The All Candidates Forum took place on Wednesday, October 29th at the Mount Elizabeth Theatre. This year, it was hosted by the Rotary Club of Kitimat and the format had changed from the last couple of forums.
Questions were accepted by the panel in advance and each question was asked to two different candidates. If a candidate heard a question which they had an answer for, they used one of their limited number of rebuttal cards to be able to speak. Each candidate had an opportunity to introduce themselves and an opportunity to give closing remarks.
Council Candidates went second.
Jack Riddle introduced himself as a retired RCMP Officer who served in BC for 24 years. He stated Mayor and Council work hard to come up with solutions. His focus will be on jobs. He stated council needs to be proactive on jobs. The Council also need to look at water access. He said Kitimat has a Deepwater port and a railroad, but while looking at Jobs, they cannot lose site of the environment, as people can neither breath polluted air or drink contaminated water. He promised to work for jobs which are environmentally friendly. He said people are finding it difficult to access appropriate housing and this needs to be front and centre. Finally, he said the local government must limit closed meetings in order to be transparent.
John Powell stated he was a local boy who left Kitimat and came back. He promised to bring common sense to local politics. He expressed there needs to be emphasis on economy, safety education and housing. He wanted to see Kitimat be a strong and multicultural community, which specialized in family and age friendly activities. He wanted to see beach front for the community and long term unionized jobs.
Mario Feldhoff expressed the last couple of years had been very busy. The rapid industrialization made Councilís lives interesting. They have attending strategic planning workshops, attending LNG and community information sessions, going through zoning proposals and dealing with social housing challenges. He is expecting the next few years would be challenging. He expressed the challenges remain, and the Council can learn from the Rio Tinto Alcan Expansion and apply the lessons when the LNG sector moves forward. Feldhoff stated there are a number of confidential agreements which are close to completion, and Council should continue its dialogue with NHA. He promised to spend wisely and keep Kitimatís taxes among the lowest in the province.
Mary Murphy said she was a long term resident of Kitimat who plans to retire here. She stated with the finalization of the Rio Tinto Alcan Modernization Project, there are some challenging times ahead of Kitimat. The community needs to attract sustainable employment and stay positive and support the efforts of the economic development department and community partners. She pointed out there is no final investment from the LNG stated the town needs an aggressive plan to deal with construction workers and an anticipated projected downfall. The community needs to work with all businesses, industries to ensure financial stability, meeting the environmental concerns, social responsibilities and health and safety issues. Council needs to champion reconciliation and address national issues.
Larry Walker stated he brought to the table 13 years of hands on experience as a city alderman. He stated he will be able to get up to speed faster than most people and because heís retired, he has more time to get the job done. He expressed Kitimat was one of the best places he has ever lived, because of the people and the way of life. Growth will continue to come to Kitimat, with the help of the people who act as ambassadors when they promote Kitimat. He promised to help Kitimat get through the boom and bust. In the short term, resolving the housing issue quickly. In the long term, through planning for financial needs and community services. He wants to be a part of the team, not just a spectator.
Amanda Kozak stated she was a second generation citizen who was born in Kitimat and is a wife and mother, a loyal friend, a passionate animal advocate and a committed member of Kitimat. She expressed she has common sense. Through her profession, she has learned to make educated decisions under pressure while keeping the outcome of those decisions in mind. She wants to be able to give people who do not have a voice, a voice. She wants to see the community move forward, reengage with itself, its neighbours and for everyone to look forward to the future to establish a clear vision for Kitimat. They need a framework which will implement a successful growing town. She wants to see critical issues be identified and prioritized and addressed in a timely manner. She concluded by saying the town needs to be set up for a strong and successful future.
Paul Lagace expressed he moved to Kitimat from Ontario 2 and a half years ago. His father taught him the core value and loyalty. His calling is working with youth with special needs, but his front line work in the housing resource sector give him an understanding of the needs in the community of Kitimat. He believes that all the members of the community deserve to be heard and all the people who call Kitimat home should be able to stay in their home. He promised to be an advocate for Kitimat, dialoguing with all people and stakeholders who call Kitimat their home.
