Sparks fly as Prince Rupert mayoral candidates participate in forum

Sparks flew at a meeting at the library as the mayoral candidates finally got some time for just the three of them.

Sparks flew at a meeting at the library as the mayoral candidates finally got some time for just the three of them to spar with each other over their visions for the city’s future.

While not originally planned to be a debate per se, candidates couldn’t seem to help themselves from taking shots at each other.

The meeting was hosted by the North Coast Immigrant and  Multicultural Services Society at the library Thursday night which was attended by small group of residents and many of the city council candidates. Corinna Morhart, Jack Musallem and Kathy Bedard’s names were put in a hat and Morhart was chosen to make her case about why she should be mayor first.

After talking shortly about her childhood in Terrace and how she originally came to Prince Rupert, she lauded her experience working in city hall as the practicum for her degree in social work. It was there that she got involved in the process to draw up the five-year community plan.

This is valuable experience, she says, because  next community plan has to be drawn up in the next year and as mayor she would encourage the public to come out and to be involved as much as possible.

Morhart has been under fire from her opponents for not having any experience in actually being a part of a municipal government, but says voters should vote for her because her experience working with many different individuals and groups in Prince Rupert.

According to Morhart, council needs to do a better job showing support for different groups in Prince Rupert by attending events and contacting the organizers if no one from council can make it.

She also made a point of saying that she no longer has a membership in any political party now that her Liberal Party of Canada membership has expired. Throughout the course of the campaign, incumbent Jack Mussallem has criticized his opponents for having political party memberships.

Morhart says even if she’s never sat on council like her rivals she’s ready to be Prince Rupert’s mayor if voters choose her.

“I am seeking the position of mayor because I believe that I have the knowledge and skills it takes to bring people together to achieve excellence,” says Morhart.

Jack Mussallem was selected to speak after Morhart finished. He started by saying that he is the most qualified candidate to be mayor because of his “19 years of combined education, knowledge and experience, working with  five local governments and seven years elected as your mayor.”

The incumbent says it is essential that the mayor has a working knowledge how municipalities operate, their regulations and procedures as well as what services and utilities the city of Prince Rupert is responsible for running. That way, says Mussallem, the mayor will be able to guide council and staff towards making the best decision possible on an issue.

Mussallem says that the mayor is basically the town’s number one negotiator, spokesman and lobbyist which requires them to do a lot of things “often with short notice.”

Mussallem pulled  out  one of the big talking points he has used throughout the election campaign: that since he doesn’t have a day job like his two rivals, being mayor is his “first, an if necessary, my only focus.” He went on the attack saying that Morhart is not capable of being a good mayor without  first city on council.

Mussallem appears to suggest that bringing new ideas are dangerous if not grounded in experience.

“If someone says if they’re an outside-the-box thinker, ask them what it contains first. Ask them if they have that knowledge before they risk our wellbeing,” says Mussallem.

After attacking Morhart’s lack of council experience, Mussallem moved on to why Kathy Bedard shouldn’t be mayor because she lives with her husband in Port Edward.

Mussallem then moved on to criticize his opponents for having political party membership. Both Bedard and Morhart have had memberships in the Liberal Party of Canada, although Morhart’s has expired.

Mussallem says that by joining a political party his rivals were declaring their “biases” which he warns will hurt their ability to work with other levels of government that are not being run by the Liberal Party.

Mussallem says that one of important issues coming up in the next council term such as picking a new city manager, which he says will be a very important decision for the city’s future.

ll the reasons why she shouldn’t be mayor, Kathy Bedard got her turn to speak and immediately lashed back at Mussallem’s assertion that she would be doing the work of the mayor “off the side of my desk,” because she has a job as executive director of the Hecate Strait Employment Development Society.

Bedard says that if she’s mayor, “it won’t be a one woman show,” promising to get council working as a team to address issues in the city even if they don’t always agree.

During his speech, Mussallem dared the audience to look for any mayor in BC that wasn’t a resident of the community they represented. Bedard took him up on it.

“The mayor of the fastest growing city in British Columbia is Diane Watts, and she is the mayor of Surrey. And she resides in Cloverdale,” says Bedard.

Mussallem objected to this, saying – correctly –  that Cloverdale is still technically part of Surrey.

Bedard dismisses Mussallem’s assertion that she is not one of Prince Rupert’s own, saying she is dedicated to Prince Rupert.

She then moved to address Mussallem’s criticism of her Liberal Party membership, saying that she only joined a political party to help support her friend, and former mayor, Herb Pond who was running for MLA.

After attempting to refute Mussallem’s criticisms she turned on the incumbent candidate himself.

“I cannot believe that the incumbent  could be so disrespectful to the members of the council and this community who put their names up for election. Saying that councillors don’t know enough about the operations because they only attend two Monday meetings a month is untrue and underestimates the power of a team.”

There are lots of issues that council has to work on in the next term, says Bedard. She says she “would like” to have decreased taxes in Prince Rupert but warns that reducing taxes won’t just affect services, it will affect the town’s quality of life, tax exemptions for community organizations, and a reduction in grants from the City.

Bedard says that the city needs a plan to attract small business, industry and maybe even manufacturing. Not only that, Prince Rupert needs to start bringing more young professionals to town.