Jobs the topic at All Candidates Forum

Economic development and jobs were foremost in the minds of the public who attended the District of Barriere All Candidates Forum

District of Barriere incumbent Mike Fennell

District of Barriere incumbent Mike Fennell

Over 100 people turned out for the All Candidates Forum hosted by the Barriere and District Chamber of Commerce at the Lions Hall on Thursday, November 3.

Although the largest percent of those in the audience were residents of the District, other members of the public attended from areas outside the District, such as Louis Creek, Dixon Valley, Darfield, and McLure.

Moderator Harley Wright opened the forum with an overview of the Rules of Order, and then each candidate was given three minutes to make an opening statement.

Incumbent Mayor Mike Fennell told the audience that he had received a roadside suspension for drinking and driving on Oct. 29,  when he was stopped in a police road check on Agate Bay Road. “I know I made a terrible decision, and I regret it immensely,” said Fennell, “I have spoken to the newspaper, and my statement is already posted on the Star/Journal website.”

Fennell apologized to his constituents and asked that the audience give the other candidates an opportunity to present their platforms at the forum, rather than focusing on him.

He also stated that his platform is to support community living, economic development and bringing jobs to Barriere.  “This is what we have done for the past four years,” said Fennell, “And don’t forget, the mayor only gets one vote on council.”

Mayoral candidate Bill Humphreys opened with a brief bio and then stated, “My wife and I kept coming back to Barriere, and then we decided this was it.”

Humphreys moved to the community two years ago, “I really do care for Barriere”.  He noted he had spent the past two years involved in a committee working on the OCP, and now that it is almost completed said, “I’m still interested in the community.  There is no further ramp up for me to learn the job – I already know how. ….We have to maintain the parks…To go forward with plans that aren’t agreed upon by everyone – I can’t tolerate that.”

Candidate for councillor Kathy Campbell said, “I believe what was intended in 2005, as strongly as I do today.”

She also noted, “Three years have passed but the people of Barriere are only seeing more waste and higher taxes. …I believe what the people need and want is accountability.”

Candidate for councillor Bill Kershaw said, “Since incorporation we have received annual increases on our property tax.  I blame this on being overly enthusiastic.  It is imperative to have long term plans.  I would like to see updated bylaws…. and a downtown redevelopment plan.”

Kershaw said he cares about cost control, has extensive knowledge of the community, “and can stick to a budget”.

Candidate for councillor Doug McGregor said he has lived in the community of Barriere for 24 years.  Before that he spent seven years on a municipal council in Alberta.  He stated he has extensive experience building roads, running his own business, owned a hotel, and had a highway contract for keeping the brush down for many years.

“I think I have a lot to offer the people of Barriere if I was a councilman,” said McGregor.

Incumbent for councillor Pat Paula said, “Barriere is our home, and you and I can plan for our future together.” She noted Barriere needs safe drinking water, and expanded sewage systems and septic needs. “We will be maintaining our roads in 2013, and we are working to bring them up to acceptable levels and maintain them; and we have started saving for our road future..”

“Local government cannot operate at a deposit anymore than you can,” said Paula, “Fact: your tax bill is determined by the value of your property.  Local government has no input towards that, and 60 per cent of your tax bill is not a charge by the District.”

Candidate for councillor Amanda Sabyan said, “Barriere is a close-knitted community…. How can you represent the community?  Encourage economic development and make Barriere a nicer place to live.  Jobs, more local jobs, support local business…Work on these issues, and make it a more enjoyable place to live.  I will deal with your issues and concerns to the best of my ability.”

Incumbent for councillor Virginia Smith said in her opening statement, “I have chaired, or sat on, every committee that council has, except for Public Works; and I don’t know how I missed that one.”

“…Have we moved too quickly?  We did the best we could. …We have to be very responsible about the type of industry that comes to our community; but yes, we do need jobs.  I can’t promise that taxes won’t go up, but I am only one vote on council. I can promise I will continue to work as hard as I have, and I intend to continue to do that.”

Incumbent for councillor Ward Stamer noted he has lived in Barriere for 40 years.  “I’m proud of how far Barriere has progressed…. The Agriplex is a shining example of how Barriere bands together….  The manicured parks, the bandshell.”

Stamer noted the District had successfully applied for and received, …”over $800,000 in government grants.  We have made improvements to infrastructure, water and roads.”

