The Byelection: Do you know who you’re voting for?

Lynsey Kitching
Seniors, daycare, residential development and attracting business to Tumbler Ridge seem to be the main topics of the candidates for the upcoming byelection.
Last Thursday night, community members were given a chance to meet the candidates, if they haven’t already and to ask them their questions about what they would bring to the table if elected to council at the All Candidates Forum.
With Donna Merry as Moderator, a small group of citizens, about 25 people showed up to hear the candidates ideas of how to solve the main issues facing Tumbler Ridge.
To start off the questioning, Mayor Wren was called upon. He asked, “What gap do you see on council and how would you fill that gap?
Jerrilyn Shembri said, “I don’t really see a lot of gaps on council right now. I think what I would see myself adding is another voice and another opportunity to have input from someone with a different way of thinking.”
Don McPherson answered, “If you ask someone outside of town about Tumbler Ridge, they’ll say, ‘oh that’s the town that sold the houses cheap, that’s the town with the dinosaurs.’ I’ve never heard anyone say that’s the town with so many people, and so many opportunities for business and investment. I would really like to push that angle.”
Crosbie Bourdeaux was the third candidate to answer saying, “I bring the perspective that your community is what you make it and if you want to help shape it, you need to step up and do something about that. With the passion I have for the community, I think that is going to the part I’m going to fill.”
Brenda Holmund was the last candidate to speak, she replied, “One of my biggest assets is my ability to work with numbers and budgets, I enjoy it.” After having Mayor Wren warm up the candidates, community members stated to chime in with their questions.
Another problem facing the town is trying to convert people who have come here to work, into community members. One of the reasons this is proving difficult is a lack of affordable housing, specifically rental housing.
Schembri pointed to the larger picture for many communities here in the north saying, “This isn’t a problem that is unique to Tumbler Ridge. There are 1,800 worker camps north of Quesnel. That’s causing problems in towns like Tumbler Ridge, but also in cities like Fort St. John. The regional district is looking at doing a regional growth strategy, which is going to try and address some of these issues. I think that council is working towards trying to keep people in town.”
“What you’ve hit on is a big problem in Tumbler Ridge. People have taken advantage and rightly so, of the need for housing. We’ve got to address that, we have to bring in more housing, that’s the only way to bring down the price. It has to be planned and done right, that is what council has to do,” says McPherson.
Holmlund pointed to the vast increase in land value assessment. She says, “The assessments came out this week and our assessment has gone up 14 percent. That along with what Don was saying rings back the point that what we need here is planned housing. That will bring the price down.”
As we know, the seat to be filled is the one given up by Doug Beale, who was present at the forum. He said, “I appreciate all four of you stepping up and certainly looking to serve your community. As you know I vacated my seat that’s why we’re here tonight.” 
“Sometimes as a councilor you sit in on discussions and you vote. Sometimes the vote doesn’t go the way you think it should or you desired. If that happens to you, what action would you take?”
This question was directed to all of the candidates.
Bourdeaux was the first to answer and seemed to have a bit of a different opinion than the others. She said, “As people you need to trust that the person you are voting for is looking at your best interest. As council members we may vote yes, and everyone else is voting no. As a councilor I still need to come back to the community, listen to the community and take that information back. If it is a really strong yes, it’s my job to come back to council and say, ‘can we look at this again, and this is the feedback I’m getting.’ I will be one voice. Unfortunately, sometimes council is going to make decisions that people don’t like, but we have to trust they are in the best interest of the community.”
Holmlund explains why council should exist as one voice. She said, “I’ve had that experience where a vote doesn’t go my way and generally, I get pissed off, but council is council and I know one thing, I can get angry, but I still have to stand behind the vote because we vote as one.” 
Schembri agreed.
McPherson added, “I think the next day you walk out after not getting what you wanted at a council meeting and on the street, it’s like it was a unanimous vote. You don’t say, ‘well this is how it went, but I was…’ that doesn’t do anything for council. It’s a team effort; after it’s all over you shake hands and walk away.”
The conversation then shifted gears to a heavily talked about issue; that being, how to support seniors and their needs.
All candidates agreed this is a huge issue that council is working on. The main points brought up were getting the seniors a space to call their own, transportation and services. There were no concrete ideas brought forth about how to accomplish this, however all candidates believe this is an issue that should be at the forefront of the council agenda.
On the other end of the life cycle is children and they bring about a different need, that being daycare and specifically daycare oriented for shift workers.
Bourdeaux said, “We need to be able to find funding to build a building that will suit daycare, maybe a senior’s centre in it, so we can secure our daycare place. When you look at shift work, it’s difficult to find daycare employees that are educated in the skills to come to Tumbler Ridge. Some of that is due to housing and the higher rent.”
McPherson believes the answer to daycare needs lies in the deep corporate pockets. He says, “I see daycare as something that benefits industry. I would like to see the mines, the oil patches and the wind farms step up and help us solve this problem. Daycare to me is a business and it needs a place to operate. Shift work for a daycare is a bit of a problem, but I’m sure it’s been solved in other places.”
