Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Challengers take the reins at Prince Rupert Mayoralty Forum
Prince Rupert voters had their one opportunity to measure all candidates for Mayor in one place on Tuesday evening, as incumbent Mayor Jack Mussallem and the three challengers for his position, met on stage at the Lester Centre.
From the early going, Sheila Gordon-Payne and Tony Briglio and to a lesser degree Lee Brain, targeted some of the current issues of the day. With Mayor Mussallem as the main focus of many of their concerns, particularly when it comes to the ability of Council to deliver key Civic functions.
As well the challengers offered a bit of a review of the path that City Council has taken in recent years, with attention directed to the relationships that the City has with a number of other stakeholders in the region.
Tuesday's forum provided for the usual format of opening remarks, questions from a media panel and then a closing address.
The opening introductions, provided for few shifts from previous positions, as for the most part the candidates stayed with familiar items and talking points, as they outlined their blueprints for the way ahead.
With Moderator Tom Harvey introducing the theme of Prince Rupert The Next Great Port City, the four candidates provided their vision statements for the evening.
Sheila Gordon Payne was first to speak, reviewing many of her points of the last few weeks, exploring the theme of a Council that could work together to address the many challenges ahead. Ms. Gordon-Payne called for a Council that creates an expanded business base, takes on issues and improves life for the community.
She spoke to the need for better communication between the City and the community, with a nod towards the urgency for the City to rebuild its relationship with the Prince Rupert Port Authority.
She offered up her support towards the theme of making LNG, Port development and new industrial opportunities work for the community now. Observing as to how she would see the City work to assist the LNG industry for their success and how that industry could then work with the City towards its success.
Ms. Gordon-Payne also stressed the need to reach out to the Provincial government and work positively on shared issues that the we face, as well she stressed the need to seek out better relations with local First Nations to shape our shared destiny.
She then outlined for the audience of her hopes of leading a City Council that is envied by other communities, reinforcing her desire to have a Council that would tackle issues with purpose and remain focused on the work ahead.
Mayor Jack Mussallem reviewed some of the work that he and City Council have engaged in over the last few years in the bid to improve the city's situation.
When it comes to planning, Mayor Mussallem pointed to potential developments, such as the Lot 444 proposals for Tuck Inlet, as one way to reduce the city's infrastructure deficit situation.
He also touched on taking a more regional approach for key aspects of services in the region, such as water, sewage treatment, Waterfront Parks, the Airport, Policing, Fire/Rescue and Transit. Reviewing some of the themes that he has introduced at council this year, particularly on the need to have a plan to approach other communities of the region to approach those issues.
The Mayor also offered up two growth issues for consideration, including one surprising note, his review as to how some people want to close down the City's Fire Department and turn it into a volunteer based organization, something he is not in favour of.
Observing as to the nature of the industrial base in the region and how we need trained professional firefighters. He also reminded the audience as to his belief of the the prospect of higher insurance rates for homeowners should the city shift to a volunteer fire department.
As a final exclamation point for that issue, the Mayor called for the support of the public to end this "ill conceived" plan.
That talking point proved to be a bit of a shot out of left field, as the topic of the City's Fire Department had not, to this point become much of a topic of conversation in the election campaign.
His second growth issue was on the theme of city owned, undeveloped land and what he called demands by some, that it be sold off to land speculators, something that he doesn't want to to do. Stating rather forcefully that the residents of the City deserve to get the best possible dollar for those lands when the City can sell them.
Mayor Mussallem didn't quite expand on where those land issues might be located, or who was making the demands to sell them off, leaving more than a few to wonder on the night as to where that topic might have come from.
The land issue, much like the Fire Department issue prior, are two themes that have not provided for much conversation from anyone so far in the campaign.
Though we imagine they now become part of the narrative, changing some of the themes for the next ten days, which is possibly what the Mayor was seeking to do.
Lee Brain opened up his introduction with a bit of review of his recent history, focusing on his education and work travels away from the North Coast. Explaining for the audience how he now has returned to Prince Rupert, to help lift the city out of the malaise that never seems to lift.
He offered up a review of some of the challenges ahead for the city, including that of housing, as well as some of the social issues that the area faces.
Mr. Brain framed his remarks on the theme of a community that is on the verge of investment opportunities, highlighting how Prince Rupert is poised for success.
To take advantage of those opportunities, he spoke to the need for inspired leadership for the city. Outlining that he would be looking to build partnerships and tackle challenges, suggesting that now is the time to move away from leaders who divide, rather than unite.
He outlined how he believes that Council has to work as a team, something that he believes he can bring about through his past experiences.
He also spoke to need for expanding the tax base by supporting responsible industrial development and to work to heal relationships with First Nations communities in the region.
Tony Briglio retraced his experience in business, mainly in the financial services industry and his long time work as a health care advocate in the community.
He drew some parallels between some of his past involvement with both industry and community boards, which he observed provided for much the same kind of work that is required for the Mayor's office.
As for the issues, Mr. Briglio outlined his belief that any proposed industrial opportunities for the region should be made available to all residents and not just a chosen few.
He then delivered a string of what he called facts for the audience to consider; improvements needed to infrastructure, health care requirements, concerns about the state of the Prince Rupert airport and issues related to Housing.
