As Burns Lake voters prepare to head to the polls this Saturday, Lakes District News has asked the three mayoral candidates their opinion on a variety of topics, including post-secondary education, timber supply and wildfire recovery.
Here’s what candidates Dolores Funk, Albert Gerow and John Rauch had to say.
What’s your plan with regard to post-secondary education in Burns Lake? Should the College of New Caledonia (CNC) be supported or should a new college take over?
Funk: It is unfortunate that this has become such a divisive and ‘hot-button’ topic in our community. I believe the role of post-secondary education, in a community such as ours, is to provide opportunities based on our specific needs. If elected, I would look forward to working with members on both sides of the issue, and with the community as a whole, to help identify the most appropriate path forward.
Gerow: The College of New Caledonia’s Lakes District Campus has been a pillar in the community for many, many years. I believe that we should work closely with CNC to continue to expand programming, such as the practical nurse program, and other developmental programs that have previously not been available locally. This last summer we learned that there were not enough senior wildfire managers available to meets the demands of this year’s wildfire season. We should be looking for opportunity to provide that training in preparation for the 2019 wildfire season, these are only a couple of many suggestions.
Rauch: I would like to see trade programs brought in and more programs that allow locals to stay in the town.
Local residents are worried about timber supply. How do you plan to support the forest products industry?
Funk: We have known for the last 10 years that there was going to be a drastic reduction in the annual allowable cut (AAC) in the Lakes TSA, and it appears that the approach that has been taken in the past is not meeting community expectations. We will have to take a multi-pronged approach – preserving as much of what is left by working closely with our local community forests and the regional district; lobbying the provincial government on behalf of the local forest industry; encouraging the development of new industry into our community; and finally, supporting our current economic drivers such as local business, agriculture and outdoor recreation/tourism.
Gerow: The Ministry of Forests in 2000, when the mountain pine beetle (MPB) populations were beginning to explode, gave a huge uplift in the AAC in the millions of cubic metres for the Lakes Timber Supply Area (TSA). Massive amounts of timber left our area to supply mills east and west of Burns Lake. The ministry committed to reciprocating the Lakes TSA from neighbouring timber supply areas. It’s now time we get reciprocation. With the mountains of MPB-killed trees we need to look at other bio-related industries such as bio-fuel, torrefied wood pellets, briquettes, etc.
Rauch: Ministry of Forests controls timber allocation. I plan to work with the regional district, the ministry and the community forest to ensure best allocation for Burns Lake. The importance of the forest industry to our economic future must be paramount.
How would you respond to an emergency crisis like Burns Lake saw this summer?
Funk: Every time there is a crisis in our community, we better learn how to deal with them. Our community is extremely resilient, and we are strong when we work together! In the aftermath of this summer, the first order of business is to support the regional district to incorporate the “lessons learned” into their emergency preparedness program and identify ways that the village can and will respond in future emergencies.
Gerow: Naturally there are a whole host of protocols to follow, through the community emergency preparedness plans, etc. In any crisis one of the most critical responsibilities is to keep the public informed, through clear messages and accurate information. This can only be accomplished by all respective emergency response agencies working closely together. Having a clear open line of communication to the citizens of our area, through town hall meetings, daily bulletins and updates, and direct communication for the people in the areas most impacted are crucial.
Rauch: Stress good communication between all levels of government and include the public. The public deserves to be accurately informed which will in turn stop misinformation and rumours. I do believe there needs to be a public inquiry regarding the handling of the Verdun Mountain/Nadina Lake fires this year in order to improve.
How do you plan to support local residents and businesses in their recovery from the wildfire season?
Funk: I believe that the mayoral role in wildfire recovery is to advocate the provincial and federal government for funding to rebuild our surrounding area. It is integral that local suppliers and labour are contracted to fulfill these needs and ensure that the economic benefit from these funds have residual affects throughout our community.
Gerow: In 2018 the community of Burns Lake dodged a bullet and thankfully the wildfires did not sweep through town. This cannot be said though for the residents of the Lakes District, and my thoughts, prayers go out to all those directly impacted by the wildfires. As council we can be strong advocates to ensure that those impacted get the help they need. By working with our community, businesses, First Nations, and all levels of government to ensure Burns Lake is supported. Mayor and council should be supporting and building upon all that amazing community spirit shown by everyone last summer.
Rauch: Work with the Chamber of Commerce to being an aggressive Shop Local campaign during this difficult time. If elected, local businesses will have the opportunity to bid on supplying any needs of the village. Meet with those residents affected to see what their priority needs are and how we may be able to help.
What will be your top priorities over the next four years?
Funk: My top priorities for the next four years are all focused on the development of a strong foundation from which Burns Lake can grow socially and economically, while maintaining a healthy environment. My four top priorities are: wildfire mitigation; economic diversification; infrastructure replacement and improvement; relationship building with stakeholders and developing partnerships with First Nations.
Gerow: Priority will be to ensure that we work collaboratively to ensure that the residents of Burns Lake obtain the village services they deserve and require. I personally will work hard to ensure Babine Forest Products and Decker Lake Forest Products continue to be strong businesses with the annual fibre they require. Promote opportunities to attract new businesses such as bio-based businesses; working collaboratively with industry, local businesses, including hospitality and tourism, along with First Nations to create Burns Lake and Lakes District as a destination point. Work to ensure Burns Lake and the Lakes District maintains a strong economy.
Rauch: Transparency and accountability in all that the municipal government does. Clean up all outstanding issues held over from the prior term. Formulate a four, eight and 12-year plan to prioritize and deal with infrastructure, housing, building the economy and education, etc.
What do you think is Burns Lake’s biggest challenge?
Funk: Burns Lake’s biggest challenge going forward is to rise above the entrenched divisions that have developed over many years. It is truly time to come together for the betterment of our community for all who live here. Thus, my slogan, “Together we can!”
Gerow: Forest stability and threat of wildfires are our biggest challenges. We need the support of everyone to ensure our forestry remains strong. Governments need to take action for the survival of our mills. Secondly we need to prepare now for next summer’s wildfire season. Residents need to be aware of how to make their homes FireSmart protected. Harvesting the MPB-killed trees must be strategic, and includes managing the visual quality objective areas and old growth areas so that the dead fibre can be removed to lessen the threat of wildfires. We cannot afford another year like last summer.
Rauch: The biggest challenge will be getting municipal government, local and new businesses, and our First Nations neighbours all working together for the betterment of Burns Lake. I would like to establish quarterly roundtable discussions with the three groups.