Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chances session expands on the issues

Perhaps they'll change their slogan to Politics is Good!

Sunday’s all candidates forum at the Chances Convention Hall provided the second chance for Prince Rupert residents to get to learn a little bit more about those that are seeking our votes on Saturday.

Not surprisingly considering the state of economic affairs in the city, the economy became one of the key discussion points on the night.

From infrastructure, taxation and economic development through to the possibility of selling off city assets much was put up for examination, though with such a limited amount of time and a lengthy slate of candidates, details were few and far between.

Of the issues that were discussed, the economic development one is of keen interest to a struggling community. With the city having appeared to be travelling a path where it was left to the likes of the Container Port and Ridley Island’s infrastructure to create the jobs, it would appear that the prospect of economic development from the municipal point of view may be on the front burner again.

The city hasn’t had much in the way of success in attracting any form of new industry on its own over the last few years, despite the number of fact finding missions and showing the flag exchanges that council has sent Mayor Pond out on over the last few years.

The one shiny item in the job creation window was the much anticipated and then cancelled Shopping village of Highway 16, the key talking point for the last time we went to the polls in 2005. The issue that seem to galvanize the debate three years ago, with the Mayor challenging council to bring in the big boxes lest we lose more ground to Terrace.

Since that time, the economy has stumbled some more, the downtown shopping district is a ghost of its past glories and the long time existing industries such as the forestry and the fishery have reached a crisis level.

Yet economic development seems to have been little more than a slogan it seems, with little substantial industry attracted to town to provide the expectation of progress.

It was the need for jobs that the two mayoralty candidates approached on Sunday, with Jack Mussallem looking to assist that goal by increasing the city’s profile and hiring a new economic development coordinator, while his opponent Don Scott was stressing the need for partnerships with such groups as Hecate Strait Business Development Community Futures and other governmental agencies in order to improve the climate for business in the city.

For good measure as far as election time rhetoric goes, Mr. Scott raised the prospect of the Tsimshian Access project, the largest of flags that soon to be former Mayor Herb Pond has flown for the last number of years. It proved to be a popular talking point for a number of the candidates on Sunday.

The bridge or access initiative as it’s become known by lately, always seems to be high on the political radar at election time, only to languish in some kid of political purgatory between elections, tantalyzing us with its potential; but never seeming to come anywhere near to the development stage.

The night’s events featured many twists and a diversion of opinion among the candidates as for what might be best for the city.
The Northern View provided extensive coverage of the forum from its on line portal, while The Daily News reviewed the happenings of Sunday night with a front page headline story in Monday’s paper.

Second all candidates meeting gives them a chance to explain ideas
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Monday, November 10, 2008
Pages one and three

Chances gaming centre was home to the second all-candidates forum Sunday and all but one candidate was in attendance to answer questions on a wide spectrum of issues facing the City of Rainbows.

Infrastructure continued to be a major issue as candidates agreed that more needs to be done to ensure roads, sewer lines, and social centres receive appropriate attention.

But how would they do that while balancing the budget?

Mayoral candidate Don Scott said there are taxation issues, and the city needs to do more to encourage jobs and hence more people earning incomes in town to add to the city's tax revenues, rather than hiking taxes on a hurting populace to increase infrastructure spending.

His competitor, Jack Mussallem, said he would first put a restricted covenant on Pillsbury House, would offer the old museum up for sale and move the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District office to the longhouse, and hire a grant writer so the city can get funds from other levels of government.

That question bled aptly into another important concern - the city's economic fortune.
Both mayors tried their hands at answering the question.

"We need to get a new economic development coordinator. I would also update the city's community profile and right now the city does not have one, which is a tool used to plan the city's future," said Jack Mussallem.

Mussallem said that with such a plan, the city could move forward on initiatives because it would have guidelines to follow through such a plan.

Scott had his own planning ideas, claiming a three-year plan would be one answer.

"Begin with a three year strategic plan," he said. "Building on the work by Community Futures, Hecate Strait development society, lobby other government levels, access the northern development initiative and finally move forward on the Tsimshian Access Initiative."

Council candidates also answered.

"Jobs at all-costs is not acceptable to me. I see there are too many lenders too close to business. I find it atrocious that people have to lower themselves to borrow money from them. I understand that you must have a diverse economy, not bank on big deals," said challenger Joe Viscount.

Another challenger, Anna Ashley, said that the city needed have an economic transition strategy.
"Let's face it," she said, "we need to look at diversification for our community. We also need to focus on our downtown revitalization economy."