Mr. Briglio then followed his listing of facts with a look at one of the key myths he believes is prevalent in the community, the impression that the city is broke.
Something which he described as not factual. Mr. Briglio then reviewed how he would approach the City's financial issues, presenting his plan as to to how he would rebuild the city's finances and address its ongoing infrastructure issues.
He proposed a restructuring program that would involve long term borrowing, with an affordable repayment, a process that he says would help to deliver the city from what he called it's state of Crisis Management.
He would also look to both the Federal and Provincial government for assistance on some of the larger issues of the region.
From the opening statements, the evening moved on to the format in place for Questions on the night, which for the most part came by way of a media panel with pre determined themes for the candidates to expand on.
Shaun Thomas, Mary Bartlett and George Baker reviewed four topics in this segment: How the City would work to increase the city's tax base; How the City could improve communication with the public; What is needed to help Small Business to thrive and What can be done to address the waterfront access issue in the city.
The majority of which for the most part provided the candidates to retrace many of their previous themes and point to their existing platforms, with little in the way of new information delivered through that portion of the night.
The real action of the forum came through the Rebuttal Questions, where each candidate could address a concern to one of the other candidates.
Not surprisingly, the majority of those questions and issues were directed towards Mayor Mussallem and the work of the current City Council.
The first topic for rebuttal was introduced by Sheila Gordon-Payne who asked for some answers on the Lot 444 development issue.
Focusing her initial remarks on the recent hiring of Dr. Barb Faggetter, with Ms. Gordon-Payne wondering about the nature of this Legacy Corporation hiring and why the City would hire someone who was as outspoken against the LNG industry as many believe Dr. Faggetter is.
As an additional point, she wondered about the goals of the Legacy Corporation, as well as to how the decision was made and what was the cost on the hiring.
Ms. Gordon-Payne also observed as to how the City needs to stay in focus as to items that are part of their mandate and to manage projects properly for mutual benefit.
The Mayor answered that challenge by outlining how Dr. Faggetter was hired to ensure that anything that is developed on Lot 444 will not adversely impact the area around it.
He also provided the update that Lot 444 would be the subject of a public hearing, with a public information session to be held prior to that Public Hearing.
The Mayor then took advantage of the moment to make the first of what would be a number of comments about candidate Lee Brain. Suggesting that residents need to consider that the City doesn't have the money to deliver some of the planning proposals that "young Lee Brain" has put forward.
Stressing to the audience that he believes residents need to rethink that portion of Mr. Brain's position.
Mr. Brain, then also approached the topic of the Legacy Corporation, offering up a short review of what he believes is its purpose. A theme that the Mayor seemingly took issue with, interrupting Mr. Brain at one point and advising him that he had his facts wrong.
That was a line of commentary which earned the Mayor a rebuke from the moderator, who asked Mr. Mussallem to respect the other candidates at the table.
When he returned to his thoughts on the Lot 444 issue, Mr. Brain put aside the controversy over Dr. Faggetter's LNG views, instead addressing the need to make sure percentages of any LNG income go into Legacy funding in the community.
Mr. Briglio's first rebuttal question concerned the Watson Island issue, calling it an opportunity that the City has let go.
Mr. Briglio offered up his view that the City needs stop holding onto Watson Island and needs to generate revenue from the industrial site, by finally removing it from the City's books.
He wondered why the City has not yet sold that site, earning a few positive reviews from the audience as he recounted how in the past that he has sold many things, how he knows how to sell things and how Watson Island is something that needs to be sold.
The Theme of Experience provided the Mayor with one of his rebuttal statements, as Mayor Mussallem made his second observation of the evening regarding the age of candidate Lee Brain.
The Mayor once again reinforced his concerns over "young Mr. Brain" and observed how the candidate has a lot of good ideas, but how he was curious as to how Mr. Brain would find the time to examine them all.
Suggesting that when things are coming at you very quickly, there isn't time to expect the other council members to mentor you on things.
That was a comment which elicited a number of boos for the Mayor from the audience, a portion of which clearly didn't like the Mayor's approach.
Undaunted, the Mayor stuck with his theme however, outlining the learning curve that any new Mayor might face and how the community is not at a time in our history when we can face any delays.
The Mayoralty portion of the evening came to an end, with one final question, as provided by the Forum organizers, the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce and The Prince Rupert Labour Council.
A simple request that the candidates outline for the forum Why Are You the Best Candidate to Serve This Community As Mayor.
That provided all four candidates with the opportunity to review their main focus points of the campaign, though for those viewing the proceedings through CityWest or the live stream on the Chamber of Commerce site, Ms. Gordon-Paynes final thoughts suffered from a lost audio feed.
Still, after an hour and a half of discussion, the four candidates made their case in seeking support of the voters on November 15th.
With talking points delivered and perhaps a few new themes provided for the final ten days of the campaign, the Mayoralty portion of Tuesday night's forum came to an end.
The verdict on the performances and the take aways from the hour and half of conversation to be delivered in two Saturday's time.
For more items on the 2014 Municipal Election Campaign see our archive page here.
Note: Those that receive Channel 10 Through CityWest Cable can view the debates again, the first opportunity is Saturday evening at 6, with a second airing of the Forum planned for November 12.