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By-election candidates face tough questions

All candidates forum focused on timber supply and council conflicts
Approximately 50 community members attended the all candidates forum last week. The event was held at the College of New Caledonia on Nov. 24

A packed room heard what the candidates for mayor and councillor in Burns Lake’s by-election had to say last week at the College of New Caledonia.

Community members did not hold back and asked tough questions - some directed to all candidates and some directed to specific candidates.

Both mayoral candidates - former councillor Chris Beach and former fire chief Jim McBride - were present at the event.

Three of the four councillor candidates - Gregory Brown, Craig Haizimsque and Michael Riis-Christianson - were present at the forum. Louise Lacerte did not attend the event and had a friend read her two-minute introduction.

Here are the highlights from the forum:

How do you plan to address the impending shortfall in timber supply? (To all candidates)

Beach: Council applied to the Rural Dividend Fund for $100,000 to get help on a plan for transition and diversification, so that’s one major thing that they are going to do. There is no easy answer to this; there’s no magic formula. We need to bring people in and come up with a plan.

McBride: I think it’s a wider problem than we understand, but I do believe there’s another important factor being played into this and that’s the NAFTA agreement with the United States; I don’t see a foreseeable future where we’ll have definitive answers.

Brown: The municipal objectives has a task force that they want to assemble to look into the things that they can be doing about the annual allowable cut and I would like to be a part of that and contribute to it.

Haizimsque: If I had a mission statement, it would be to elevate the financial well-being of this community, and one way of doing that is diversification.

Riis-Christianson: I think council is on the right track, working on a mid-term timber supply strategy. I think it has to include all stakeholders, First Nations partners and the brightest minds in our community. I think that we have to develop a strategy that… in the end, nothing short than reinventing ourselves is going to solve the problem. It sounds scary, but that’s what we’re going to have to do.

How do you plan to work with the rural communities surrounding the village? (To all candidates)

McBride: I think it’s very important for our well-being to work with our colleagues and the regional district, and keep an open dialogue. It’s important that we keep everybody abreast of what we’re doing.

Beach: Currently the village does work with the regional district. There are quite a few programs in town that we do work together on, but I think one of the primary roles of the mayor is to get out into the community, go to events and see what’s going on, and look for new ways that we can work together.

Haizimsque: I think I am in a unique situation because I’ve come from outside of this community, I’ve worked with a huge variety of people and I’m adaptable that way. I know there are some systems here that restrict that inclusion, but there are Aboriginal events where everybody can be included. A lot of that has to do with inclusion and being invited.

Riis-Christianson: First of all we are all residents of the Lakes District. The regional district [directors] are definitely partners and we have to keep close ties with them. Communication is the key. You have to be working with people and in constant communication.

Brown: The Village of Burns Lake has a seat on the regional district. I look forward to hearing from the regional district and I hope we can work together.

How are you going to deal with the division on council? (To mayoral candidates)

Beach: There’s been a lot of debate for the last two years on council, but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. This is democracy and I really believe that people with different backgrounds, different ideas, can be good. If somebody has a different idea than myself, I want them to give me a chance to say what I think about a certain issue.

McBride: One of the things that brought me to the forefront was the division that I heard that actually resided in the council chambers. What we have to remember is that we’re all working together for you, and we’ve got to put our personalities aside. I agree with some of the things that Chris mentioned, but I think the mayor’s objective is to keep everybody focused, and that’s what I hope to do.

What should Burns Lake do to reinvent itself? (To Brown)

Brown: That’s a good question. If I had put some thought to that, I would have a nice answer. I don’t know off the top of my head. I’m not entirely sure.

Rebuttal from Riis-Christianson: I think that we really do need to reinvent ourselves as a community. We need to continue on with a re-envisioning exercise. We need to focus on our strengths and look at diversification. There are a lot of communities that have had to do this. If we can all get together and pull our ideas, I think we can come up with something that will be our new economic future.

Rebuttal from Beach: I would agree with everything that Michael said. The village came up with an economic development strategy in the past year, and that was in consultation with community members, businesses, First Nations and there were a lot of good ideas in there. One thing I’ve always felt is that there’s so much potential; there is almost 3000 vehicles going down our main street [every day]. We need to do a better job of getting those people to stop. I think signage has a lot to do with getting people to stop.

Rebuttal from Haizimsque: There is a lot to do with Aboriginal tourism, there’s a lot of potential here. If you look at our mall, it’s not the most appealing thing to the eye. There’s definitely lots of opportunity out there.

Given your past employment, how do you plan to not micro-manage the fire department? (To McBride)

McBride: I have an excellent individual right there to manage the fire department [Rob Krause], so I am not going to manage the fire department. I have put my 18 years in the [Burns Lake] fire service and I am almost certain I did a good job. I feel very proud of what we developed. We got a first-class fire department and they don’t need any counselling from myself. I understand that there’s a vicious rumour out there that as a mayor I would fire the CAO and the fire chief, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. First of all, the mayor doesn’t have that power.

Please provide your interpretation of the meaning of ‘conflict of interest’ and how you intend to address the conflicts that you’ll be faced with respect to recreation and your wife’s position? (To Beach)

Beach: I was already on council when the village hired my wife as the recreation director. Council hires one employee - the CAO - and she hires everyone else. Council has nothing to do with the hiring of all the employees, except for her. It’s very clear that when [a topic related to] my wife comes up, I excuse myself [from meetings]. I also want to make clear that, in a small town, there are conflicts all around the table. For example, two people [on council] work in forestry. About a month ago, it was only myself who was able to meet with the Ministry of Forests along with the chair of the regional district.