Clare Rattee stated she moved to Kitimat 3 years ago. She stated she is not the typical type of person who would run for council, but her appearance does not affect her intelligence or decision making. She said despite being young and in-experienced, she does try to be involved in the community. She helped start the Community Supper Club and helped with fundraisers for the Humane Society. She stated people need a voice on Council and she hoped to be that voice.
Edwin Empinado greeted everyone in the Haisla Language and recognized this forum was taking place on the Haisla Territory. He introduced himself as a Nurse working at Kitimat General Hospital. He said it was a busy year with a lot of time away from family and a lot of hard work, commitment, sacrifice and humility. He wanted a diverse economy which is environmentally friendly and sustainable. The community needs a well created District of Kitimat who can give Kitimat residents the services which are needed. They need solutions on industrial impacts, affordable housing and the cost of rent. They need to lobby governments on the needs for special housing and policies which protects the air and environment.
Rob Goffinet was last. He said he was a member of the community since 1974. During those years, he has tried to be an active member of the community. In his time on Council, the community has had to deal with the shock of losing Eurocan and some of the darker times of its history. Now the town is dealing with unprecedented growth. He hoped his experience will help him if he permitted another term.ENBRIDGE
Walker and Kozak were asked if the financial cost of the Plebiscite was worth the information received to make a decision on behalf of the community of Kitimat.
Walker expressed it was necessary and the money had to be spent. He said there was a split in Council but, while it is a majority, it is also not a direction they should move on without a third opinion and sometimes it is better to error on the downside then rush into something they will regret down the road. He supports the referendum system and the expense.
Kozak said the money could have been saved and instead, there could have been a poll of the community where people can come forward under oath. She said the Plebiscite divided the community in a horrible way and the community needs to come back together despite not voting a certain way. She said in the future, they should do something other than a stark, contrasting vote.
Feldhoff expressed the plebiscite came from the last all candidates forum. He said he would sooner not weigh for or against the project prior to the conclusion of the JRP process. The JRP voted in favour of the project. The community voted against the JRP 3-2 and Feldhoff respected the Plebiscite results. He believes it was money well spent and Council supports the Kitimat Clean Refinery which would create jobs and solve the marine unrest of the Enbridge Northern Gateway.
Riddle stated people voted against the Enbridge pipeline and the Council decided to write a letter to the Prime Minister. Then they said yes to the Black Refinery. There would have to be a pipeline for the refinery but the town voted against it. The only way the oil would get here was through a pipeline.
The big question about Enbridge came up, how will you represent the town in relation to the project. Riddle stated he was opposed to Enbridge because it will pose too many problems to Kitimat and the Haisla are opposed to it at it as well.
Powell stated his experience and knowledge from working in the oil patch, he is opposed to the project as well because the risk was too high and the community needed to have a voice in saying how it goes.
Rebuttal cards shot up. Feldhoff stated the future was with the Kitimat Clean Refinery Proposal. Kitimat is opposed to exporting diluted bitumen, but is in favour of the Kitimat Clean Refinery which provides more jobs and reduces the risk to the Douglas Channel.
Lagace simply said: ďNo Enbridge.Ē He said if they try to push it through, the community could make it difficult.HOUSING
Lagace said housing was the greatest challenge facing the Council. There are people with no place to live, there are people who are renovicted, had their rent raised on them and seniors being forced to leave town. There are people who are working full time jobs who cannot afford to live in Kitimat. He said this should be serious concern to the small businesses who cannot keep their employees.
Rattee said they need a lot of community input and look at the statistics to determine what is wrong and who needs the help. She said it was an important part of what Council needs to do because there are people who are going to have to leave and there are people in the community who do not see this problem for what it is.
Murphy reminded everyone there have been many surveys which tell Council they need to do something about the housing and densification is not well received. They need to look at the OCP and make changes. There have been recommendation from the survey which the government is coming forward with plans. Council is addressing it with 5 plans which they have implemented. She added they lost a lot of money for housing when the Margetts street proposal fell through.
There was a question about how taxing work camps would create an appropriate fund for dealing with the affordable housing issues. Feldhoff stated he has to remain open-minded because this is still in the Public Hearing Process. He stated all the work camps should be treated equally and some of them are already contributing to affordable housing. He stated Council is changing policies and there are other proposals to help Affordable housing. He added Densification is required for housing to be affordable.
