Who was the most valuable person at the PAC on Thursday night? The lady working the bell to end each of the council candidates allotted bit of speechmaking. Not that I’m against the concept of free speech, but without that bell, some of the folks on the stage would still be talking in circles for us.
All in all, bringing 17 different opinions together for a two hour information session went fairly well. Though with that many candidates one or two must have seen their platforms verbalized by others at least once or twice. This was one session where going first certainly would at least give you the advantage of fresh material.
The council incumbents, Mr. Briglio, Ms. Bedard, Mr. Cote, Mr. Kinney and Mr. Rudolph seemed to be a bit defensive about their time on council. They frequently dismissed the suggestion that the current council conducted too much of its business in secrecy. They all came to the defense of Mayor Pond, a nod at his kind words about them of the night before. And they for the most part expressed a wish to keep their group together to “finish” the job that “we” have done so far.
Of course, that probably is not likely. There were some bright and energetic people among the remaining twelve participants. Many suggested solid community ideas that need a forum to be discussed and acted upon. Marty Bowles, Joy Thorkelson, Sheila Gordon Payne, Erika Rolston and Steve Fitzpatrick seemed to stake out a fair bit of turf for themselves and put forward their ideas in a clear and easy to understand way. On each of the four issues discussed in the main part of the session, they seemed to have thought out their answers and proposals in a fairly consistent way.
The remaining candidates did an admirable job of presenting their views, but as the evening moved along they seemed to end up simply repeating their lawn sign mantras or merely repeating the blurbs we’ve read in the small box ads in the paper. Frank DeBartolo, Mario Castelli, Brenda Cook, Danielle Dalton, Gabe McLean and Mitch Myers had some good thoughts from time to time, but never seemed to move them beyond their positioning statements. They commented on the issues of the day, but didn’t seem to offer up the same kind of solutions as those presented by Bowles, Thorkelson, Gordon-Payne, Rolston and Fitzpatrick.
Lothar Schiese’s commentaries had some interesting points at moments, but he would frequently go off topic and leave the viewer wondering where the discussion was going and if the bell was going to ring soon.
Tom Harvey did a good job of moderating the night’s entertainment. Using questions selected by the audience, he held a lottery draw of inquisition. Four questions were selected of the nine provided by the PAC Audience.
The four questions were:
How should council address the drug issue in Prince Rupert?
How did they see Prince Rupert developing economically?
How would they address our deteriorating infrastructure?
And what would be our future Development prospects?
The Drug issue provided the general consensus that families need to be more involved in their children’s lives and that the issue involved many aspects of our society. The unemployment rate, dim job prospects, cuts to welfare and such, all have contributed to the issue. The key to the problem is to involve the youth in the strategies against drugs. The elimination of services such as a street worker, the YIT squad, lack of a treatment centre were all pointed to as issues that could help in reducing the problems.
Sheila Gordon Payne, Erika Rolston and Joy Thorkelson seemed to be on the same page on the issue, as they suggested similar ideas in different approaches. Their answers seemed to provide the most information and the most thought out solutions to the problem.
For the incumbents it’s a harder issue to address, as their recent decisions at budget time have to a degree contributed to the problems. The suggestion that an improving economy would help is true, but at the moment doesn’t really address the situation as it is. This after all was what the question was all about.
The Economic Development question brought up the usual suggestions. Reduce red tape; speed up the process to get new business growing. Ken Cote gave the audience a glimpse of the Economic Development Commission budget and how the city got it under control, basically reducing staff and expenditures and by turning the Mayor into a traveling salesman.
Mario Castelli suggested that Jim Rushton move into the Mayors office as a special assistant to the mayor on development. Jack Rudolph strongly suggested we find things to do for the wives of business leaders who apparently won’t come here because of their spouses. This of course leads one to wonder if Mr. Rudolph knows that women are business leaders too and perhaps the men will need some diversions as well.
Sheila Gordon Payne urged for open doors and a partnership with NWCC and UNBC to train workers for the jobs to come. Joy Thorkelson approached the issue with a similar tact, stating that the role of City Hall should be to facilitate the needs of business and labour.
Mitch Myers called for tax breaks for small business and a better marketing plan for the city. Tony Briglio said that we are on the radar screen, because we sent the Mayor out of town to sell our city. Steve Fitzpatrick explored the idea of making Economic Development more of a Regional approach. Kathy Bedard like many others on the stage, called for less red tape from the city and more of a lead role in development. The problem with the style of debate in place on Thursday was that no one asked the question; “why this council had not reduced that red tape enough and taken a lead during its three year mandate”.
