By: Korie Marshall

All candidates for Area H, Regional District of Fraser-Fort George, from Dome Creek to Albreda, were invited to a forum at the Dunster Community Hall on Nov. 3rd.

The forum was moderated by Marion Cousineau, chair of the Dunster Community Association, who read a statement from candidate Bryan Monroe. Monroe was not able to attend the meeting, as he was still in hospital. The other candidates, Dannielle Alan and Ken Starchuck each presented opening remarks, followed by over an hour of questions and discussion from the two dozen area residents in attendance.

Ralph Bezanson, candidate for McBride Councillor had the first question, about why McBride is “falling down” and “going backwards”; would these candidates be able to work with McBride Council?

Starchuck said there are big things potentially happening in the valley, like geothermal development, Valemount Glacier Destinations, two mountain bike trail systems, all in Area H. He says keeping businesses open and opening more is a challenge we have to keep working at, and things like the new Discover Robson Valley Region marketing initiative will help. Alan said there are over 100 small businesses in the valley, people are already doing wonderful things, and those things will help support the villages – we all have to work together.

One resident expressed concern that marketing the valley to big businesses would take the money out of the valley, how would the candidates work with Chris Dolbec, new marketing manager for the Robson Valley Region, and what are her plans for marketing the valley? There were questions around the three Community Forests in the valley, how Craig Pryor, manager of the Valemount Community Forest, is thinking outside the box with the old Carrier site outside Valemount, and maybe that is something that could happen with the old MFI site, recently under new ownership. There were also questions about how to encourage young people and families; possibilities for seniors housing; and why Barriere has attracted a medical marijuana grow operation when the Robson Valley hasn’t.

The topic that generated the most questions was the library, with over a half hour of questions and discussion. One resident noted that the Regional District provides most of the funding to the region’s libraries, both of which are situated inside the Villages, and both are trying to expand. Why do the Villages have control, even though it is funded by the Regional District and it’s residents, and what influence can the Regional District have on the Villages? One resident said it feels like the Regional District has been on-side with the Village over the issue of moving the library/museum to 521 Main St in McBride, and that no one has gone to bat for the residents outside the village, who have more population than the two villages combined. Residents asked what it would take to move the McBride library to the property between the community hall and rink, and suggested the community hall could be turned into the library. A question was also asked about membership on the Regional District’s board of directors – if the board was to consider anything to do with moving the library, and the Mayor of McBride was publically opposed, would there be any chance the board would approve it?

Following that were questions about the Regional District’s role in attracting doctors to the valley; how the Regional District can work with people and groups to help get things off the ground, like for example a community food processing plant, so they don’t get bogged down in rules and regulations; and the question of a safe highway crossing for pedestrians in McBride.

The forum ended with brief closing statements from Alan and Starchuck.