Murphy stated she is in favour of camps putting money into affordable housing and all players need to sit at the table to create funding for affordable housing and maintaining it. Non-profit organizations, governments, District of Kitimat and land owners and builders have to be at the table but they need the funding and this is one way they are going to get it. They need to brain storm to get funding into it.
Lagace stated the density bonus from the camps was good for affordable housing. He did not like the camps but living out allowances has put Kitimat in the situation. Housing is being handed down to municipal governments from provincial.WATER ACCESS
One of the topics was about water access. Questions were asked about the closure of hospital beach,
Riddle stated there was not a solution to ocean access. One reason was because people were waiting for a decision from the Regional District and Alcan would not be sharing their property. Powell suggested working with Rio Tinto Alcan to gain access to the part of Hospital Beach not being used by their terminal.
Walker suggested expropriation of property from Rio Tinto Alcan to get water access. He said there was an alternative for a beach, Elmsly Cove. There is a highway being built for Chevron which will be open to the public. He sees the cove as a boat launch and day camping (no overnights).
Goffinet stated if the public loses access to Hospital Beach, the present Council is negotiating with Alcan and Haisla for access to the ocean for the temporary loss of the beach for permanent beach front property. AIR QUALITY
Two of the candidates were asked where they stood on the Sulphur Dioxide Levels proposed from Rio Tinto Alcan. Empinado expressed he was the first councillor at UBCM to ask about what an acceptable level that does not affect human health is. He said they needed to lobby Provincial Government for legislation to protect the air shed.
Goffinet said the increased emissions come from the increased production. Some were going down but SO2 was going up. He sits on two groups which raise the issue constantly at every meeting and he will wait for the groundwork testing of the air shed. He stated that at the moment, they cannot demonstrate the SO2 in not adversely affecting breathing. When it does, they will call for scrubbers.
Riddle expressed there are two women in Kitimat who took RTA to court and appealed the Provincial governments decision to go ahead with those emissions. Council did not represent the public in this case. Two women from Kitimat are fighting it on their own.
Powell said he was informed of a different scrubber system. A wet Scrubber System approved by Environment Canada. It takes the water, injects it into the system and the SO2 mixes with it and creates salt water. It has to cool down before it can be released into the Douglas Channel. He would prefer it if RTA upgraded to the system. SPENDING TAX DOLLARS
One of the questions asked was if the donation to Shames Mountain was worth it. Feldhoff stated Kitimat has a number of recreational pursuits. Shames is not paid for by the citizens of Kitimat and he is not against giving them a small amount of money to give the people of Kitimat a wide range of recreational pursuits. He wants to support shames in a small manner.
On the same question, Murphy explained Kitimat offers many sports activities. She said sports activities within the community need to be supported. When they apply for grants, the Council decides to hand grants out and the grant money is a small price to pay to have the facility in Kitimat.
When asked if community funding is based on first come first served basis, Feldhoff replied he did not think this was true. Groups come to present to Council on their plans and what they want the city to do for them. They look at all the needs and allocate based on community priorities.
Murphy expressed all groups come to Council and submit their needs. Council looks at the budget and allocates it for grants to groups which do the most for the community and for groups who are in trouble and need help.
On the topic of whether it was worth repaving two parking lots when there are no sidewalks in two heavy traffic areas. Empinado stated the paving was being done by the previous council. They value walkways and there are walkways which were condemned. He asked back: How does the Council maintain the sidewalks or should those walkways be condemned? He believed all neighbourhoods should be accessible by walkways.
Goffinet said the Council was concerned about the parking lots. However they were told the underlay was degrading on them. If they were not repaired, it would cost a lot of money later on. The sidewalks did receive an upgrade, but streets like Nightingale need to be redesigned.
One question was about a lack of public washrooms up the hill for walkers. Feldhoff stated this was not a topic which he had thought about. Port-a-potties were installed for fishermen but some were vandalized and are difficult to maintain. He suggested looking at it and asking staff for further information.
