Justus Benckhuysen is running for mayor.
He’s lived in Vanderhoof for about the last 20 years, and it’s where he’s chosen to raise his children and eventually retire.
Benckhuysen first came to Vanderhoof as an environmental consultant in the forestry industry, but now works for Rio Tinto. He has served as the director and then vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce, the director and then president of the Nechako Valley Exhibition Society, and a director on the Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund. He has also volunteered with the Vanderhoof Community for Kids fundraising campaign.
“I have long been interested in serving the community,” says Benckhuysen. “I really enjoy working with people to look at what we can do for the community, so this, I think, suits me.”
He says his focus is going to be: “‘what can we do to make sure we’re working for the entire community?’”
Although the current council and mayor have done some good things, he says he’s heard that the council could really afford to improve its process of reaching out to the public and getting their involvement when they are making decisions.
“One of the things that I hear over and over again is people don’t feel that they have access to mayor and council and their decisions and processes,” says Benckhuysen. “And so, an easy solution there — or at least part of the solution — needs to be the livestreaming of meetings so that people have more ready access to the agenda, more ready access to what our discussions are, and to what our decisions are.”
He says that’s an important priority for him, and something he would task the council with addressing if elected.
Another issue he would like to address is the Chamber of Commerce. “Our local Chamber of Commerce has been struggling for the past few years and I’ve been previously involved with the Chamber and know its mandate and understand its value,” says Benckhuysen. “I would like to see some sort of support return to the chamber — which has been taken away by the current mayor and council — to see what we can do to support the chamber, including their role to critique any of the proposed regulations that might impact our businesses.”
Benckhuysen also noted that the district is on its fifth chief administrative officer (CAO) in 10 years. “Our local government is structured so the mayor and council only have one employee reporting to them — that’s the CAO … Losing one CAO is unfortunate, maybe two is bad luck, but losing four? That’s more than just coincidence. I think it says something about our elected leadership, and [it’s] something that has to be addressed.”
He would also like to address the issue of affordable housing. Benckhuysen says he has spoken with a number of people on the issue, including developers, and he has learned about the challenges developers fact in the district. In particular, he says they have problems with the taxes and prices of current rental units. “They need to compete with subsidized social housing and non-profit housing that’s also subsidized, so it’s a difficult business case.”
He says he would like to task staff and council with finding a solution that is both affordable and forward thinking. “We have to find an equitable way of dealing with the tax burden on the short term with the eye on increasing the tax revenue and increasing afford housing availability in the long term. I don’t know what that solution is. I think it requires a lot of working with our community members and our developers to find what that is.”
Benckhuysen would also like to work with other municipalities to improve connectivity in the region. He says that in the future, he expects the economy will be even more heavily reliant on connectivity, and he wants the community to be able to keep up to speed.
Other candidates have mentioned the management of the local reservoir, which is owned by Rio Tinto, the company Benckhuysen works for. Benckhuysen says it’s possible he could have a conflict of interest in dealing with the reservoir, but that he is not directly involved in it and he would like to find a way for the council to be more transparent with all of their conflicts of interest.
“I would like to see a registry of conflicts of interest for all of council that’s made public and reviewed annually,” says Benckhuysen. “I think that would go a long way to people knowing that they know the conflicts of interest have been managed — and show them what steps were taken to manage those conflicts.”
Benckhuysen says the reason he’s running now, is a mix of good timing and his love of Vanderhoof. “All five of my children were born here and we plan on being here for a very long time.”