Candidates address public’s concerns

2014 Municipal Elections All Candidates Forum in Burns Lake.

Candidates for mayor, village council and school board trustees had a chance to voice their opinions and answer questions from the public during the 2014 Municipal Elections All Candidates Forum in Burns Lake.

The event, hosted by the Burns Lake Chamber of Commerce, took place on Oct. 30 at Lakes District Secondary School.

Approximately 80 community members attended the event and had the option to submit a question to all candidates or to a specific person. In addition to writing down questions during the event, this year the community was encouraged to submit their questions online prior to the meeting. The moderator of the forum was Sandra Barth, community volunteer and former principal of Decker Lake Elementary School.

The forum started with candidates for the School District 91 Nechako Lakes – Crystal Fisher, Lynda Maertz and Marnie Phair – making their opening statements.

Candidates for school district trustees were the first group to answer questions. One of the questions was “What is your commitment to keep small schools in rural areas opened?”

Maertz said children in small schools are important because children receive more “one-on-one attention.”

“This is something we need to keep supporting,” she said.

Phair said supporting small schools is a “necessary thing.” She said the experiences children have in small schools are unique.

Fisher also said it’s important to support small schools far out of town. “There will always be a need to have them,” she said.

Mayor Luke Strimbold, running for re-election, was sitting beside mayoral candidate Deanna Brown. Brown made her opening statement by saying she would like to see a “First Nations voice at every table,” as well as to invest in diversifying the local economy. Strimbold chose to make his opening remarks by saying that over the last three years, the community of Burns Lake faced “difficult tragedies” such as the Babine Forest Products sawmill’s incident. But since then, the community has shown that they can “come together to work on initiatives for a prosperous future.”

After those opening statements, it was time for the opening remarks of the village council candidates – Christopher Beach, Kelly Holliday, John Illes, John Phair, Charles Rensby, Susan Schienbein, Frank Varga and Shelley Wall.

After the opening remarks, the moderator addressed questions to all candidates. One of the first questions was “What is your position regarding the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal?”

John Phair said there is “nothing he sees about the Northern Gateway project that would benefit the community in the long term.”

“The potential risks are so great that I don’t think it’s an issue we should be pursuing,” he said. “There are alternative energies that are overtaking the oil industry as we speak.”

Schienbein said she doesn’t support the pipeline project, and added saying that it’s really important to work more closely with First Nations to build “a more prosperous community.”

Rensby said that “as long as the pipelines can be done safely and right, we should prepare to get our cut of the deal.”

The following question was “How do you see the relationship between the Village of Burns Lake and the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN)?

Strimbold said the Village of Burns Lake and Area B of the RDBN have “the most partnerships out of all communities across the regional district,” thanks a “close working relationship.”

Brown reinforced the idea that it’s important to promote partnerships between the village, the regional district and First Nations.

Another question addressed to all candidates was “What is the major infrastructure problem in the village?”

Holliday said the “roads and the surfaces of the roads” are the main problem, as well as water and sewer.

“We need to look at ways to keep increasing the reserves that we have and replace the water tower within the next five years,” said Holliday.

According to Beach, the answer is simple – money.

“There’s so much aging infrastructure in our community, our biggest problem is going to be finding the resources to start replacing them,” said Beach. “That’s the biggest challenge the next council is going to face.”

Schienbein said the village’s biggest problem is water supply.

“In order to attract more revenue, we need to increase the amount of people here,” she said, “And that will take water.”

According to Varga, the biggest challenge for the village will be having a “strategic approach.”

“At the end of the day, if you don’t have a strategy in place, you can spend a lot of money doing it all in the wrong order,” he said. “We have a very small tax base and we have to make sure that we maximize every single dollar.”

The next question addressed to all candidates was “What long-term plans do you believe the community needs to concentrate on to ensure economic diversity?”

John Phair said the village should invest in agriculture, tourism and alternative energy.

“If we don’t move forward in those fields, we are going to be left behind,” he said.

Illes said many “small strategies put together” can help make a difference in the community. However, the most important strategy would be investing in the creative industry in Burns Lake.

Wall said recruiting health care workers to the new Lakes District Hospital is a “top priority.”

“Working on a comprehensive marketing plan to assist Northern Health in obtaining this goal is important to ensure the quality of life to all residents,” she said.

Candidates also answered the question “What is the most significant issue you might have to deal with in the next four years.”

Brown said that having such a small tax base in Burns Lake might not be enough to pay for all new projects the village has initiated in the past few years.

Strimbold said the most significant issue will be allocating the amount of dollars to replace aging infrastructure, and to balance out what the village wants and what it needs.