Murphy stated she was the chair of the age friendly committee which goes through the needs for senior citizens and was recognized by the government. She put the port-a-potties through the down town area by the river to provide access to walkers. She promised to query the seniors to find out if this was an issue and suggested putting up signs directing people to the public washrooms which are available.
Two of the candidates were asked what they would do to expand recreational activities to youth who do not wish to be a part of group sports. Walker stated there was a youth centre available as a drop in centre. He said the current generation was more into electronics and it is a different culture.
Kozak said she would like to see a movie theatre in the community. She stated there are options out there and try to provide them for people who want to access it. She was not certain how many people access the youth centre and if it is feasible and affordable for it to be run. She thought putting something in that the youth are into these days would better benefit the area.NEW RESIDENTS TO KITIMAT
One of the questions was about promoting a Kitimat that welcomes new residents. Walker said Kitimat needs to be marketed properly. There is only one sign on the highway that advises travelers to visit Kitimat. Across from it is a sign for visiting Port Edwards. He said everyone is welcome in this town.
Kozak said Kitimat needs to focus on family. The town needs childcare, recreational activities and things to bring people out in the winter months. There needs to be school funding so families stay long term and some town beautification and services and jobs to keep families in the town were needed. Fishing and ocean access will keep people in town who can start a small business. JOBS
The candidates were asked about getting government jobs in Kitimat. Lagace suggested lobbying the government. They need jobs which are not industrial and need to think outside the box to branch out.
Rattee expressed she was not sure about how to make those jobs. However, there were a lot of businesses in town which do not have enough employees and there are a lot of people in town looking for work. She suggested government jobs would create more stability in the long term.
Walker said lobbying needs to take place with the federal government. Kitimat needs to be declared a Federal Port which would come with the responsibility for DFO, Search and Rescue, Harbour Control and Environmental Control.
Riddle pointed out the Government was doing away with a number of their water and fisheries positions. Getting these jobs back will not happen due to cutbacks. He suggested the community needs to do something about that.
There was a question on supporting and attracting a commercial sector. Riddle said Council should not be taking the lead in the commercial sector. However, with Kitimat on the Pacific Ocean, the town has an advantage over the rest of BC, access to Asia.
Powell replied the Council does have a role and Kitimat needs to advertise its interest in sustaining the commercial sector.
Empinado said the Council does have a role in growing the commercial sector. He finds the policy obstructs business, and Council streamlined it so staff makes the decision. If the business appeals, it goes to Council.
Rattee expressed Council needs to support the commercial sector and small business. She said it is not easy to open a business in Kitimat and this is one of the only ways the town can be sustainable. She added the zoning is outdated which is creating a problem with housing as well.
Walker said there were a lot of vacant buildings in the industrial area. He suggested a use it or lose it tax. The District also owns some condemned buildings. Finally, there are the absentee landlords who own property which they are doing nothing with.
Goffinet suggested Council can influence business indirectly. Industrial expansion which is committed to thirty to forty years will attract the business. Ocean access and increasing the marina capacity will create a new commercial sector which is overlooked, eco-tourism into ocean and rivers and building on the salmon.
One Question had to deal with the revitalization of the downtown core. Both Riddle and Powell agreed it needed to be done. Riddle said Kitimat is behind in the area. Powell stated there have been too many jobs and families leave the community.
Another question had to deal with all the land being owned by a landowner and wanted to know when the District of Kitimat would open more land for purchase in the service centre for light industrial use.
Feldhoff said there were several large landowners who have control over what businesses come to Kitimat. He said the City Centre could be opening up a bit in the next few years. However, most of the land in service centre is crown land. He suggested infilling rather than outfilling.
Murphy said there are parcels of land being looked at in the down town core, and there are businesses interested in moving into the downtown core. There is land across from Supervalu being reclaimed which they could move forward with. They cannot force businesses to sell the land but they can get proponents to meet with them.
There was a question about what to do with the Hospital lands to maximize itís potential. Walker was quick to point out the city does not own the land. They tried to but missed the bid. He said the Haisla Nation is paramount in this this and if they ask for help, the Council can advise them. If they do not ask for help, they cannot. It is out of the control of the District of Kitimat.
