Saturday’s municipal election results saw an old one out, a new one in, the return of two familiar faces and three incumbents re-elected.
A total of 630 votes were cast between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at the Friendship centre on Saturday – 21 per cent of the number of eligible voters.
At the top of the polls was previous councillor Brian Frenkel with 492 votes; new face Kevin Moutray came second with 464 votes, followed by incumbents Darren Carpenter with 429 votes, and Louise Levy with 421 votes. Previous councillor Ken Young came in fifth with 412 votes and incumbent Steve Little took the sixth and final seat with 342 votes.
Long-serving councillor Jack French received 312, too few for him to keep his seat. Fresh candidate Peet Vahi also didn’t make the cut with 311 votes.
Last Tuesday, about 50 residents turned out for the all-candidates forum at the high school. The public forum gave voters the chance to ask questions and challenge the eight candidates who were running for municipal council before voting.
All candidates were given two minutes at the start of the forum to make an opening statement, after which a number of questions written by members of the audience were asked.
The first question asked candidates about the major challenges facing the local economy and what needs to be done to help these challenges.
Candidates were given one minute each to give their answer.
Frenkel spoke about the need to attract and retain workers and how this strategy can be brought about.“We need something that looks at towns with under 5000 or 7000 people and – for example – writes-off student loans if a person gives three years to the community – all we need is a little time to hook those kids to stay here,” he said.
Levy said the way to attract and retain skilled labor is through post-secondary education. “I think we need to make sure trades training is available – it’s worked across the north with nurses and doctors so we need to look at something like that,” she said.
Young said he would focus on the need to promote Vanderhoof. “I want to focus on what is keeping all of us here – we need to promote Vanderhoof as the place to live for families and sell that to people,” he said.
The next question asked whether anyone on council, or hoping to be on council, is really earnest about the building of a new cultural centre for Vanderhoof.
Vahi spoke about the need to come up with a vision for a centre but also said the community should wait until the dust has settled with the swimming pool before pursuing a cultural centre.
Moutray disagreed with the need to wait until after the pool has been settled to think about a cultural centre. “If we go for the pool we are going to be paying for that pool for about 25 years – are we going to wait till after then to look at other ideas? Just because we have one project on the go, that doesn’t mean that you forsake all other projects,” he said.
Frenkel described a cultural centre as an asset to the community and as a key factor in attracting and retaining skilled workers. “If we are going to attract the young families from the lower mainland … we need to prove to them that we have culture here. I think we have to work on these projects as they come up, I don’t think we wait … I think we get the project ready for when that funding source comes around and then we have everything done and ready to go,” he said.
French spoke of the funding issues with building a centre and a pool at the same time and suggested a temporary solution for arts and culture groups …
“We need something right away for Arts Unlimited, Search and Rescue and various other group that need storage. I would like us to look very closely at possibly leasing a building in town – there are a number of vacant buildings we could look at,” he said.
Carpenter agreed with French on the need for a temporary space. “We need to lease a building for an interim solution,” he said.
The third question was addressed to all candidates and asked … over and above having adjacent communities buying in to financial support for the proposed swimming pool, what are you prepared to do from a municipal stand point to lesson the financial impact for the tax payers, or do you feel we can afford the 28 per cent increase and the project goes to referendum as is?
Sole female candidate Levy, said she could not afford a 28 per cent tax increase and that the exact reason why the pool decision will go to referendum is so the community can decide what to do.
Frenkel said that from a business standpoint, the pool is an asset.
Vahi asked where the old Vanderhoof pool went and suggested bringing that back instead. “I have a sneaking suspicion that it is not going to pass a referendum … if it doesn’t – my question has always been – where is the Vanderhoof pool? My kids did learn how to swim in the Vanderhoof pool – why don’t we have the pool back that we had? ” he asked.
Young said it is important to make the pool happen to improve the quality of life in Vanderhoof and to bring people here. “It should be something that’s done … it will help attract and retain people,” he said.
Carpenter said residents will receive as much accurate information about the tax increase as possible before the referendum.
The next question challenged candidates about waste reduction: “Lousie Levy has always supported the Nechako Waste Reduction Initiative, at least for the past three years, how do you plan to support and encourage waste reduction in our community?”