Incumbent Tony Briglio said: "In order for business to come to town we have to set the scene and I think the previous council has done a good job. It's not just about Prince Rupert. It's about the entire Northwest coast. We need to work together."

The forum also focussed on crime.

But the quote of the night belonged to local bus driver Mario Castelli, who said even if he did not win a seat he wanted to have a positive effect.

"If nothing else, please take the bus and go green," said Castelli.

Candidates face off in second forum
By Shaun Thomas - The Northern View
Published: November 09, 2008 11:00 PM
Updated: November 09, 2008 11:50 PM

For the second time in a week, candidates seeking office in the 2008 Prince Rupert municipal election gathered to answer questions on issues facing the community during a November 9 forum.

The forum, which was attended by all of the candidates except Jason Shellenberg who was said to be sick, consisted of four questions endorsed by the editors of both print media in town as the questions most pressing for the community that were to be answered by everyone in a randomly drawn order. And while the format brought out some agreement amongst those vying for office, it also illustrated some differing opinions on the future of Prince Rupert.

The first question dealt with each candidate’s top priority and main focus if elected. Mario Castelli said his top priority would be the tourism plan to put more money and jobs into the city, Gina Garon indicated it would be getting the city’s finances in order to start moving in the right direction, Nelson Kinney said his top priority would be “opening the highway” to draw more businesses to the community, Gabe McLean pointed to the aging infrastructure and a plan to encourage investment, Joe Viscount said his top priority would be addressing safety concerns related to infrastructure and social concerns, Anna Ashley said it would be rebuilding the economy to “turn the corner”, Tony Briglio said he would push for a balanced community plan to build a strong economy, Joy Thorkelson said that “economic development has to be the main priority” for jobs and to grow the tax base, John Purdy pointed to building small business and growing the tax base, Paddy Greene also said economic development was key, Kathy Bedard said her priority would be managing the city’s debt to allow for more matching grant money, Erika Rolston said reducing “poverty that plagues Prince Rupert and the Northwest” would be key, Sheila Gordon Payne also indicated reducing the debt load was the top priority, and George Sampson said the priority would be a protocol agreement with First Nations communities around social issues. Mayoral candidate Don Scott said establishing a strategic plan for the next three years would be priority while his opponent, Jack Mussallem, said “getting council working together as a team” would be his priority.

On the question of balancing budgetary and tax concerns with the need for infrastructure replacement and community programs, Scott said economic development and new businesses would be needed, Gordon-Payne noted that she is open to long term borrowing to do the work before it is an emergency, Viscount, Thorkelson, Bedard, Greene, Purdy and Briglio said lobbying both senior governments would be key, Mussallem and Garon both alluded to selling some city properties and hiring a grant writer for the city to get more money for the city, McLean said a community discussion would be needed, a thought Castelli took a step further to proposing a referendum, Sampson was one of several who pointed to the need for a plan, Ashley said there were a number of things that could be done, Rolston said working with community groups and lobbying could take care of some concerns, and Kinney said prepping city land to attract new business, which he says cost the city the Royop development, would increase the tax base to offset costs.

On the question of vandalism and crime, Rolston, McLean, Briglio and Ashley said addressing social shortfalls in conjunction with enforcement was the key, Mussallem said he would meet with the Ministry of the Attorney General to discuss policing and young offenders legislation, Castelli, Gordon-Payne and Thorkelson said we needed to determine who was doing the crimes to address the problem, including speaking to those being impacted, Viscount said putting more youth workers on the street would help, Greene and Sampson both supported cameras downtown as part of the solution, Bedard said the community as a whole needs to step up to help fix the problem, and Scott, Garon, Purdy and Kinney said community forums would be held to look at the issue, possible solutions and options.

On attracting new businesses and jobs, McLean said the city should act as a partner with interested businesses, Bedard, Kinney and Gordon-Payne said providing training to the current residents was key, Thorkelson, Briglio, Rolston and Garon stressed the importance of working with the region, Greene said more should be done to more include the people in town in economic development, Purdy said a plan was needed and that a fixed link to the airport would provide value-added opportunities, Mussallem said to focus on Prince Rupert’s “world trade advantages”, Ashley said an economic transition strategy was needed as traditional resource jobs falter, Castelli said jobs in the new green economy were needed, Scott said planning, partnering with the region and the fixed link were all important, Sampson said working with First Nations would be needed to attract industry and Viscount said “jobs at all costs” was not acceptable, citing lending locations near social assistance offices.

The forum will be aired at five and eight p.m. on November 12 and 13 on Channel 10.

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