Kozak said the plan for the land went before Council with a restaurant, office building, hotel and a apartment buildings. She hoped it will highlight local artists and create desperately needed housing. She would support it and hoped the community would support it as well.
Feldhoff expressed the city controls the zoning and there is an agreement in place between the city and the Haisla and he is excited by the proposal. He said it was a good thing.RELATIONS WITH OTHER COMMUNITIES
Empinado stated the District of Kitimat communicates with other communities at conventions. They learn the issues and form networks with them. All communities play a role for Kitimat to move forward. They need the neighbouring communities because they have things which Kitimat cannot offer.
Goffinet said Kitimat has a relationship with Terrace, common goals and they have met with them socially and technically. They meet at UBCM and the Local Association. He sees a short coming is they are close with the Terrace and Smithers Councils but have little connection to Prince Rupert. He said they should work on it.
Lagace said Kitimat needs to welcome the Haisla Nation to the table as equals, rather than invite them as partners.
Goffinet stated the Haisla are partners in the same community, who are important to Kitimat. He had faith they are on the same page and economic development and issues which could separate the two communities are bringing them together. He looked forward to cementing a good relationship with them in the next four years.
Murphy stated they need to reconcile with the Haisla. The Council needs an education process so they could understand the issues the Haisla Face and the two groups could heal the bond and move forward.INTERNAL POLITICS
One group of Candidates were asked what they would do to foster a good relationship with the District of Kitimat staff. Lagace expressed the two groups are there to work together, but the Council needs to rely on their abilities and insight. He said Dialogue can be improved but they do a great job and having a great relationship with them will make the Councillors look good as well.
Rattee explained she had sat in on a number of meetings and said there seems to be a disconnect. Information is not getting through the proper channels and there is a lack of communication and understanding. She stated there is confusion when one group is not clear on something.
Empinado said developing a healthy relationship with staff is to remember they are the source for the technical information. He stated he was not an engineer, so he has to respect the input of the engineer. He has to go to the manager if he has questions for the engineer. The Council should not debate the staff in front of the camera. They have to work hand in hand.
Empinado and Goffinet were asked what they would do different then the last Council, of which they were both still members. Empinado stated he respects the time, not the debate. In time, everyone wins and they move forward.
Goffinet phrased his statement that it does not matter which mayor gets selected. They accept the judgement of the public and work with the Mayor at all times whomever the person is to get a working relationship to work on behalf of the town.
Candidates were asked: what was the number one big thing they want to accomplish four years down the line? Riddle stated it would be to get Kitimat recognized as an environmentally friendly deep water port.
Powell wanted to see affordable housing open and available along with long sustainable jobs, a strong economy and the protection of the environment.
Two Candidates were asked to explain what they stood for and stood against. Lagace stated he stood for truth, integrity and honesty. He is against untruth, dishonesty and lack of integrity. Rattee said she stood for the right to be who they want to be, the right to express yourself. She stated she opposes dishonesty.
One question was about how the Councillors would avoid conflict with their fellow Councillors. Empinado expressed it was about respect, ideas and dialog with no hitting below the belt. Goffinet said it was about trust. When they are discordant and compete, it is death. Team spirit is formed by being respectful and having the respect come back. He apologized for appearing acrimonious. CAMPING
There was a question about expanding the camping at Hirsch Creek Park. Lagace expressed anything the town could do to play in the resources would be a good idea so people would not need to go to Terrace. Rattee stated there are a lot of issues about long term campers and bylaws prohibiting it. She expressed it was an important part of Kitimatís tourism and she would work on it as long as they could budget it and make sure it was sustainable.
Murphy stated she was for maintaining and upgrading the campsites. There are funds to upgrade the parks. They improved the sewer system at Radley Park. She added the Hirsch Creek Park is Provincial land, not District Land. They are maintaining it and spending money on it.THE ZONK QUESTIONS
Two candidates were asked what their commitment would be to the Kitimat Community Foundation.
Walker stated he did not know about the community foundation and had no idea what the question was about. Kozak agreed on the grounds she attends Council meetings and did not have enough information to proceed.Each Candidate was given two minutes to close. Their closing statements can be watched on our video site, by clicking the link found here.