All the seats were filled for the all candidates forum last Thursday, Nov. 6 in Fort St. James.
The forum was held at Music Makers Hall in downtown Fort St. James from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. and was co-sponsored by the local members of the B.C. Northern Real Estate Board and the Fort St. James Chamber of Commerce.
Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce moderated the forum.
All the candidates running for municipal council attended the forum as did candidates for the electoral area 6 position of School Board Trustee.
Candidates began the forum with an opportunity to present their platform and qualifications via a two-minute speech before moving into a question and answer period.
Candidate Russel Gingrich was the first to speak followed by Dave Birdi, Brenda Gouglas, Kris Nielsen and Brad Miller.
Each candidate spoke on their prior experience within municipal council and other volunteer organizations with the exception of Miller who has no prior experience on council. Miller did outline his plans to take on road reforms and his dedication to “give back to the community” in his speech.
During the question and answer period candidates were asked things running the gamut from drug and alcohol abuse to municipal road repairs and even questions about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The first question asked of candidates revolved around drug abuse, particularly among the youth population of the region, and how candidates would address these issues.
Candidate Gingrich offered “peer pressure and guidance to those individuals with problems” as well as rehabilitation programs put in place in the area could help to solve those problems.
Candidate Birdi said that keeping people active and engaged was a better method to keep them away from substance abuse and conceded that it was not an easy topic to address but that providing services for addicts was important.
Candidate Gouglas echoed Birdi’s sentiments saying services for addicts need to be provided within the Fort St. James community rather than Prince George.
Candidates Nielsen and Miller both agreed with the idea of bringing services to address addiction directly into Fort St. James with Nielsen adding that focusing on the transition back into the community from care should be paramount and Miller saying that an increased level of sports and youth programs would be beneficial.
Despite all agreeing on some form of substance abuse facility in Fort St. James, no candidate gave any specifics on just how they would pay for, implement or organize such a facility within the town.
Moving towards local industry, the question was asked of candidates how they would bring money back into the community citing the fact that numerous outside businesses are profiting from resource development in Fort St. James while the local businesses are not.
Candidate Miller suggested that local businesses and major companies work together to give back to the community in ways such as a joint-maintenance strategy of the North Road which Miller said is primarily used by industry vehicles and should be a responsibility of theirs.
Candidate Gingrich addressed the question with a level of realism stating that while it’s an important issue, there are no easy answers. Gingrich said that his past terms have involved trying to figure out a solution to the problem but that industry remains resistant to commitment. He said if elected he would try to work on “fair share” agreements with the province.
Candidate Gouglas said she would lobby the provincial government for a share of the provincial Gas Tax.
Candidate Nielsen agreed with fellow candidates and said that taxing road use in combination with other strategies would help.
When asked about building the community around the forestry industry, Nielsen stood out saying that the town needs to be a “me first community” and needs to aggressively assert that as a leading fibre basket in the province, they need to be involved in jobs creation and decisions.
All the councillors were well spoken but it was candidates Nielsen and Gouglas that stood out as particularly well-prepared with both women approaching the debate with a sense of professionalism and formality akin to larger elections.
Gingrich did well using his experiences as a councillor to provide real-world answers, even if they weren’t necessarily the answers that attendees wanted to hear.
Birdi came through as someone with a vision for change in Fort St. James focusing on the arts and community involvement to address concerns.
Miller, the newcomer to council, shook off his jitters throughout the night and for what he lacked in experience he made up for in enthusiasm and a willingness to admit that lack of experience but commit to doing his best to learn about issues he was in the dark on. Not once did candidate miller pretend he was informed on something he was not, choosing instead the honest road, saying that he was not in a position to comment but would look into the subject.
Advance voting takes place today at the Fort St. James District Office with election day on Nov. 15.