Holmlund believes our town is in a perfect position for someone in the daycare profession to come and get things going. She says, “What I’m saying is, I agree industry has to step up to the plate and take a hand in this because it’s their workers that need daycare. Workers at the mine are generally making a good wage, so I would say this is an opportunity for someone to come in and start a business, a daycare centre.”
One of the last questions posed was by a mother of a special needs child. Though she applauds the school system here in their programming, she wonders how to make the resources easier to find for newcomers to town.
Schembri pointed to the one place where resources flow aplenty, that being the library. She said, “One of the things other communities are doing is having the resources set up in the library, and a resource centre that provides information. It’s a natural place because of all the books. Just having the resources there so when people come into the community, they know the information is all found in the library.”
Holmlund suggested we contact other communities such as Dawson Creek and attempt to link our town to their resources.
Much of the talk was about the outlined issues; however one question from the crowd was a simple but important one: Without having the district run these businesses, what can council implement to help attract people to Tumbler Ridge?
McPherson believes having another banking institution in town would really help small business. He said, “I’ve been thinking about this myself and I look back to the days I came to town and started a business. If it wasn’t for the Royal Bank at that time, I wouldn’t have gotten started. We have the Credit Union, I appreciate what they did for us, but the Credit Union isn’t a business friendly bank. We have to attract another bank. To start a business you need money. It’s rip for the businessmen to come in here and make a dollar at anything; stores, bowling alleys, theaters, all that stuff, I think that is all important.”
Bourdeaux points to achieving sustainability. She says, “The CMHC and anyone else who had invested in the community in that way lost money. So, I think what we need to do to attract business is to show our history, we need to be building the sustainability of our community so we’re not relying on one industry, then we can bring more businesses that don’t feel they’re taking such a risk.”
Holmlund thinks the answer lies in lowering taxes for small businesses. She said, “Our community is becoming diversified. We need to build business confidence in our community. One way to do that would be to lower our business taxes. Bring those down and make it easier for business to get started in our community.”
Schembri believes keeping on track and increasing attention to our town will bring in more business. She explained, “Economic development is extremely important in the community and I know Tumbler Ridge has been working at this for many years. We’ve sent people to snowmobile shows, we’ve sent people all over and tried to encourage people to come here not only for tourism, but to be part of the community.”
One way to increase positive attention to Tumbler Ridge is to emphasize what makes us unique, on a global scale, an abundance of dinosaur bones.
Schembri said, “I think the community has invested a lot of money into our museum. We decided as a community that tourism would be something we should look at as an industry. We have something that occurs here naturally that the rest of the world is fighting for. One thing I’ve done at a provincial level is I’ve sat down with people and said we need to make sure those resources are protected. I think we have something other people wish they had and I think we need to use that as a promoting point for our community. Our brand is waterfalls and dinosaurs and I think we need to take that a step further.”
McPherson believes in order for the museum to continue, the province has to step in for the research. He said, “I have no problems with the museum and the town supporting the museum. My problem with the museum is the paleontology. I think that part of it should be provincially funded. I don’t think the tax payers of Tumbler Ridge should be paying for digging up the bones.”
Holmlund believes, “We need a stronger direction from the community. I believe the museum is a worthwhile project, but we have spent a lot of money and I think the community should have a strong direction.”
The direction of the questioning then turned to the dollars. Mayor Wren asked, “What would you do to increase revenue and cut costs to pay for ideas?”
Bourdeaux admitted, “I don’t know a lot about the financial ends in the municipality and how that works, but I do know there are opportunities out there provincially. We need to be looking at those things. If we raise our taxes and lower our costs, people are going to get upset. We need to look at what kind of costs we are cutting back on that aren’t going to do a lot of damage to services that are already out there.”
Holmlund says, “I haven’t necessarily said or promised increased services. Council is working on the budget at this point in time. You set the mill rate and you go from there. You look at what we can afford and what we need. It is a process that council must go through.”
McPherson turns again to industry saying, “I know you can’t increase spending without revenue and there is one way to do that I guess — get industry to put up the dollars for what we need.”
Schembri says growth breeds more growth, “As the community grows, your tax base grows, and your services will grow. I think encouraging the re-building of the chambers so that business is drawn into the community, and increasing our tax base.”
For some community members who attended, this event was very worthwhile, because it gave them a chance to really hear the candidates. One of these people was Roxanne Braam. She said after the forum, “When I had voted in the first election I just voted for people I thought would do a good job based on their reputation. This time I did have that same bias in my head, people I thought would do well based on reputation. By actually being there, hearing them talk, I realized my initial opinions were far off. I wound up changing my mind on who I was voting for by the end of the forum.”
Voting day is scheduled for Sat. Jan. 19, 2013 with advanced voting available on Mon. Jan 14, 2013.
Get out and vote!