Fifty-nine engaged citizens packed the seats in the Music Makers Hall to listen to candidates for mayor and council.
They also asked questions.
The forum was a full house, with a short introduction of themselves by each candidate, and Mayor Sandra Harwood the only missing candidate from the stage, as she was undergoing surgery the same week.
Mayoral candidates Brenda Gouglas, Rob MacDougall, and Ann McCormick were there.
All five of the councillor candidates were also on the stage: Dave Burgess, Joan Burdeniuk, Russ Gingrich, Dave Birdi, and Riley Willick.
Many issues were raised and discussed, with plenty of tough questions from the community.
One community member came out with a question on facilities or services to attract and retain trained professionals to the community.
Concerned with the high rates of turnover in the community, she asked candidates to suggest some “outside the box thinking” to deal with this problem.
The community hall was raised as an option, doctors to provide better health care, day care for young families was put forward by council candidate Joan Burdeniuk, mayoral candidate Ann McCormick, and incumbent councillor Dave Birdi as well as council candidate Riley Willick.
Affordable housing was suggested by a number of candidates as well.
Willick was the only candidate who suggested facilities or opportunities for youth as being important for the community, however.
A local biologist questioned the candidates on their commitment to informing themselves on some concerns she saw potentially impacting the area watersheds.
She took the previous council to task for supporting a petition to relax timber harvesting constraints put forward at the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities conference, which would reduce protections in place to lessen impacts on visual landscapes and riparian areas. She pointed to flooding in the Sowchea Creek area as a potential consequence of poor management practices within the community forest.
All of the candidates were supportive of the idea of getting better informed on what was taking place within the area watersheds and the community forest.
One major topic was the traffic going through town, with both current councillors Brenda Gouglas and Dave Birdi, shying away from any talk about a bypass, pointing out the huge cost involved.
Gouglas defended the idea of changing parking in town to keep people from parking on the main street.
“Council has a responsibility to the community to step up and talk to our local law enforcement about slowing the traffic down,” said Gingrich, who also suggested controlled crosswalks.
MacDougall suggested forming a regional transportation committee which could then develop a plan for the area to lobby the government.
“My first priority would be downtown and I think I would set a timeline,” said MadDougall.
“I don’t see where the previous council has communicated to us that there’s any transportation plan in place,” said Burgess. “We really need to move on this sooner than later.”
McCormick also agreed the previous council has not acted quickly enough to deal with the increasing traffic concerns.
“I think we could have maybe moved it forward a lot earlier,” said McCormick.
She suggested approaching the road users to slow down when driving through the community.
Birdi defended council’s previous work.
“There have been steps taken,” said Birdi.”We do need to keep talking with the Ministry of Transportation and stop this issue.”
One younger audience member asked each candidate to give their stance on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, and if they realized there is a risk to Stuart Lake itself.
Only Burgess, Gouglas and Willick came out in strict opposition to the pipeline.
Burgess said he can’t believe the government would be sending the unrefined oil offshore, pointing out the location of the Stuart River crossing as a serious risk, calling a spill “inevitable.”
Gouglas pointed to the number of spills and said the risk to the environment is too great.
Willick described his fears regarding the pump station’s location up from Pitka Creek, which could potentially create impacts in Stuart Lake when the water is drained from the “moat” surrounding the station.
“I don’t want ‘acceptable’ levels of chemicals in Stuart Lake, I don’t want any chemicals in Stuart Lake,” he said.
“The more I learn about it, the more I’m opposed to it,” said Willick, who spoke about his observations of a pipeline under construction when he was working in Hinton when they were building one nearby, and he saw how large contractors with out of area workers build the pipeline, with little to no benefit to the community.
Rob MacDougall also said he opposes the pipeline, calling the economic benefits “miniscule” in comparison to the “catastrophic” impacts of a ruptured line. He did temper his answer with the caveat that if the community said they support it, he would take that message forward as mayor.
Burdeniuk said she also has concerns about the pipeline.
“There have been a lot of spills in the recent past,” she said. She also expressed her fears for the coast where the supertankers would be carrying the oil, but said she needed to do more research into the project.
Councillor Dave Birdi said we should be looking at alternative energy sources and he would need to do “further investigation” into the safety measures they would be using.
Russ Gingrich did not have a strong stance either way as well, and said “I would certainly like to see the jobs that it would provide and the monies that it would put into provincial as well as federal coffers” but would also have to do more research into the potential impacts.
Ann McCormick avoided answering whether or not she supported the pipeline at all by speaking about her seat on a Community Advisory Board for Enbridge and her encouragement of members of the community to get involved in the current joint review panel process.
There were other questions regarding the relative inexperience of the council and how the candidates expect to be able to move forward and be proactive given this level of experience.
Rob MacDougall pointed out his 12 years of experience on council and three years as mayor.
“I hope I haven’t forgotten everything I learned (during his previous time on council) in the last three years,” he said.
McCormick pointed to her relationships with the First Nations communities in the area.
“Sometimes it’s good just to empty the toy box and start again, start fresh,” she said.
McCormick pointed out her previous relevant experience working with industry, government and non-profits.
“I feel like I have the pulse of the community,” said McCormick.
Gouglas said she feels she can share her knowledge and experience gained in her six years on council with incoming councillors and said the office staff will be an “incredible tool” to help transition the incoming councillors.
One question then followed along a similar vein, asking McCormick why she chose to run for mayor before ever first working as a councillor.
She spoke about her transferable skills and her confidence in her abilities, admitting she “thought long and hard” before making the choice.