He stated he felt the District had done a really good job on the OCP.  “Now we have to implement that plan.  There is still some work to be done in the parks…. and we have applied for grants for that.  We have also applied for grants for water and sewer upgrades, and are bringing are roads up to acceptable standards before 2013 when we take them over.”

Incumbent for councillor Glen Stanley said, “I have spent 50 years in Barriere, and have noticed a great change in Barriere since we incorporated.”

He noted that the changes have in most part been a result of the grant monies procured by the District.

“We’ve made great steps – water lines, two new wells, the parks in the community.  The OCP is almost done, and we have hired a building inspector that we share with Sun Peaks.”

He stated it was important to be “open, honest, and transparent”.

“I want to keep tax increases to the minimum, but also realize taxes do sometimes need to increase to bring us the amenities we want.  I am a tax payer just like you.”

The balance of the forum was questions from the audience, with the public limited to one question each that was to be answered by all of the candidates.

The main theme of the questions asked by the audience was on the topic of what is being done to increase economic development and bringing jobs into the area?

Gary Levine asked, “Who can tell me what you are going to do about getting jobs?”

Stanley said, “We are working to develop the Tolko site as soon as it is put in our name.  We have an economic development person working for us who is diligently working with the Asian market to bring in industry and create jobs.”

Smith noted she is the chair of the Barriere Professional Recruitment Committee, which has its own website where people can find out how to start a business in Barriere, and find useful links to the District website.  “It’s important to make it inviting and easy for new business.”

Paula noted, “It’s slow to happen, the wheels of higher government turn very slowly”, but said she was attending a number of community to community forums throughout the valley, and partnering with neighbouring communities on the subject of economic development.

Kershaw said, “We have to work on the community being a good place to come to and work here.  We don’t need Louis Creek to be our spot, we have our own industrial park.”

Campbell said, “It goes back to the OCP.”  She noted the Southgate site “seemed to be ongoing” with problems that delayed development of the park.

Humphreys said, “Our strengths here are forestry, agriculture, and the businesses we have in town. We need to have young people start their jobs and apprenticeships right here locally with assistance from the government.”  He noted that he felt the District could help this process by assisting with the immense amount of paperwork that would be required.  “We can’t rely on the industrial site at this time.”

Fennell said, “We need jobs.  You can’t bring people in if you can’t offer them something.”

He noted that since the 2003 fire the Chamber of Commerce has received sponsorship of $600,000, and the District of Barriere has contributed to $25,000 annually towards the Chamber to be used for economic development. “We [District] have created more economic development here in the past few months than has been accomplished in years. Mr. Levine, I’m for you – we need jobs.”

Another question asked was, “What is anyone doing about the boarded up buildings in Barriere?”

Stamer answered, “I don’t like boarded up buildings either, but a lot of other communities are in the same boat.  It shows the importance of bringing competitive businesses to the community.”

Kershaw said, “I’d like to see that become part of our downtown revitalization.”

“HY Louie probably doesn’t want to sell it because of capital gains,” said Humphreys.

Fennell said, “If we bring enough jobs into town maybe Hy Louie will open up again.  Jobs – our council has beat it to death.” He noted that jobs are needed in the community to bring in more residents, “Our community is made up of 50 per cent seniors, but we have to keep taxes down for seniors.”

Sidewalks along Barriere Town Road were also asked about.

“Sidewalks depend on who you elect to council,” said Humphreys, “I like sidewalks.”

Paula said, “It’s a question of finances.  It’s always a give and take – you can’t have what you can’t afford.  We have to look forward and budget.”

Smith said, “I too like sidewalks.  But the big issue is how do we afford to put them in?  How do we clean them in the winter to avoid liability?”

Stamer said, “Sidewalks are very expensive, and are expensive to maintain.  They are also a problem with where the water goes until we get a sewer system.”

Stanley said, “When they repaved Barriere Town Road they did make the shoulders wider to help get walkers and scooters off the side of the road.”

A question was asked about the chlorine in the water system, and several other questions also related to bringing industry and jobs to Barriere.

Sabyan and McGregor passed on answering a number of the questions asked as they felt they did not have enough information to be able to speak on the subjects.

The Moderator called the forum to an end at 8:30 as no intermission had been held as was originally planned for part way through the session.