Dozens of Barriere area residents poured in the North Thompson Fall Fair Hall on Thursday, Oct. 4, to hear from the nine candidates vying for six councillor seats and two candidates for the mayor’s chair.
The All Candidates Forum was put on by the Barriere & Area Chamber of Commerce.
Councillors Mike Fennell and Ward Stamer are running for mayor, councillors Donna Kibble, Pat Paula, Amanda Sabyan and Al Fortin are re-running and new faces Linda Altenhofen, Judy Armstrong, Rob Kerslake, Scott Kershaw and Shane Quiding are running for council.
Amanda Sabyan was absent from the forum due to an unexpected illness.
After event volunteers were thanked and the Simpcw First Nation council members in attendance were acknowledged, the forum got underway.
Improving infrastructure, affordable rental housing and bringing business to Barriere were common themes throughout the forum.
The candidates unanimously agreed that Barriere needs more affordable housing and more rental units. Each spoke about the importance of being able to house newcomers if the town is going to grow.
Kershaw pointed out that there are over 500 residential lots in town, five of which are zoned for multi-family units. Of those five, four are already developed.
First and foremost, he said the new council will have to re zone properties to give investors the opportunity to build rental units.
Stamer said there are a lot of government funding opportunities for creating housing and that council won’t have to pay out much money. They’ll just have to get the demographics and application together.
Fennell agreed that they’ll be applying for available funding, but suggested that first, they need to get the banks to recognize Barriere as a viable investment or they won’t finance developments.
When asked what they would do with the HY Louie building, the candidates were split on whether to sell it, fix it up to rent it out, or potentially move the district chambers into it.
Fennell defended the purchase, saying the land it sits on was worth the money they paid for it. He said he’s of the mind that half of it would someday house the city chambers while the other half could be rented to business(es).
Paula agreed, the building could be the future site of the district offices and city hall plus other businesses could rent space in it.
Kerslake suggested it would cost a lot to fix the building but that they might be able to get something for it if they find the right business to sell to.
Kershaw was on the same page, saying he’d rather sell the building and collect tax revenue from the business developing it. After all, they can’t tax their own office, he said.
Fortin said they don’t have any money to do anything with that building.
Armstrong said she didn’t think they could get one investor, but perhaps a cluster of businesses could take on that big building. She added that the community fundraised for things like the water park and she thinks they have it in them to take on this building as well.
Quiding suggested a quarter of the building’s space be given to the town’s teenagers.
Kibble was unsure whether it’d be more cost effective to fix it or tear it down, but said they could look into some grants to develop it.
Altenhofen said the building is like dead stock in a store, so they ought to sell it.
Stamer said Fortin’s right, they have no money to develop that building. He said they have a $30,000 municipal hall fund they could put towards purchasing the Ridge if they develop an agreement with the school board. Then he said they could sell the building downtown.
When asked about getting a sign put on Highway 5, to direct traffic to Barriere’s downtown, some of the incumbent councillors expressed their frustration with this process.
Kibble said council has applied for the sign and have been promised it’s coming, but they’ve been waiting for five years to actually see it.
Fennell brought up the sign that still sits within Barriere’s boudaries saying Louis Creek Unincorporated. He said they long ago notified the ministry but it still hasn’t been moved. They may have to move it, themselves, he said.
Voters will head to the polls on Saturday, Oct. 20, however, advanced voting is already underway.