by Laura Keil
Local government candidates were under the bright lights of the Valemount Community Theatre last Wednesday for the Valemount Chamber of Commerce’s all candidates forum. Tanya Russell from the Chamber moderated the event which attracted roughly 80 people.
In the candidate introductions, there were mentions of affordable housing, seniors care, affordability and a diverse economy, among other things.
Following introductions were written questions and questions from the floor. These included: how to involve youth in politics, how to show Valemount as an accepting and inclusive community, the mayor candidates’ biggest priorities, how to support childcare, how to bridge the economic gap, air quality, marijuana legislation, support for a pool, the existing Council’s track record on consultations, and who would support the youth group V-Crew; there was also a question directed at Mayoral Candidate Peter Reimer about Reimer trying to get reimbursed by the Village for a legal opinion and whether or not he supported LGBTQ2 rights. For SD57 candidates, there was a question about how they see their role in this newly-created trustee position. For Regional District candidates there was a question about cutbacks at the arenas.
The forum is available to watch on Youtube here:
For shortcuts to each question in the video see the Goat’s online story: tinyurl.com/yd9efxv9
Below are the candidate introductions. In brackets after the candidate’s name is the position they are running for and if they are an incumbent. Valemount Council candidates started. Note these introductions are summarized. For the full version see the video.
Nathan Smith (Council) noted the meaning behind the name Valemount – namely, Our Valley in the Mountains, which in his view points to an attitude of ownership, responsibility and community. “I think this is something important, it’s something we discard at our peril.”
Pete Pearson (Council) said he’s lived in Valemount 20 years. He said when he and his wife travel they tell people they live in paradise. He noted the decline after the mill closure, has seen house prices boom with development potentials. Says he doesn’t have all the answers, but looks forward to learning. He noted issues facing Valemount include sustainable industry, affordable housing, having a local hospice, better inter-rural transport.
Hollie Blanchette (Council – incumbent) said her sitting on many committees shows her commitment and involvement in Valemount. She noted the effort of local volunteers and named issues including clean air, affordable housing, living wage jobs, and business growth.
She said Valemount’s future is bright and exciting with small and medium businesses, a successful Community Forest, college classes, and events. She pledged to continue her dedication, integrity and diligence.
Rita Rewerts (Council) said it’s great to see so many people here wanting to be involved and engaged. She grew up in SK in the Tommy Douglas and Diefenbaker years, was taught community is first – if community is strong, everything is better. Things have changed over the years in Valemount but people are still here. She said it’s the nonprofits that have made this town great and increased tourism. “They’ve built marathons, they’ve built bike parks and built all the things that our tourism is hinged on.” She said non-profits have been supported by businesses too.
Eugene Jamin (Council) moved here 45 years ago and he and his wife raised six kids here. He worked at the sawmill and has had different jobs and has volunteered with youth. He made a commitment four years ago to attend as many council meetings as he could. Has a desire to speak up even when it’s uncomfortable and believes all voices need to be heard. He wants to learn more about affordable housing options and advanced care housing for seniors. He thinks the Community Forest mill idea is good news. He named his personal qualities that he will bring to the position.
Sheri Gee (Council) She moved here eight years ago. Her first year she watched many stores close, but over the next few years learned that valemount will never be a ghost town – people here are too resilient, caring and stubborn to give up. She’s seen many fundraisers for community members in need and her family was a recipient, which is her motivation to give back. She is listening to the major concerns and hears housing is a big issue, including for seniors. “We should never have to send our elders away to another community to live when they need supported housing simply because we don’t have a place to put them.” Health care services, the rec centre, greyhound, and jobs were other issues she mentioned.
Donnie Maclean (Council) She said she cares about Valemount and wants to make a positive impact. Has leadership experience running a business and serving on committees. Is the Chair of the CBT Community Initiatives adjudication committee. Wants development orderly and sustainable and for living here to be as enjoyable as visiting here. Notes issues: Housing availability and affordability and economic development and diversity good paying jobs, Need more attention to diverse economy. Likes the format of informal town halls, voters need to be included.
