Gerry Thiessen is seeking his fourth term as mayor in the upcoming Oct. 20 municipal election.
Thiessen, who has been the mayor since 2008, was born and raised in Vanderhoof and says his children and all 13 of his grandchildren still live in town. “It’s home.”
He has also been a real estate agent for the last 40 years. In that time, Thiessen has served as the president of the Northern B.C. Real Estate Board, the British Columbia Real Estate Association, and the Canadian Real Estate Association.
Thiessen says he was active in the town long before he was first elected mayor. He was involved with the Rotary Club and the 4H club, as well as volunteering with his kids’ schools.
He says it was always his intention to take on a position of responsibility in the community, so when he was encouraged to run for mayor in 2008, that’s exactly what he did.
Thiessen says that his time in office has led to some pretty significant changes in the community. “I really sensed at that time there was a real desire to change our focus within the community and so we’ve worked that to see that through.”
Some of the accomplishments in his time as mayor include building the new pool, a new community centre, the implementation of a new water system, including new water tower and piping, the creation of a community foundation, and a community garden. Thiessen says that as mayor, he doesn’t do any of these things alone; if anything, his job is to “co-ordinate” these projects.
In his time as mayor, Thiessen says the district has paid off its debt, as well.
“We’ve basically gone three years without debt,” says Thiessen. “We went to referendum on the swimming pool and asked for four million dollars to build the pool. We were able to only have to borrow three [million], so that’s the only debt, basically, that the community is carrying at this point.
“We have a few small leases on some of the vehicles and equipment, but [the pool is] the only substantial debt we have. We’ve done everything on a cash basis.”
Looking to the future, Thiessen has five key issues he would like to work on in a new term. The first is economic diversification.
“We know the pine beetle has come through. What has made us strong up until now, forestry, is not going to be the same as it was,” says Thiessen. He believes the first thing the district should do is support the local forestry industry in anyway it can, by making sure the sector utilizes all of the timber and fibre they can to keep forestry jobs local.
He would also like to further support the mining and manufacturing industries in the community and to encourage job growth within them in an effort to diversify the local economy.
Thiessen says the next key issue is housing. He says the council is currently working on three different housing projects in the district that will address issues with both rental housing and seniors housing.
The third issue he thinks will need addressing is the environment. Thiessen says both the management at the Nechako Reservoir and gas station brownfields (abandoned or derelict commercial properties) will need to be looked at in the upcoming term.
“We need to take care of our youth and make sure that these gas station brownfields are re-developed and also that our river is as healthy as possible,” says Thiessen.
His next area of concern is recreation.
He says in order to attract new residents to town, they need to offer more amenities like the swimming pool. He adds that once people settle in, they’ll learn about the joys of things like cross-country skiing or skating, but to draw them in, the district needs more options. Thiessen says this could mean more trails and parks, but that it’s important to make sure they are accessible to people.
And finally, Thiessen thinks the next term will require finding new ways to encourage the growth of local businesses, in order to maintain a healthy local economy.
At the end of the day, Thiessen says: “I love the town. My family is here. That’s the reason I’m [running for re-election]; I’m now at a stage in my career where I can dedicate really sincere time, even more than I have, and still be a good grandpa and a great mayor.”