The Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce hosted an all candidates forum last Thursday at the Heritage Centre for the two byelection candidates competing for the councillor seat.
Bruce Martens, who was born and raised in Burns Lake, has recently moved back to the community after spending years away from town. He hopes to bring his experience of being a town councillor in northern Alberta.
Charlie Resnby, who’s competing for a councillor seat for the second time, hopes to bring a fresh perspective to council. In the past few months he has been involved with The Postmen, a disaster relief initiative to support wildfire evacuees and frontline workers.
The candidates faced some tough questions, including what they would do to improve relationships between council members and the community, what they would do to improve wildfire protection and help small businesses thrive, as well as their economic vision for the community.
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Although some of the questions were tough and to the point, most of the answers weren’t.
The candidates chose to take a cautious approach, not taking sides on some of the issues or clearly explaining what their position would be.
One of the clearest answers during the debate was on the issue of post-secondary education, in which Rensby said he would rather see just one college operating within municipal boundaries as opposed to two. He was of course referring to the College of New Caledonia and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, which has been offering programs in Burns Lake through a partnership with Lake Babine Nation. However, he did not specify which college he would rather see in town.
Burns Lake’s current council has not taken sides on the issue of post-secondary education.
Both candidates stressed that they would rather take a diplomatic approach when it comes to improving council relationships, and talked about the importance of working together for the benefit of the community.
Martens said he was not aware of a recent petition started by concerned community members asking council to be more “supportive, positive and collaborative.”
Both candidates agreed on the need to diversify the local economy. Martens talked about bringing the “old times” back to Burns Lake, when he says people from all over the globe were coming to visit Burns Lake, while Rensby talked about the importance of boosting tourism and agriculture.
But while both candidates talked about the importance of attracting investment, they failed to mention exactly how to do that. There was no mention of a cohesive marketing strategy to help promote the Burns Lake region, for example.
Rensby did provide specifics when he spoke about the need for low-income housing in Burns Lake, suggesting that the town should take advantage of provincial grants.
While the candidates have very different personalities, they both chose to play it safe.