Canal Flats residents consistently heard about the need for economic growth in the village during the village’s all-candidates forum earlier this week.
Every candidate, at one point or another during the Monday, November 3rd session, said that although many Canal Flats residents may not want to see change in the small village, new residents and new businesses are needed if the village wants to be able to maintain and upgrade its services and infrastructure.
“We have to realize tourism is not a bad word. We need to continually try to make our community better — not necessarily bigger, but better,” said councillor candidate Karl Sterzer, adding that building a tourism industry has helped prevent a number of former logging and forestry towns from dying out.
Other councillor candidates and both mayoral candidates agreed with these sentiments, with mayoral candidate Dean Midyette actually making the village’s new economic development plan (which he drafted) the centrepiece of his campaign platform.
Mr. Midyette said his background in sales and marketing made him the ideal candidate for mayor in light of the village’s re-branding efforts, and he criticized several of incumbent mayor Ute Juras’ decisions in the past term, accusing her of waffling on the re-branding plan.
“I’ve got connections in the business community, I’ve got connections with the not-for-profit community. I’ll use these to get things done,” said Mr. Midyette. “What I ask you to do before you vote is compare my plan to Ute’s.”
For her part, Mrs. Juras took a less confrontational approach, highlighting her achievements during the past term as mayor, her decade of experience on Canal Flats council, and her team-oriented style.
“It’s been exciting to have been here (on council) since day one, when we incorporated,” she said. “The mayor and council work together as a team, and the community is an important part of that team. I intend to continue that and I will continue to be approachable and transparent. If you see me on the street and have any questions, you are always welcome to come up to me and ask.”
Mrs. Juras cited her frequently updated Facebook page and her mayor’s message updates as prime examples of how she openly engages with the community.
Candidates were given an opportunity for opening and closing remarks and asked to respond to six questions by forum moderator Doug Clovechok. Although answers often circled back to the theme of economic development and growth, the questions touched on a range of topics, including whether or not the village should consider purchasing the old golf course within its municipal boundaries and what can be done in the future to prevent the village from being sued (as it currently is by Painted Ridge subdivision developer Mike Vernon’s company).
Most candidates said that although the golf course could be a great asset for the village, a better business plan is needed.
“I’m not ready to risk your (Canal Flats’ residents) tax money without a clear idea how we can staff it and run it. You’ve got to present a really good business plan to get this by me,” said incumbent councillor candidate Marie Delorme.
“It could be attractive and would bring in full-time and part-time jobs. But how do we afford this? I’m not sure we can,” said incumbent councillor candidate Paul Marcil.
Councillor candidate Roy Webb was more blunt.
“I’m not in favour of this at all. The golf course hasn’t run for three years, there’d be labour costs and we’d have to build a clubhouse,” he said. “I’m against the Village of Canal Flats going in to pick up somebody else’s mistake.”
On the question of Mr. Vernon’s company’s lawsuit, which has to do with the stalled development of Painted Ridge and is due to be heard in the B.C. Supreme Court in 2015, all current council members chose not to respond, pointing out it was inappropriate for them to comment on a lawsuit that was currently ongoing. The non-incumbent councillors, however, openly offered their opinions, with Mr. Webb saying some kind of settlement with Mr. Vernon’s company must be reached, and Mr. Sterzer (who was formerly Mr. Vernon’s project manager for Painted Ridge) saying it reflects badly on the village.
“A bird in hand is better than two in the bush. And those birds in the bush, they talk and tell other birds that Canal Flats is not a place to get business done,” said Mr. Sterzer. “Mr. Vernon has spent 10 years trying to develop 31 fee-simple lots and that is not acceptable.”
The forum drew about 30 attendees to hear the answers of the two mayor candidates and four councillor candidates. A fifth councillor candidate — Erin Gornik — was unable to attend the session.