The Deteriorating Infrastructure issue was another split between the challengers and the incumbents. The Challengers suggesting that there must be different forms of funding available out there to address the infrastructure shortfalls. The incumbents claiming that if they were available, they would have pulled them all in by now.
Two candidates urged the audience to think of infrastructure as more than just the roads and sewers, social deterioration in the city was the theme of both Sheila Gordon Payne and Joy Thorkelson, both said that approaches should be made to the provincial and federal governments to make both aware of our situations.
Once again the argument was brought forward, that until we grow the tax base we’ll constantly be behind the eight ball regarding our infrastructure problems. Ken Cote said that the problems were not insurmountable, that they need to squeeze the budget a bit more in the short term. Ms. Bedard said we had been borrowing on infrastructure for years and now have made the tough decisions required. Jack Rudolph said that we had a problem that needed to be solved, but didn’t offer up any easy solutions for the crowd.
This was a theme that the incumbents went back to time and time again, the tough choices they have made in the last three years. Still as was pointed out by the challengers time and time again as well, we have bridges in need of repair, sewers in need of repair and roads in need of paving, and no money to do any of it.
The final topic of debate on the night was The Future and what our development prospects might be.
For the incumbents it was a motherhood issue, Kathy Bedard said we had unlimited prospects, the port an engine of our growth reflecting our position as a gateway to Asia and to Canada. Ken Cote pointed to the Uplands development at the Cruise ship terminal as a place to watch for future growth. Nelson Kinney invoked the memory of Iona Campagnola and a musical; we are all to dare to dream the impossible dream. Jack Rudolph said that Alaska may be a key for us; they will want to use our port and our airport. He also said we needed to find more co-operation between fishermen and the city. For Tony Briglio the sky is the limit as long as we don’t drive by the rules of the past and not be restricted by the rules of 24 years ago, a reference to the Community Plan.
As for the challengers, Sheila Gordon Payne picked up on the Community Plan, saying that it should be made more accessible and put into clear language for the community. She again stressed the need for partnerships to make the city grown, with education for the current and future labour pool attracted by our industries. Mario Castelli also had an interest in the Community plan and a need to update it, with the container port in operation he said the world would follow. Brenda Cook said we should not fear development but make sure that our values were known. Mitch Myers stressed the need for small business and new ideas.
Joy Thorkelson stressed links with the First Nations and to strengthen the fish industry, suggesting a more pro active approach with the different levels of government. Gabe McLean said we must move forward and must be successful, stressing as well the need for more links with the First Nations. Danielle Dalton said our future was mind boggling, she envisioned fishing boats with catches, containers moving in and out of the city, children playing and adults working. Lothar Schiese said one key to our future would be delivering health services, making our hospital a destination for health care for out of town people. Frank DeBartolo recapped his position statement of bringing together First Nations, Labour and business together.
Marty Bowles supported the fish industry as it is without Fish Farms, wanted the export of raw logs to stop and suggested we explore alternate energy ideas such as wind power. Steve Fitzpatrick recounted how when he ran three years ago he heard many of the same things. Some of which have been acted upon as we have begun the process of diversification. He suggested support for small business, logging and fish workers. Erika Rolston offered the plan of keeping our forest and fishery economy alive, more employment in seafood and eco tourism and said that council needed to lobby other leves more, to improve government policies that impact on our community.
And with ring of a final bell, the home stretch beckoned. The closing statements, were short and non confrontational, a simple refresher on the candidates beliefs and an earnest appeal for support on the 19th of November.
The challengers made their final declarations, some want to ask the tough questions for us, others to bring some common sense to the halls of government. Some would be committed to working for our community, while others have a vision of greatness of the city. Gabe McLean even vowed to stay after the meeting to answer any questions, though after two and a half hours one suspects that he didn’t have too long of a line up to deal with.
In a final flourish the incumbent’s one after the other said they had made the tough decisions and turned the city in the right direction. Willing to continue to represent our wishes in council, they feel we’ve brought things under control and are about to fulfill a destiny, and one assumes that they would like to be there to see the job through. However, for some that’s something that probably won’t happen.
There are some new faces to city politics making a bid this time, but faces with a good community background and some solid ideas behind them. Some of the incumbents will most likely find themselves replaced on November 20th, despite the suggestion of a need for this team to stay united; there seem to be a few breezes of change in the air.
There has been much talk of late of party politics creeping into the municipal scene here in Podunk, the election results will give us a good idea if that procolmation is true or not. Is there a co-ordinated machine trying to wrest power at City Hall? Or just a group of candidates looking to offer their services to their city, many of whom actually seem to have some common ground to share after all.
It will be interesting to see which of these twelve challengers, will have been able to get their message successfully across and which wind will blow into City Hall after Election Day.