Ryan Murray looked at the large crowd in attendance for the all-candidates forum on November 2nd and stated that it illustrated “typical Tumbler Ridge enthusiasm.” Murray was the moderator for the evening’s debate but his unorthodox candor was more likened to a MC. Indeed, the debate itself was a refreshing one as the candidates spoke candidly, though still carefully, about the various issues facing Tumbler Ridge.
The forum consisted of two parts split up by a fifteen minute break in between. During the first part, the candidates were given an opportunity to introduce themselves and their platform and then speak to questions which had been carefully written and selected by the forum committee. The first five questions had been given to candidates in advance to allow them time to prepare a response. No question was mandatory for a candidate to answer. Those candidates who wished to answer the question posed were to raise their hand and the time allotted for each candidate’s answer was based on the amount of candidates who wanted to give a response.
During the second part of the forum the candidates answered questions posed by the Tumbler Ridge residents in attendance. The questions submitted by the forum committee proved to be poignant as the questions asked during the open question period predominantly touched on, or were related to, the questions that the forum committee had provided.
The main issues that were discussed regarded: attracting young families to Tumbler Ridge through more housing opportunities and more services provided in terms of daycare and healthcare, the diversification of income to not so heavily rely on the coal mines, and the heavily lopsided distribution of provincial funds to southern communities.
With the point of emphasis of the forum being young families, and the development of services to cater to these families, daycare was thoroughly discussed. A question raised from the audience during the open question period asked: “Do you think the district should be responsible for funding preschool and after school care?”
Whilst the majority of candidates who chose to answer this question spoke to the children of Tumbler Ridge being the future of Tumbler Ridge and other such political discourse. Two candidates expressed their hesitation towards publically funded daycare. Aleen Torraville spoke to the need for a daycare to be a standalone structure and expressed her belief in a privatized day-care model stating that “a daycare is a business.”
While he joined in the political rhetoric of his fellow candidates by stating “children are our biggest asset,” Tim Snyder spoke to the fact that the current daycare cannot cater to coal miner families due to being unable to provide services from six a.m. through to six p.m. Snyder also mentioned the need for a standalone daycare facility.
In a following question posed during the open question period, candidate Mike Caisley drew one of the only two rounds of applause during the evening by stating the need for a daycare and the need for miners to have more access to daycare facilities. He expressed that “the mining companies need to be onside and shifting schedules is a very important part of that.”
The current lack of housing in Tumbler Ridge was brought up as an issue preventing young families from moving here. Tumbler Ridge is currently experiencing a housing crunch and it is therefore difficult for people who come to the town for work to move their families here. Thus, there is a large transient worker population.
Mayoral candidate Darwin Wren stated that “The work is here. We want to make sure this is a community where people can work and live.”
Candidate Rob Mackay provided similar sentiment in his statement that “transient workers would not be transient if housing was available to them.”
Building on the transient worker issue, another question raised from the audience was related to how the council would limit services that stereotypically cater to transient workers. The questioner stated that services such as bars and strip clubs, which other mining communities have allowed to develop, would be a deterrent to young families moving in.
Several of the candidates discarded this question by referring to bylaws already in place in Tumbler Ridge which prohibit certain types of establishments including strip clubs.
Candidate Sherri- Lynn- Hewitt was particularly straight forward in her response to this question stating that the lack of housing needs to be addressed because: “this community does not want transient workers we want young families!”
The only candidate who spoke to the question and did not immediately condemn the addition of another bar in the community was Lindsey Wozniak who disagreed that a bar would be a deterrent to young families and stated that “Mom and Dad want to go dancing sometimes. A bar is a business and it is a good business.”
Attracting more businesses into Tumbler Ridge and diversifying the economy to be less dependent on coal mines was discussed at great length. Several of the candidates alluded to the coal mines not being around forever and the situation that arose in Tumbler Ridge at the turn of the century was warned against.
A question produced by the forum committee asked the candidates “Would you support adjustments to the commercial and industrial tax rates?” This question proved to be the most polarizing that would be asked during the evening.
Mayoral candidate Brenda Holmlund gave an adamant yes to this question and spoke to her belief that lowered tax rates are necessary to draw in businesses. Holmlund raised this issue several times during the evening. Candidate Mike Caisley also answered yes and spoke to Tumbler Ridge currently having one of the three worst tax environments for businesses. Aleen Torraville was the third yes to this question stating that lowering the tax rates would bring more business to Tumbler Ridge.
The two candidates who answered no to this question warned that lowering the taxes on businesses would mean raising taxes elsewhere. Rob Mackay stated that “this is the part of the debate where I put my foot in my mouth and lose a lot of votes.” Mackay answered no to the question explaining that “if you lower taxes for one group you have to raise them for another, lowering the business tax would lead to higher residential tax.”
Darwin Wren agreed with Mackay and gave an analogy based on a balloon, “if the balloon is squeezed at one end someone’s going to have to pick up the slack at the other.”
A question from the audience regarding a lack of provincial funding in Tumbler Ridge raised unanimous passion amongst the candidates. All candidates agreed that the next council will have to be more aggressive with Victoria and demand a fairer share of provincial funding.
Tim Snyder stated that “the big cities are getting the gain from what we’re producing.” Snyder mentioned a coalition of British Columbian towns that petitioned to leave BC and join Alberta and seemed to at least come close to suggesting that Tumbler Ridge join such a coalition.
Darwin Wren drew applause for his response in which he questioned MLA Blair Lekstrom, who is the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, for not being prompt in fixing the various transportation issues that have arose in Tumbler Ridge. Wren called Lekstrom’s lack of response to the needs of Tumbler Ridge residents “a crying shame.”
Brenda Holmlund responded that “with all the revenue that flows out of town we’ve got no health care, and ambulances are low.” Holmlund alluded to the town’s rapid growth and suggested that the current hospital in Tumbler Ridge will not be able to handle the boom in population concluding that “we need better health care coverage.”
Lack of provincial funding was also discussed in terms of financing the Tumbler Ridge museum and research centre. Indeed, the lack of support from the province regarding the dinosaur remains in Tumbler Ridge has been nothing short of perplexing. The candidates all expressed the need to put more pressure on Victoria to provide funding for the museum and research centre as the district will be hard pressed to provide long term funding without provincial assistance.
Darwin Wren stated that “long term funding has to come from the province”
Doug Beale agreed and said “we need the government to come to the table”
Rob Mackay kept the candidates message on this issue consistent by expressing that the “finger needs to be pointed at the province.”
Brenda Holmlund spoke to the district’s budget and stated that “funding the museum will lead to less money for other organizations.”
It was an informative and well organized forum. The candidates kept consistent with their platforms and the residents in attendance seemed to be content with the majority of responses. The candidates spoke well with several of them mentioning that, regardless of who is elected, this next council will be a strong council based on the quality of the candidates.
The council that is voted in on November 19th will need to be strong as Tumbler Ridge is facing difficult challenges ahead. The council will be charged with attracting young families and governing a rapidly growing community. They will need to put the necessary pressure on BC’s provincial government for a fair share of funding. They will need to find ways to diversify the economy to become less dependent on the coal mines. The council that is elected on November 19th will need to effectively manage the current boom in Tumbler Ridge in order to shape a positive and bright future for their district.