Five of the six candidates looking to fill the council seat vacated by MLA Jennifer Rice faced the public on Wednesday night during an all-candidates forum at the Lester Centre of the Arts.
Each of the present candidates — Larry Golden, James Kirk, Len Lovering, Wade Niesh and Gurvinder Randhawa — began the evening by introducing themselves through opening statements, while moderator Tom Harvey read a statement from candidate Barry Cunningham, who was unable to attend due to medical issues.
Wade Niesh, a self-employed building contractor who previously worked at the airport and as a bus driver, said his diverse work background has allowed him to get to know a wide range of people and needs in Prince Rupert.
“I believe that I can take this community and apply the same logic that I apply every day as a builder, which is common sense and thinking 10 steps ahead so you don’t have to do the same thing twice. I want to help shape this community in preparation for the future,” he said.
Larry Golden, who spent 35 years as a light-keeper at Triple Island, said his experience watching council for the past decade gives him an understanding of council and a motivation to sit in the council chambers.
“Previously I was trying to shine a light on city council, and I have a website where I have 10 years of history on city council, but the way things have evolved I can no longer see what is going on from the outside, so now I am asking citizens to put me on the inside so I can see what is going on,” he said.
Barry Cunningham, who built a flooring contract business and currently works as the pollution response officer with the Canadian Coast Guard, said he looks forward to working with the council on numerous issues as Prince Rupert grows.
“As opportunities present themselves, we need to ensure the city is working as effectively as possible with stakeholders and the port to ensure that the city benefits from future growth. As the city benefits from projected growth, so should the First Nations and surrounding villages on the coast,” he said.
James Kirk, who worked 45 years in the business sector and has served with the Legion for the past 18 years, said he is a Rupert booster who believes in transparency, availability and commitment.
“I will work with business to create more jobs, which will increase the tax base and allow council to attend to the suffering infrastructure … I support Don Krusel, the CEO of the Prince Rupert Port Authority, and his team fulfilling the vision of Charles Hays in the development of Prince Rupert’s port,” he said.
Len Lovering, who is now retired, said he is running for council because he wants to give back to the community after seeing the impact the closure of the pulp mill has had on the town.
“Fast forward 12 years later and we are faced with businesses banging on our doors … it means the ball is in our court. We have the unique opportunity to mould our destiny … we must learn from the past and move forward to mould our future,” he said.
Gurvinder Randhawa is a self-employed business owner who graduated with a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Commerce in India, and he said now is the time to look to the future.
“It is important to train Prince Rupert people for the future and I can enhance that concept to train local workers and prepare them to take advantage of the new industrial opportunities,” he said, noting he is open to openness, transparency and accountability.
Following the opening statements, the candidates answered two questions prepared by the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce and the Prince Rupert Labour Council, organizers of the forum.
The first question related to addressing the many infrastructure needs of the city while maintaining operational and financial sustainability. Golden said the key to achieving that was providing as much information as possible to the public through the internet; Cunningham, through a statement, said a new industrial tax base would go a long way to providing the needed certainty; Kirk also pointed to making more information available to the public online; Lovering wanted to hear from people what their priorities are and explore grants; Randhawa said the provincial and federal government need to bear the brunt of the costs for Prince Rupert to grow as needed for industry; and Niesh said the city needs to be looked at as a business and have a review done similar to what would be done in a business nearing bankruptcy.
The second question related to working with large and small business to ensure benefits for all. Cunningham, through a statement, said he would listen to businesses and those within city hall; Kirk said large companies coming in should know how to approach the community members in terms of jobs and benefits; Lovering said large industry should adopt a buy-local policy to support small businesses; Randhawa said he would talk to industry to see what their needs are and then ensure training centres in town offer appropriate courses; Niesh said the city needs industry, but industry needs the city so they should contribute financially to the needs of the community; and Golden said the answers would lie in the Official Community Plan.
The next portion was questions from the floor. When it came to a housing crunch and affordable housing, Kirk said he questioned where any increase in rent is coming from, Lovering and Randhawa said they would like to see bylaws changed to allow for development of some smaller lots, Niesh said the challenges of building in the muskeg make new developments costly to investors, and Golden said he questions whether there is any shortage of housing in town.
On the question of providing something for youth to do, Niesh and Randhawa said turning around the financial situation in the city would allow for more programs to be offered, Golden said he would make the existing facilities more accessible, Kirk said the key was to get young people active and out of the house and Lovering said the city needed to offer more diverse programs and promote them more.
The issue of feral cats was brought forward, with all candidates saying they would work toward a solution to a complicated problem, and all candidates supported the current airport renovation proposal.
Voters can make their choice for the next Prince Rupert city council on Nov. 16.