunity to lower those barriers so we do see more of those productive lands in active use.”
Kendel used a rebuttal card and stated that that the reason more land isn’t developed is due to the lots being small and not economically viable for production.
“There’s an ideal that we should encourage using those agricultural lands for production but for a young family the reality is, there doesn’t seem to be an economic driver to allow them to make a living on five acres,” said Kendel. “We need to pursue what can be done. What are some unique and new ideas that can allow them to move to a small acreage and make a living.”
With three experienced candidates, the residents will have to make a decision on who will represent them at the RDKB table for the next four years.