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Prince Rupert election nominees provide thought-provoking responses at all-candidates forum

Threats to candidate, grow ops will sort themselves out if regulated and sun has set on port tax cap
Prince Rupert electoral nominees answer questions at the all-candidates forum hosted by the North Coast Labour Council at Charles Hays Secondary School on Oct. 4. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Electoral candidates in the municipal Prince Rupert race gave varying answers to questions posed by the public at the debate forum hosted by the North Coast Labour Council, on October 4.

The event held at Charles Hays Secondary School and moderated by the Rainmakers Debate team was decided into two halves with mayoral candidates answering questions first and council pundits answering different questions in the latter half of the forum.

The gathering drew a crowd of more than 80 attendees who heard mayoral candidates, Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jason Hoang, Chrystopher Thompson and Herb Pond take on questions about derelict properties, marijuana grow operations, the port tax cap and others.

The audience heard one mayoral candidate state he wasn’t aware of the issue of cannabis grow operations in the core and another candidate stay quiet on whether he held any conflict of interest on the same subject.

Candidates for the city’s top job were asked the two-part question on the budding subject of concern — what will you do to deter cannabis grow operations in the city core and do you have any conflicts of interest to declare on this matter.

“[Since it was legalized] You hardly hear about marijuana in the community anymore. So, it’s kind of out of sight out of mind,” Stephen Fitzpatrick said when posed the question. “But when it comes to grow-ops, I really don’t know enough about that. I’m sure if I was elected as mayor, I will find out very quickly.”

Hoang was the only candidate who did not answer to the conflict of interest portion of the subject but said the community has voiced their concerns about the topic as they do cause a fire risk in the downtown core.

“I do know there are ways to bypass licences to be able to do grow-ops, but I think the government should, or we should try to find a way to make sure it’s regulated properly and safely,” he said, adding licences are supposed to be for personal use.

“I know from smelling downtown, that these are clearly for profit. So, if we get the regulations properly, it probably would just take care of itself,” Hoang said.

Thompson said he would prioritize ensuring grow operations were in more industrial areas and not in residential.

Pond said while he has made it through his life without ever smoking the substance, he was, in the right circumstances “all in favour of grow ops.” However, he said they need to be located in industrial areas and not the downtown core or residential neighbourhoods.

“I will do everything. Even if we have to get a little dirty, I will do every single thing possible to ensure that nobody is growing cannabis in the downtown core or in residential areas,” Pond said.

The scrapping of the Port Property Tax cap was another topic posed to candidates, with Pond starting off the answers by explaining he was there when the cap came in for all port communities in the province.

“It made us 100 per cent whole at the time. It was supposed to sunset, but it didn’t sunset. That was a mistake made after I was out of office,” the former mayor said.

“It just doesn’t work today, there’s no question. But let’s be really clear that in its era, it did what it was supposed to do. It’s outlived its usefulness. Let’s get rid of it.”

Thompson said the port industries are definitely not paying their fair share of taxes and if voted mayor he would make sure this was addressed.

“I’m working for the people. I’m not working for the industries,” he said. “I do want industry to happen. I do love the great jobs happening in Prince Rupert, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of our community …”

During the event’s second half, the audience heard from city council nominees, Barry Cunningham, Wade Niesh, Nick Adey, Gurvinder Randhawa, Sheila Gordon-Payne and Andy Chugh. Missing from the event were Teri Forster and Reid Skelton-Morven, who were scheduled to “zoom” in, but technical difficulties with equipment at the forum made it not possible.

Speaking of difficulties and challenges, Chugh segued his introduction to the public by stating he had considered not attending the event at all.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be here tonight, because, for the last couple of days, I’ve had a massive target on my back,” the youngest candidate said. “I wasn’t sure if I should even go outside because I’ve been receiving a lot of threats … I believe that every challenge is a moment to grow and to learn and to become a better person. And I’m taking this opportunity to show how I faced adversity and how I can face challenges. I’m going to continue fighting for what I believe in.”

Incumbent Cunningham introduced himself explaining his more than 40 years in Prince Rupert and years of experience on city council.

“But at the end of the day, my contribution to counsel is listening to the people in the community, advocating for them, helping them navigate through city hall. I have spoken to a lot of people in this room about different issues over the last nine years, help them resolve some help to understand but at the end of the day, it’s crucial we have a voice that city council understands,” Cunningham said.

Gordon-Payne provided the audience with a snapshot of her nursing and previous council experience. The audience heard Gordon-Payne’s five priorities, the first being the city plans and the necessity to condense them to share key messages. Her second priority is the budget and the port tax cap, followed by her third issue of health care with increased access and maintained services. Her final two concerns being housing and livability.

“As far as housing goes [it needs to be] affordable and available and that’s at all levels for all members of our community, regardless,” she said.

Adey summarized his time on council and said he was proud of being part of the 2030 vision plan, the Official Community Plan, climate change and working with First Nations in developing partnerships.

“When I was first elected, I promised to listen, learn, collaborate and act. And I have stayed true to those principles,” he said. “… Looking forward, we should continue striving to build a complete community, which provides an attractive, healthy, diverse and fulfilling place to live our entire lives.”

He said for him this will include healthcare, improving support for young families, developing parks and recreation, growth and diversification of the economy and affordable housing including appropriate options for seniors.

“It also means continuing to work on important challenges we faced with infrastructure. During the last four years, I believe we’ve laid a strong foundation to address these issues. But the work is not done. And that’s why I’m hoping to be reelected to council,” Neish said.

Councillor Gurvinder Randhawa addressed the audience.

“I am proud to have worked on your behalf for the last eight years. And I’ll guarantee to keep working,” he said adding this includes supporting policy to attract new economic opportunities and address skills shortages. He said issues important to him are continuing to build mutually beneficial relationships with First Nations, and developing a comprehensive plan to replace aging infrastructure facilities.

It is crucial to address property tax increases while developing other sources of [revenue], he said.

“These priorities [will] improve our quality of life. They are making sure we have access to public services that leave no one behind.”

Vying for a third term, Wade Niesh said he’s had an interesting eight-year journey as a city councillor.

“It started out very tough. When when I first got in eight years fully, there were a lot of tough decisions that had to be made in regards to our pulp mill, and we worked our way through that. Now we are kind of coming out the other side, but there’s still a lot of tough times ahead, that we need to deal with.”

He explained Watson Island has been an income generator for the city keeping it afloat and allowing some reinvestment into the community to start rebuilding. But, it’s not going to solve all of the problems, he said.

“Now’s our time to start moving forward with the vision and start seeing this community look like we want it to look,” the incumbent said. “… It’s been eight years and I would like to do it for four more. Some people may call me a sucker for punishment.”