It was a packed house at an all-candidates municipal forum hosted by the Quesnel and District Chamber of Commerce at the College of New Caledonia on Wednesday, Sept. 28.
All four candidates running for mayor were in attendance, as were the 12 candidates running for councillor.
The first half of the forum, moderated by Ruby Derksen with assistance from the Quesnel Toastmasters, began with mayoral candidates Bob Simpson, Brian Waters, Ron Paull and David Schile, each receiving up to three minutes to provide opening comments.
Incumbent Bob Simpson wished all candidates the best of luck.
“I hope that all of you and whoever else watches this ends up getting a candidate that you can get behind and feel comfortable voting for and shares your vision, your aspirations for the community,” Simpson said, noting he was first elected mayor in 2014 running on a platform for change in the community in transition.
“That agenda for change over the last eight years has resulted in the restructuring of the city’s finances, our ability to attract very large grants, and we’ve also created partnerships to be able to collaborate in finding solutions to make sure that Quesnel will remain a resilient, vibrant community that will continue to attract visitors, residents and investment. The challenge that we have, of course, is some members of our community don’t necessarily embrace that change, and I understand that’s difficult, but as a council and particularly the mayor’s role as a leader, we are compelled to build the community for today, not yesterday, and we have to build a community that’s resilient against tomorrow’s challenges.”
Waters said he has a bunch of ideas he wants to push forward and see a future with, claiming a lack of oil and resources.
Paull noted his decades of experience, including 17 years on city council, that has well prepared him for the role of mayor.
“Energy, enthusiasm, experience and endurance are assets that I offer along with an extensive background in community and regional issues,” Paull continued. “My only promise is to put people before politics, encourage open and honest government and treat all fairly and equally, respect different philosophies and views, and not be afraid to ask and answer the tough questions, openly admit my mistakes and give straight answers.”
Paull said spending was his main issue in past elections, and he disagreed that they need so many in-camera meetings and would work towards live streaming regular council meetings.
Schile also thanked everyone for coming out and said he was running on a different campaign and platform from what is usually seen in Quesnel.
Schile envisions forming city-owned businesses that would generate revenue for a sustainable future with food security and lowered living costs, eventually eliminating the need for taxes.
“It’s an ambitious plan, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” Schile, calling himself a business owner who has started more than one from scratch. “Together, we can do it, and with communitywide resources, we can achieve this.”
The mayoral candidates were each given up to two minutes to respond to questions by the Quesnel and District Chamber of Commerce and submitted before the meeting by the public.
They included what they would do to ensure local developers get the first opportunity to be awarded requests for proposals and how they would mitigate the impacts of a global food shortage on Quesnel residents.
Candidates were also asked to describe their leadership style and how they would work with councillors to ensure all views are being respected.
Paull said his leadership style would differ greatly from the present leadership style and does not believe it necessary for the mayor to sit on all committees.
Schile described himself as a teacher who is direct and inclusive of the views of others, making sure everyone is heard.
Simpson called himself a serious leader with high expectations of council members who need to come to council meetings in form, stay focused on community business and not history telling but the now and the next and challenges of the community.
Waters said if anyone got on his nerves, he would let them know and expect the same from others.
Candidates were asked where they stand on homelessness and what they feel needs to be done.
Schile called homelessness a complex issue but said any social program could be permanently funded through the revenue generated by city-owned businesses.
“Homelessness at its root is a societal issue, and it’s a failure of our economic system,” Simpson said. “Our economic system is creating such a great disparity that the uber-rich are getting uber richer and leaving more and more people behind.”
Simpson said it is vital to understand not all homeless people are suffering from mental health or addictions but are seniors or single mothers.
He said while council, over the past eight years, has worked hard with Northern Health, BC Housing and other service providers to get every available resource from the provincial and federal governments, they are not getting ahead of the problem.
Simpson called the decision by council rejecting a proposal by BC Housing to rezone the Ramada Inn for supportive housing and emergency shelter use illustrative of that. He said the city is using $100,000 in provincial COVID-19 funding to work with the four local First Nations on a strategy for homelessness that would see housing correctly positioned in the community so they can say yes the next time BC Housing comes forward.
Waters said the adjacent parking lot to Seasons House should be developed into a detox centre.
Paull, meanwhile, said that while he does not have all the answers to addressing homelessness in the community, he would be ready to engage in difficult conversations in search of solutions.
Candidates were also asked if they would consider moving the gold pan across from the Quesnel Visitor Centre back to its former location at Highway 97 north.
Simpson responded with a resounding ‘no’ and said its current location is part of the city’s overall tourism and long-term strategy when the Quesnel highway interconnector project is built. The gold pan move should not be “the issue” in this election, he said, adding there are many other important issues to address in the community such as job losses in the forestry sector, food security, climate change and more.
“Those who have the luxury of determining who they vote for mayor on the basis of a gold pan live in a pretty entitled world,” Simpson added.
Waters said he would ‘airlift’ the gold pan back.
Paull called the gold pan dear to his heart and said he would move it back subject to “if it is the will of the people and the city council.”
Schile suggested leaving the gold pan where it is as moving would result in expenditures, questioning if it would be possible to build a different sign at its former location.
Candidates were also asked about their feelings on city workers being out of a job long after COVID-19 vaccine mandates have been lifted, what they would do to get them back to work and why mandates remain in place for city employees, contractors and volunteers.
Simpson noted that is not a place for mayor and council to have any involvement and said all candidates should understand the legal framework of the office they are running for. He said the original decision regarding a vaccine mandate was made by the city’s manager, who believes it is still necessary to continue.
(Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a clarification on a comment by Bob Simpson regarding the gold pan.)
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