The Castlegar Community Complex played host to a spirited Civic All-Candidates forum on Tuesday night. The forum was sponsored by the Castlegar and District Chamber of Commerce. More than 150 Castlegar and area residents filled the room and spilled out into the hallways to hear from the candidates.
All candidates were in attendance: Lawrence Chernoff and Gordon Zaitsoff for mayor; Gord Turner, Russ Hearne, Deb McIntosh, Kevin Chernoff, Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff, Cord Lafond, Kirk Duff, Tyler Maddocks, Deb McIntosh, Dan Rye, and Peter Wulowka for councillor; and Jo-Ann Bursey, Jen Carter, and Bev Maloff for school trustee.
Each candidate had three minutes for an opening statement. Question period featured questions that alternated between audience members and the media panel. Finally, each candidate had two minutes for a closing statement.
“I’ve been Castlegar mayor for the last two terms,” said Lawrence Chernoff is his opening statement. “During those six years I have committed myself full-time to strive to meet the needs of our growing community.”
Chernoff listed Sculpture Walk as one of the major highlights for recent council. He also talked about infrastructure and sustainability, the low tax structure of the city and bringing the casino to the airport area.
“We have set the stage to guarantee Castlegar’s tagline ‘Happily Ever After’, is not just an ideal but a promise,” he said.
Gordon Zaitsoff talked about growing up in Castlegar and going to Selkirk College. He said his experience in the forestry industry will help the city with relations with Castlegar’s two biggest employers Mercer International (Celgar) and Interfor. “I understand their function, I understand their language,” he said. “In regards to the taxation issue, I don’t think there was going to be any loss of jobs here.”
Zaitsoff also talked about health care and the importance of planning.
“We need sustainable, economic growth in a well-planned manner,” he said.
Zaitsoff said he would form an advisory panel when elected and forego two months of mayoral stipend to fund the group to meet on a regular basis.
The incumbent council candidates (Turner, Duff, Hearne, McIntosh, and Kevin Chernoff) spoke about their experience and the accomplishments of recent years including the casino, the expansion of water service out to the airport lands, and the low city taxes.
The new candidates offered several different view points. Cord Lafond was entertaining as he talked about engaging the residents of Castlegar. “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as soon as I could,” he said. “It is you people that come out to the meeting here that are the driving force. I was born with two eyes and one mouth. I want to hear from you.”
Heaton-Sherstobitoff talked about making council more open, transparent and accountable. “If a better job can be done at communicating and educating the taxpayers, there will be far less fear about politics,” she said.
Heaton-Sherstobitoff also spoke of the need for creating a regional strategy for a new hospital.
Wulowka talked about how much he cares about the city. “I like getting out and meeting and talking to people,” he said. “It’s just a great place to live.”
Wulowka wants to become more educated on the important issues in Castlegar.
Rye talked about his background in Castlegar and his work with various service clubs. “I want to work with council and the community to make Castlegar an even better place to live and work,” he said.
Rye wants to see the airport become more reliable for all passengers and business people. He also wants to see Castlegar council work on business expansion and retention. “How do we fill those empty store fronts?” he said.
Maddocks talked about how great an experience running for council has been. “I believe I can best serve my community by bringing my youth, my experiences, and my energy, in representing the people of Castlegar,” he said. “I’m running to bring new ideas and fresh energy to the table.”
Maddocks would like to see the youth of the region get more involved with the community.
There were many very good, engaging questions from both the audience and the media during the question period.
Debbie Bayoff asked Lawrence Chernoff how the city can justify spending over $60,000 a year on public lobbying when we have free access to our local MLA and administration.
“We use a lobbyist in Victoria to open the doors to get to the right ministries at the right time to get things that we need to get, grants that are available,” answered Chernoff.
Zaitsoff responded by saying he speaks directly to the Ministry staff in Victoria.
Mack Gregory asked Zaitsoff about plans for bringing a regional hospital to Castlegar.
“During the last year we’ve had our regional hospital board meetings for the most part in Castlegar,” said Zaitsoff. “Each meeting I have brought forward the request to Interior Health to move forward the proposal of a new hospital location.”
Other questions dealt with empty store fronts in the downtown core, conflicts of interest with Zaitsoff also being the acclaimed Area J director, and how returning councillors would work with new councillors.
The school trustees were asked about funding losses for programs such as at Blueberry Creek, effects of teacher job action, and funding for sports.