After three terms as director of Area J, Gordon Zaitsoff is challenging incumbent Lawrence Chernoff for the mayor’s chair in Castlegar.
“I’ve been approached by quite a few people to put my name forward,” he said. “There are some key issues in the area that people feel haven’t been addressed appropriately. One being the health care in the Castlegar area.”
Zaitsoff sits on the West Kootenay Hospital Board which meets once every month or two.
“I’ve been a very vocal voice for the area of Castlegar for improved services,” he said. “The current representative (Mayor Chernoff) that sits on the hospital board – I haven’t heard him bring up one issue for the Castlegar area.”
Zaitsoff worked directly with the citizen’s group that worked to save valuable hardware at the Castlegar Health Centre.
“We were able to formulate a plan to save the ultrasound machine for the Castlegar area,” he said. “They approached me because they weren’t getting very far with some of the council members and I was able to bring some of the issues forward to the hospital board. With true dialogue with the hospital board, I was able to get this group to make presentations to the board and Interior Health – voicing their concerns.”
Zaitsoff believes Castlegar should be considered for a regional hospital.
“I think we’re at the point now where, again through the hospital board, we were able to get Interior Health to commit to putting a feasibility study together for a new regional facility,” he said. “I believe Castlegar is the area for the new facility. That dialogue has to start right away; sooner than later. During the last four terms, it’s always been talked about, but we haven’t seen any action forthcoming.”
Although council has said a new hospital would be good for the area, there hasn’t been any push at the hospital board, said Zaitsoff. He sees a possible partnership with Selkirk College as a way to help with the project.
“A regional facility could be established at Selkirk College. It could also complement the projects being offered at the college,” he said. “Not only here in Castlegar, but also in the fringe areas of Trail, Nelson, and Nakusp.”
Zaitsoff sees the beauty surrounding the college as a great benefit to patients that would attend the hospital.
“When you look at facility there, overlooking the river and everything else,” he said. “It’s about health care. But if you provide an environment that’s pretty soothing to the people that are ill – that’s a big part of the healing process.”
Zaitsoff has many years of experience with the forestry industry. He worked at the Celgar Pulp Mill for 24 years. He currently owns his own business where he is responsible for road maintenance in the area for various forest tenures.
“It’s great to see Interfor Sawmill fired up again,” he said. “With my 30 plus years in the forest industry, I understand their language; I understand the market; I understand the cycles the forest industry takes and the pulp market takes. I think what happened with the taxation the council did – to drop the taxation of the pulp mill – I think there were other avenues that could’ve been explored. I think the bigger corporations see a black funnel where all this money goes into and they don’t really see anything in return.”
Some of the alternative ways could include putting money into the Community Complex or wildland fire protection, said Zaitsoff.
“I would be willing to work with the business community,” he said. “Being in business for myself, I understand the hurdles and the day-to-day requirements. The speculation of somebody new coming here and opening up shop in Castlegar and what that does to the smaller businesses in town.”
You can already see empty buildings in the downtown core, he said. “A good plan has to be developed. There isn’t a long term vision or a long term plan for Castlegar. It’s strictly off-the-cuff, how can we make a quick buck?”
In regard to the water and sewer expansion to the airport lands, Zaitsoff agrees it makes sense in the long-term. “However, we’re only dealing with a 40-acre parcel of land. When you really think about it – 40 acres is not that big for a $2 million investment to the taxpayer.”
Ideally, with the water going over there it makes a stronger, valid point for a medical centre there, he said.
“When the airport lands are developed, it needs a sound plan,” said Zaitsoff. “It’s a whole mixed bag (of different businesses out there). There isn’t really a set plan. So when you think about it, it’s a huge investment for virtually a very small area.”
Zaitsoff would like to see more planning go into the airport lands expansion.
“The last four or five years, council seems to be making decisions with not enough information,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s an administrative issue, where council isn’t given the right information, or if it’s skewed to make something happen. I think administratively there has to be a review done in conjunction with council – to sit down and say are we on the same page here.”
With his experience at the pulp mill, Zaitsoff believes he will be an asset to the public works department and city employees in general.
“It’s really important to have a good working relationship with city employees. I do not think currently that that is the case in all situations,” he said. “There seems to be quite a few disgruntled employees currently. There’s people running the ship that don’t have a full idea of what they’re trying to control. I think I have enough experience where I can be a help there because I’ve worked in that environment for a number of years.”
Zaitsoff feels he has the leadership skills to be successful as mayor. “For everything we’ve done in the rural area, it’s just been outstanding here in the last five years – thats through building relations with the various ministries through the province.”
Zaitsoff has already been acclaimed for another term as Regional District of Central Kootenay Area J. The Local Government Act does not prohibit anyone from holding more than one office.
He is proud of the work he has accomplished in Area J, which covers the area around Castlegar and lower Arrow Lakes up to the Paulson Summit, and hopes to bring that success to the City of Castlegar as the next mayor.
“We’ve got all our community plans in place. We’ve had a lot of work done, infrastructure-wise; road repairs and such. That’s a direct result of meeting with ministry staff in Vancouver during the UBCM (Union of B.C. Municipalities) conference and putting together a good plan.
“We removed the agricultural land reserve in Ootischenia, which has allowed for residential growth. The building that’s happening in Ootischenia is just unbelievable.”
Other highlights Zaitsoff notes are the promotion of tourism in the area including the restoration on the Brilliant Suspension Bridge and activities on the Columbia River.
“We’ve got two rivers running right through the community here – the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers – and yet we don’t have any focus on our asset here,” he said. “People would like to see increased trail activity in the area. I think that’s a way we can showcase Castlegar.”
Zaitsoff was born and raised in Castlegar. He lives here with his partner and has two children.