Five candidates met the community head-on last week at the CMNews-sponsored All Candidates Forum held at Lobelco Hall. With a good turnout and excellent questions, it was an encouraging example of local political engagement in action.
The forum began with an opening statement from each candidate. There are four candidates running in Area C: Alison Sayers, Drew Kovacic (who did not attend the meeting), Jan Prins and Mark Nelson. Brian Lande and Samuel Schooner were on hand to represent their bids for Area E. Area D candidate Richard Hall has been acclaimed and was unable to attend.
The candidates depth of experience and skills were well-rounded and extremely varied. They range from Sayers organic farming and mediation to Nelson’s longstanding community involvement and self-employment. Schooner brought his experience on Band Council to the forum, while Lande has served 19 years in local government. Retired and a newcomer to the Valley, Prins has managed a large construction firm and has also completed local environmental work.
There were several identifiable themes presented at the meeting and these included economic development, support for community projects and organizations, cooperation and accountability, flooding issues, and the importance of strengthening relationships with First Nations.
One of the first questions the candidates were asked was whether or not they believe the CCRD Board should lead economic development or be led by community-based organization.
All the candidates agreed that the CCRD should take the lead on economic development, with Lande stating that the CCRD ‘should create an atmosphere for economic growth.’ Nelson commented that the Economic Development Commission should be restarted to ensure a community voice, while Sayers and Prins both stated that the CCRD should take the lead but work in partnership with community representation. Schooner expressed the desire for the Nuxalk Nation and the CCRD to work together, saying that ‘together we can make a really strong economy.’
Recreation was another hot topic, with community members continually insisting that more recreation infrastructure is required to attract new families and satisfy existing community members, from youngsters to elders.
The aging Centennial Pool, although ‘phenomenally’ managed by the Pool Commission, is in obvious need of repair or replacement.
“I lived through the year and half we didn’t have a pool and heard the complaints,” said Lande. “Within the next year I would like to see major movement on the pool.”
Sayers commented that the pool was a ‘major priority’ for her, and Prins stated that both the pool and Walker Island required capital investment as they are both heavily utilized by the community. However, finding funds is always the issue.
Milicia Epp then asked the candidates how much value they placed in their own desires as opposed to the desires of the community, and how would they handle that?
Schooner replied that community meetings would be a great way to find out what people want, and said he ‘likes to be accountable to people.’ Sayers agreed, saying that she didn’t think any work could be done without community consultation. “We represent the public and they have to give us direction,” said Prins. Lande countered that with the observation that local government is also bound to operate under provincial legislation, and that can ‘sometimes change their decisions.’
There was also the inevitable question related to flooding. The candidates were tasked with answering the difficult question of what ‘real, concrete, do-able steps’ they would bring to address flood-prone homes?
Sayers, whose home was devastated twice due to flooding in Firvale, answered that she had spent countless hours looking for options and often came up ’empty-handed.’ She did not, however, advocate giving up. “It’s tough but if there is anything available the CCRD needs to go and get it,” she said, “and the province needs to help.”
“The flood woke up everybody but there are a lot of options to explore,” said Schooner. “I don’t think we need more studies I think we need to do something. There are options out there.”
Prins and Lande both cited the need for more provincial responsibility, and Nelson suggested a river maintenance plan which could also stimulate the local economy.
As the issue of electoral restructuring is front and centre, the candidates were also asked who they felt they served first: their local constituents or the region at large?
“Area C will be the first priority, but we are all one community,” said Prins. Schooner countered that, saying that ‘regional representation’ is more characteristic of his view because ‘we are sitting as a team.’
Sayers, Nelson and Lande all agreed that the local area should come first, with Lande reminding the crowd that there is also the outer coast to consider, as the regional district actually begins as far south as Cape Caution.
The candidates were also asked how they would strengthen relationships with local First Nations, citing the need to work together as being of utmost importance.
“It’s critically important,” said Sayers. “Equal say is what’s needed.” Nelson agreed. “Protocols with First Nations are extremely important,” he said. “We have to overcome these trust issues and form solid working relationships.”
Schooner echoed these sentiments, stating that the two communities ‘have their differences, but we need to start working together now.’ He also commented that it was precisely this reason that he is running for this position. “We don’t really get paid to do this, people actually take a lot of flak for doing this,” he said. “I’m not doing it for the money, I want us to work together.”
The CCRD also agreed to support several community projects such as the ‘shovel-ready’ connector trail from 4-Mile to the townsite and safer cycling initiatives. There was discussion around better services and housing for the elderly, the possibility of upgrading the townsite sewage system, the concern of the subdivision of agricultural land, and the suggestion that the CCRD become more involved with the Bella Coola Resource Society and the Community Forest.
Overall, the meeting was felt to be informative and beneficial. All residents are encouraged to get out and vote. Voting day is Saturday, November 15 from 8am to 8pm. You can vote at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School in Hagensborg or Bella Coola Elementary in Bella Coola. Please bring two pieces of identification.