Levy answered first and said she would continue doing what she has been, for the last three years … “We need to find solutions to make it easier to recycle, we also need to expand recycling,” she said.
French said he would continue to support waste reduction in the community and Little expressed the need to help the NWRI with funding. “Council needs to support them with funding – helping them find grants – but as far as council eventually taking it over – I don’t think that’s the answer we’re looking for,” said Little.
Carpenter said there are many simple things that can be done to help with waste reduction in the community. “For example, putting garbage cans on the streets for just cans – simple things like that,” he said.
Moutray spoke about the financial benefit of implementing a better cardboard recycling system. “If we had a bailer at the transfer station and some dumpsters around the retail locations in town, it would pay for itself in two years and after that you’re making money,” he said.
Candidates were next asked about what can be done about improving the safety on highways from Vanderhoof to Prince George and Fort St. James.
Frenkel says he would like to focus particularly on the highway to Prince George. Levy spoke of the need to focus on improving Highway 27 to Fort St. James and to get more RCMP officers for Vanderhoof. “We need to continue to put pressure on the Ministry of Transportation to make improvements on that highway to Fort St. James. We are also trying to get more RCMP officers here in town …we are pushing to try and get an additional member to maybe try and slow people down a bit on the highways,” she said.
Little said there is some talk of making the highway to Fort St. James four lanes.
“At this point we need to just continue to lobby and hope the government listens finally,” he said.
Young emphasized the importance of lobbying the government as a regional group rather than individual communities.
Carpenter suggested putting up signage on the highways in areas where there are high numbers of accidents.
The next question addressed the disparity in water costs between residents on different sides of the river and asked what the candidates are prepared to do to lessen or even out the costs.
Vahi said that Northside Water Service is for sale and asked whether the town had looked at purchasing it.
Carpenter spoke about the expense to the community if the town decided to buy the private enterprise. “It would be a large chunk of change and that’s going to have to come from somewhere,” he said.
French pointed out that despite the fee difference between north and south residents, northside residents don’t have to pay water frontage. “So perhaps the difference isn’t quite as bad as it seems,” he said.
Little also lives on the northside but says at this point there is nothing that can be done to change the current rates.
The next question was directed specifically at candidate Frenkel which meant he had two minutes to speak to the question and then all other candidates got one minute each on the question, after which Frenkel got a final 30 seconds to respond.
The question asked Frenkel about the plans for addressing the unsightly old gas station on the corner of Highway 16 and the Kenny Dam Road.
Frenkel said he would like to see it torn down but that it will be a battle. “We’ve tried to work on this in recent years but councils hands are pretty much tied. I would like to see it torn down, it is an eyesore but the issue that the landowner probably has is that it’s a brownfield underneath,” he said.
Moutray suggested lobbying the provincial government to come up with some legislation to clean Brownfields up. Vahi suggested that council could possibly manipulate the ‘unsightly premises’ bylaw to help improve brownfield sites.
Frenkel added in his last 30 seconds that the next council is going to have to be very aggressive and get the building down.
The penultimate question asked candidates what they believe councils position should be regarding the Enbridge Pipeline.
Young expressed an interest in the possible economic benefits the pipeline could provide, whereas Frenkel said he could see little or no economic benefit of the project. “I am not in favor of it … I’m more worried about where I do go fishing … I’m not a fan of this,” said Frenkel.
Moutray was also skeptical about the economic benefits of the pipeline. “I think pipelines are a scary thing and as for economic development – you don’t get a lot of jobs out of a pipeline,” said Moutray.
Vahi and Little both said they didn’t think Vanderhoof would have much of an influence on whether or not the pipeline is built but that as a community, we should continue to stay engaged and informed.
The final question before councillors made their closing statements was about smart meters: “Why has council chosen not to follow the law and act on its duty of care to the citizens of Vanderhoof regarding the smart meter program? There is proof of health issues and people in Vanderhoof are now getting sick.
Levy said she wasn’t aware that council was required to act on smart meters but she thinks the risks are minimal. “I could be wrong but no one has given me any definitive evidence,” she said.
French said that everything he has read has indicated that there are no problems with the meters.
Little agreed that there isn’t a side for council to take since there is no proof either way.
Each councillor then made their closing statements before the end of the two-hour forum.