Forum candidates take questions from the public

Dianne St. Jean

An all-candidates forum was held in Valemount on Wednesday, Oct. 4 at the Valemount Secondary School.

The evening began with each candidate introducing themselves and their platform. Mayoral candidates - Andru McCracken, Sandy Salt, Owen Torgerson, Peter Reimer; Council candidates - Hollie Blanchette, Sheri Gee, Eugene Jamin, Donnie MacLean, Pete Pearson, Rita Rewerts, Nathan Smith; RDFFG Area H candidates - Dannielle Alan, Ben Hunter; SD57 Robson Valley Region - Harold Edwards, Bob Thompson.

Afterwards candidates answered written and open-mic questions from the public. The moderator for the event was Tanya Russell from the Chamber of Commerce, and she did an excellent job at keeping time and order. Thanks also to the local Toastmasters chapter for timekeeping.

Forum candidates take questions from the public
Dianne St. Jean photo

The following is just a brief synopsis and does not include questions or responses that have already been covered in the candidate’s platform or repetitive and similar responses. Some comments are included to provide varying detail. Questions posed by the public were mostly addressed to mayoral candidates. Not all questions or responses are listed due to space restriction. The entire forum can be viewed on VCTV.

One of the first questions was whether candidates viewed Valemount as being an inclusive community. All agreed that Valemount is already a very inclusive community, but that there are still areas that need to be worked on in terms of communication, working together and listening to each other.

The main issues raised were housing, childcare, and air quality.

All candidates agreed strongly that housing is at a crisis point. As for solutions, candidate Salt mentioned that it was a topic of discussion at UBCM as it is also a provincial concern, and they are having conversations about it. This was re-iterated by candidate Reimer.

“There is a solution already in the works,” said candidate McCracken, “[This] Council didn’t look at the proposals. One example is if you build commercial on 5th you can build residential above it.”

Next in order to respond was candidate Torgerson, “If you can’t breathe the air it doesn’t matter what kind of housing you have, especially in winter.” People shouldn’t have to choose between health and money. He’s working toward plans for brining gas to Valemount as well as pursuing geothermal. 

The issue of air quality was raised from the public later during Q & A from the floor. Candidate Smith commented that this is important to him and invited people to discuss it with him through social media.

Candidate Reimer stated that perhaps government programs could be implemented to upgrade and improve wood burning practices to lower emissions and lessen the impact of harmful burning practices. Wood stove exchange programs were specifically mentioned by candidates Blanchette and MacLean, and MacLean did note that previous exchanges just were not incentive enough as the exchange was too low for it to be worth it for homeowners. It was agreed by all candidates that there is a need to get the community together on this and help improve burning practices and of course, encouraging the development of geothermal as an alternate source of energy.

The other main issue was childcare. Candidates Reimer and Salt made reference to newly proposed provincial programs designed to help meet the need for childcare space which includes staff training. Candidate Torgerson reiterated the need for expansion in childcare as childcare produces more jobs that result in added revenue through taxation that helps to support Village infrastructure. McCracken also said that solving the problem is going to create some jobs.  The topic was mentioned particularly by candidate Rewerts in her response to the question to the candidates on how they envision Valemount bridging the economic gap with the cost of living.

“Affordable childcare plays a role,” she said. “Low cost camps help families to save money for parents especially in the summer when child care costs can be a challenge.” She also said she felt this was not sufficiently supported by current council.

Other responses by both mayoral and council candidates on building the economy of Valemount:

Donnie MacLean: There needs to be a focus on attracting industry that pays more than tourism (wages). She especially mentioned the high-tech sector. “We need that here.” 

Andru McCracken: “Aggressively pursue a resort”, but carefully in regards to raising taxes and expenses, especially for seniors and those who are not participating in the economy. 

Sheri Gee: Echoed the need to be diligent in not losing focus on the ‘little people’ and those on lower-fixed incomes especially.

Peter Reimer: Good financial stewardship is a necessity starting at the Village Office, and keeping within budget.

Sandy Salt: “As a council we can make sure to keep within our means and budget – try not to raise taxes any more than necessary, especially as hydro and fuel and other costs go up. Also it will take bringing in a more diversified economy. We need other companies and organizations to come in and supply a living wage.”

Pete Pearson: “Start at the village level with cost control – no tax increases; attract small business and value-added industry. Finding affordable energy is one key – high speed internet as well. We need to improve our connection speed. We also need affordable daycare.”

Nathan Smith: Real estate prices are unrealistic. “Section off a sector of our real estate and have a small footprint.” There is a need for better high speed internet, which facilitates working from home, which helps with the problem of childcare.

Hollie Blanchette: “Keep promoting Valemount as much as possible to attract developers and investors. Let’s keep going, we’re doing great. What we’re doing is working. We just need to do more of it.”

The SD57 Robson Valley representative position is new. Candidates were asked about what they believe the new position will entail, and what experience they can offer. Candidate Edwards has experience as a teacher. “Some of the issues are just financial.”  Thompson said they would be implementing policy for the entire School District. “It’s about innovating, also helping other trustees to see the differences (rural communities) face.”

On the question of the legalization of marijuana, no decisions have been made by current council. All agreed that a lot of community input and dialogue is needed to make those decisions.

And sorry, all agreed that Valemount at this time cannot support a public pool.