All candidates forum for the 2022 municipal election held at CNC on Sept. 28. the event was organized by the Burns Lake District Chamber of Commerce in partnership with BC Northern Real Estate Board and Lakes District News. (Laura Blackwell photo/Lakes District News)

All candidates forum for the 2022 municipal election held at CNC on Sept. 28. the event was organized by the Burns Lake District Chamber of Commerce in partnership with BC Northern Real Estate Board and Lakes District News. (Laura Blackwell photo/Lakes District News)

All candidates’ forum sees Burns Lake municipal candidates debating important issues

The in-person forum sees roughly 30 people in attendance

All candidates’ forum sees Burns Lake municipal candidates debating important issues

The in-person forum sees roughly 30 people in attendance

The Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce organized an all-candidates forum, which was attended by both, the Mayoral as well as council candidates, and saw a turnout of roughly 30 community members. The Chamber also had a live link to watch the forum, where almost 50 people attended and asked questions, while over 250 people viewed the recorded forum since then.

Henry Wiebe, who was the councillor in the current council, is running for Mayor, against John Rauch. Joshua Platt, who was initially also in the race, withdrew his nomination.

Wiebe, who was born and raised in Burns Lake, was part of the village council for the past four years and said that the council and the mayor brought about a lot of positive changes which he wanted to continue working on.

“The streets are in much better condition than they were 4 years ago, we have sidewalks on Center Street and the lower half of 9the Ave, we have added a water park and volleyball court at Spirit Square and improved parking in the downtown area,” said Wiebe.

He also pointed out that Burns Lake has had trouble attracting medical staff, tradespeople, contractors and employees, there is also an acute shortage that makes it unattractive to stay and noted that the village needs to develop more serviced commercial properties to attract investors.

“In the last two years on council, we have put together some plans to address these issues. I am running for Mayor because I would like to see these things come to fruition,” he said. “I’m not going to promise that we will complete all these developments because there is still a lot of work to do but I will take this position on as a full-time job and I promise that I will give you my best effort.”

Rauch, who is also in the running for the Mayoral race, has been living in Burns Lake for over 20 years and is currently the road foreman for Lakes District Maintenance.

“Although I am employed full time, if elected I am dedicated to working hard as mayor for Burns Lake residents. I believe in transparency and communication and if I become mayor my door will always be open,” said Rauch.

For Rauch, it is important to have an open-door policy with Burns Lake Band and Lake Babine Nation and build lasting relationships to partner on several upcoming projects for the Village.

“I would also like to get to work on gaining more grants to build up our infrastructure, work with the local colleges on trades apprenticeships so we have more qualified people to fill the unemployment gap we are facing,” he said, adding, “The village Heights initiative is something that could help our community but I would like to see if we could expedite this process so it could be brought to us quicker- we need housing now.”

David Cummer, one of the council candidates, who is once again running for the councillor position, has lived in Burns Lake for five years and said that he was hoping to build on the work done by the current council.

“In the 5 or so years we have gone through fires and evacuations, COVID-19 and the lockdowns, and now through high inflation and the pipeline and their many needs. This current team that we had have gone through all this, with flourishing results and growth,” said Cummer, adding that he just wanted to continue to help Burns lake be the great community that it is.

For Cummer, the key issue he wants to tackle is supporting housing needs.

“Marketing to bigger centers with a focus on lifestyle and higher wage incentives is key to recruitment. The people who live here will help the newcomers stay; we have an amazing community,” he said.

Kevin White, who is seeking re-election as councillor said he believed in Burns Lake, his home for 45 years. “Burns Lake faces many challenges as do many small northern communities. It is my desire to overcome as many of these challenges as I can, so as to create a better sustainable place so that the young people in the area find meaningful work, raise their children in a safe, supportive community and a safe and for seniors, to stay in the area by choice, in safe affordable housing, with the medical and social services they desire, deserve and need.”

He also noted that the lack of housing, and the lack of professional and educational opportunities were big impediments to the growth of the Village.

“A new and vibrant college or re-energized CNC would be a good start; having the ability to train professionals in several occupations that are in short supply. This would normally involve the younger generations. They would bring new life to the community in several ways. Being a larger adventure tourism destination would also be admirable. We have the outdoors to support the industry but overall there is a lack of ‘destination’ resorts or accommodations. And perhaps more Economic Immigration,” he said. “A system of encouraging entrepreneurs to immigrate and start new businesses within the community. The program is available, not widely utilized.”

Charlie Rensby, who is also seeking re-election as councillor, like White pointed out the several successful projects by the Village in the past four hours, and said he wanted to build on that momentum.

“Most of all though, we have created a community plan that will see to it, that we don’t just survive another hundred years but thrive. For a community that is not growing is a community that is dying,” said Rensby, adding, “If re-elected, our council will put our plans into action. We will continue to make investments in the future through addressing housing, education, healthcare, economic development, and Internet connectivity. Whatever the world decides to throw at us we have a plan to see us through.”

Darrell Hill, who was a councillor but had to step down as a result of a change in his employment, said that he was looking to the members of the community and hoping they elected him for one of the four positions on the council once again.

“Working towards reconciliation and good relations with the two First Nations that are within the boundaries of the Village is a top priority for me and should be a top priority for the Village Council moving forward. I would continue to support and attend any Community to Community Forums that can be organized. I would also continue to advocate for mutually beneficial projects that we can work together on, like what happened with the Active Transport Plan that brought sidewalks from the Lake Babine Nation reserve into the existing sidewalk system of the downtown part of the Village.”

He noted that his other high priorities would be, as a first responder for over 9 years, he would advocate for hiring more medics for Burns Lake.

“We cannot count the number of times we have been on call and have had to wait for paramedics as opposed to having them on staff and on-call available to respond to residents of our town,” said Hill. In addition, he said he would also advocate having the Lakes District Hospital be fully staffed.

Kristy Bjarnson, who was elected during the by-elections after Darrell Hill had left the position vacant, is re-running for the elections. Bjarnson, like other candidates noted how crucial it was to find solutions to the housing crisis and recruitment.

“I think one big challenge in recruitment and retention is housing. The Village council and staff have done a lot of work to get the Village Heights project in progress, and I think it’s very important to do what we can to encourage development, while still maintaining high building standards and the needs and priorities of the established community. Council and village staff have also met with various professional bodies to explore ways that we can encourage and support newcomers to the Village,” she said.

“There are so many amazing groups and individuals in Burns Lake who work tirelessly to enhance life here, I think continuing to support them in the work they do will always be a great benefit to life here.”

To watch the full all-candidates forum, visit: https://www.facebook.com/burnslakechamber/videos/402004182097504/

In other election news, for the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN), Electoral Area A’s (Smithers/Telkwa Rural) Stoney Stoltenberg, Electoral Area B’s (Burns Lake Rural) Michael Riis Christianson, Electoral Area D (Fraser Lake Rural), Electoral Area F (Francois/Ootsa Rural) and Electoral Area G’s (Houston/Granisle Rural), incumbents Mark Parker, Clint Lambert and Chris Newell have all been elected by acclamation.