Dannielle Alan (Regional District Area H incumbent) advocated for local SD57 rep, local decision-making for backcountry access and development, supported clean energy, affordable housing and seniors. “I keep saying ‘We’ because I haven’t done any of this on my own,” she points to RDFFG staff and local groups who have worked hard and made a difference. She wants to attract more “valley-friendly industry” to diversify the economy. Wants to bring kids back with new economic opportunities. Wants to support seniors so they can stay in our communities. Said we need vibrant, diverse, healthy, communities and community groups are making it happen.
Ben Hunter (Regional District Area H) His family has lived here 37 years. He left after high school and he came back to the valley recently. In conversations with people he noticed that too many people are working away. “How many people know people who one parent or the other spends 2 out of 3 weeks away at work? Or know families who have had to move away for work? I’d like to turn that around.” Wants conversations about what we can do to keep residents here after school at more than minimum wage. Said people here have the smarts and are already trying to do this and we need to get behind them. He said government cannot create jobs, but it can either support or hinder in the business environment it creates.
School District 57 Trustee
Bob Thompson (SD57 Robson Valley rep) He said it’s his first foray into public service. Said he’s an advocate for education. He said people can’t responsibly participate in civic events if they don’t get support during educational years. He said rural schools and kids with special needs need proper funding. He said it’s important that the school board realizes some things in the big city don’t work as well in rural schools. He said his goal is to be a conduit for parents, students, teachers, administrators to make sure the board members who don’t live here know what we need and to work with them collaboratively to find solutions and do a better job. He hoped people would remember him at the polls and joked that his name only has three letters and two are the same and isn’t as complicated as the name Harold.
Harold Edwards (SD57 Robson Valley rep) Edwards noted it was Bob Thompson’s birthday. Then he got back to his speech and said it’s his job to be a conduit between locals and the school district 57. He was a high school teacher for 18 years in McBride and coached basketball. That experience made him realize the importance of education. He said McBride isn’t in a boom cycle like Valemount, but the job of the trustee rep is to get those ideas moving. He sees interesting things happening in schools, things to help deliver rural education differently and better.
Sandy Salt (Mayor) Spoke of her resume including 4.5 years as corporate officer at the Village, 7 years on Council, and 36 years experience in business accounting and administration. She noted her local government diplomas and government contacts across Canada. She said what makes her a good candidate is her commitment, dedication, proven understanding of conflict of interest, attendance record, and her knowledge from both council and senior administrative at the Village. She said she has a great love and passion for this community and its citizens. She said she brings an openness and willingness to take on new challenges and admit when she may be wrong or has taken on too much. She said she’s patient, persistent, and not afraid of hard work.
Peter Reimer (Mayor) He has worked 42 years in the insurance business and 25 years as a notary. He said he fully understands the issues people are trying to deal in both a personal and professional capacity. He said it’s time for him to give back using skills he’s learned operating a successful business in a small town. He’s willing to devote the time it takes to be mayor and plans to leads a forward-thinking Council that is diverse and work harmoniously in the best interests of the community. The best thing Council can do is to put in place good policy, and get unnecessary bylaws out of the way so people and organizations can build, he said. Promises to work with integrity, honesty, transparency, inclusivity and respect and courtesy.
Owen Torgerson (Mayor) He said municipal government is not easy or straightforward so he asked the crowd to give the candidates a round of applause. He said he was appreciative of the team he was a part of. He said they didn’t always agree but they were a team. He said he’s thankful to committees he sat on as Councillor including Valemount Community Forest, VARDA, Kinder Morgan, Tourism, Public Works, and emergency planning and he has an attendance record of over 90%. He said these groups helped him build a network in these organizations and in the province. He said he’ll never be a person who considers himself too important to interact with other people and as mayor, he will always say hello, look you in the eye, and give you a firm handshake.
Andru McCracken (Mayor) He said Valemount has been a place of fascination and wonder since he moved here in 2001. His first year here a high school student took him on a backcountry ski trip, something he’d never done before. “It was just something incredibly remarkable.” He said more recently he became a father. He said Valemount has been a place of learning: learning new things, learning what’s appropriate and learning to move forward. He’s served as a reporter, editor, publisher, business owner, station manager and freelance journalist and mayor. He learned a lot during his first term and would love the chance to show people what he’s learned and help move Valemount forward. He asked people to read his campaign material and said he looks forward to speaking with people.