What started out looking like a lacklustre municipal election by acclamation, with not enough people showing up to fill the required number of positions has suddenly turned into a dynamic and engaging campaign between candidates with a lot to offer.
The all-candidates forum put on Nov. 3 by the Chamber of Commerce in participation with the Village of Nakusp and the Arrow Lakes Toastmasters was a well-attended evening that let the contenders show their true colours.
Set up in rows over the bright green floor, the majority of the Arena auditorium’s chairs were filled by citizens curious about their municipal candidates.
The evening’s forum really showed that municipal-level politics are hands-on, where individuals can make their voices heard and effect change that will create differences in their daily life.
The first surprise of the night was Len Heppner’s announcement that he was withdrawing from the race.
Due mostly to his demanding work situation, Heppner had decided he could not guarantee the time needed for council duty, and stepped out of the running. He wished the rest of the candidates the best of luck, and joined the audience for the rest of the evening.
Candidates faced a half-dozen questions compiled from queries given to the Chamber, and a few more from the floor. Each question embodied the concerns of Nakusp residents, and ranged over topics from economics, to the environment and the Nakusp Hot Springs.
There was an overall consensus that the time for action is now, with the current state of transportation via ferry being the greatest block to growth. Agriculture was pointed to as being a region ripe for development, and the need for collaboration between groups seen as paramount in order to move forward.
What role municipal government had in attracting jobs and businesses to the area was the subject of one query, and infrastructure was deemed vital for attracting business here. Also, the lack of a fixed link was universally cited as being a drawback for the community.
Each candidate’s plan for developing a vision to preserve the natural peace and beauty of the area was asked for in one question. Joseph Hughes response was nicely said, that people must have the vision of a peaceful and beautiful place in their heart when they are making the day-to-day decisions in council. From all the candidates’ answers, taking care to preserve the natural splendour around us seemed to be a unanimous position.
After the Chamber questions were taken on, the floor was opened up to anyone to bring their questions before the candidates. The hot topic was the Nakusp Hot Springs, owned by the Village but currently on the market.
Karen Hamling agreed with the questioners that the hot springs was a wonderful asset, but said we can’t develop it on our own, and remarked that only three per cent of locals regularly take a dip in the pool. She also reminded people that in the last referendum a small majority had voted to sell the hot springs and that Village council must be responsive to the public will.
Hans Suhr was clearly against selling what he called our “best asset,” quoting the figure for piping the water down at around $3-5 million, a sum that he believes could be reached through a private-public partnership. He also stated that the cost of the renovation had ended up costing far more than had been projected.
Guy Duchaine said he didn’t believe it was an option to sell it, that we should seek out partnership in order to develop it.
Tom Zeleznick also mentioned the springs were key and we must preserve them, that we are very fortunate to have them, although he wouldn’t go so far as to say they should be taken off the market.
Bob Parkinson said the springs are our number one asset and we should keep it.
Joseph Hughes also though the village should keep the springs community-owned, but that would require more community ownership and more local people using them. He stressed that the springs are a business and need to be run like a business.
Ulli Mueller was open to proposals, and reminded everyone that the debt for the hot springs renovations has not been paid down and more debt is to come in repairs. She said she would not want to take it off the market, but any proposal about keeping or selling the hot springs would be taken to a public referendum.
The next question from the floor was about the kind of businesses and jobs each candidate wanted to bring to the area, and answers were innovative and varied. Hughes brought up agriculture as a local industry, with new needs requiring new housing. Mueller wanted to bring well-paid small manufacturing jobs and focus on tourism jobs in the short term. Hamling mentioned Pacific Insight as the kind of clean industrial business she would like to see move to Nakusp. Duchaine would encourage well-paid manufacturing jobs such as pre-fabricated housing. Suhr embraced all jobs, saying we should start where we can start, noting that well-paid jobs were on the decrease and that we should encourage entrepreneurs to run their businesses here. Zeleznick considered green energy, organic and fish farming as good directions for our future economy.
The night ended with cordial wishes of good will from the candidates, all of whom looked forward to working in the community as part of the council or in collaboration with it as engaged citizens of our town.
Advance election polls will be taking place on November 9, and regular polls will be open November 19.