Gord Klassen is one of 12 candidates vying for six seats on Fort St. John city council, and an incumbent councillor seeking re-election after he was first elected in 2011.
Klassen, a former pastor and business management consultant, characterizes himself as a big picture process guy, who wants to prioritize city spending on needs and actions identified in downtown, recreation, and transportation plans, and push the city to be more proactive in promoting itself to businesses and industry.
Alaska Highway News has sent out a questionnaire to all candidates in this year's election, asking them about their experience and priorities, what they think the city should be spending more or less money on, the city's greatest achievements and failures over the last four years, and the biggest challenge in the next four.
Responses are being published as they are received. The answers below have been edited for spelling and grammar only.
Name: Gord Klassen
Neighbourhood: C.M. Finch area
Occupation: City council is where I have spent most of my time and energy over the past seven years. During that time, I was also a pastor, a business management consultant, and, more recently, I served as executive director of the FSJ Hospital Foundation.
1. Why did you decide to run for council?
Fort St. John is where I grew up, attended school, got my first job, met and married my lovely wife, Sharon, and this is where we raised our own family. I love this community! I have always believed that we need to get involved and contribute to the place we call home. For me, along with serving in our schools and in our churches, on our fire department and on our school board, as well as serving as executive director of the FSJ Hospital Foundation, a seat on city council has been an incredible honour and privilege for me in service to my community!
2. What experience and skills would you bring to council?
My many years as a resident in Fort St. John provides me with an understanding and appreciation for this city, the history of change and growth, and our unique challenges and opportunities as a resource community. My work in our schools and churches, our fire department, our public library, FSJ Hospital Foundation, and with our non-profits, including my role as co-chair of the FSJ Multicultural Society, has allowed me to see this community through various lenses, and has given me an understanding of the value of creating a community that is inclusive and diverse.
Because of my varied community experience, my perspective is based on an understanding and an appreciation for the issues of concern for individuals, organizations, and businesses. I am a person who will question information, seek clarification, and ask the questions that I believe my neighbours would ask. And I believe that's an important role for me to play on council. I am committed to representing and advocating for each and every one of our residents, so that we all feel like this is our home, where we belong, and where we thrive!
I bring an interest, as well as considerable knowledge and experience in the areas of policy and governance. It is vital that a city councillor understands what authority they do and don’t have. I am a big picture guy, and really enjoy strategic planning and priority setting. I am a process guy, who understands the necessity of ensuring that we are making decisions and acting in accordance with an appropriate and approved process.
I am currently president of the North Central Local Government Association, and I sit on the boards of the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I am also on the board of the Municipal Insurance Association of BC. My involvement with these municipal-related boards has provided me not only with an extensive understanding and experience in the world of government, it has given me the opportunity to represent and advocate for our city at regional, provincial, and federal levels of discussion and decision making.
3. What would be your top three priorities if elected, and why?
Health and safety – appropriate levels of police, fire, ambulance, and healthcare.
Economic development and diversity – promoting investment while protecting our quality of life and our future sustainability as a community.
Quality of life for residents – providing increased services and amenities while carefully managing our spending.
4. What programs or services should the city spend more on?
Every year, council and staff take considerable time for strategic planning and priority setting. It is not as simple as saying, let’s spend more or less money on this program or that service. Our plans stretch out over many years, so the considerations and implications of spending priorities need to align with the long-term plan. What we spend more on this year, we may actually spend less on next year – it depends on the overall plan and what aspects of that plan take priority each year.
For instance, the city spent more money in the last couple of years on a master transportation plan, a master recreation plan, downtown revitalization plan, etc., not to mention the intense and costly efforts to establish a strong Peace River Agreement with the province and the Site C Community Measures Agreement with our community. Moving forward, we will spend less on those studies and more on the implementation of the recommended actions that resulted from those plans.
5. What programs or services should the city spend less on?
Same as above.
6. Would you support raising taxes to support council priorities?
City staff and council work extremely hard to achieve our strategic priorities without overtaxing our residents. Having said that, the reality is that every road, every trail, every water and sewer line replacement, every park and every playground, costs money. Having been part of those discussions, I can assure you that, if there is a tax increase, you can know that city council and staff have consulted with the community throughout the budgeting process and have wrestled long and hard with the issue before implementing any changes. After all, council members are taxpayers too!
7. What should the city do to attract new industry and business?
We must continue to build a community that people and businesses want to come to by strategically expanding our facilities and services, our arts, cultural, and sport opportunities, as well as our parks and gathering places. We must also provide attractive tax rates and address the issues of affordable housing and business operational costs. At the same time, we must support the businesses that currently operate in our community – one of the best ways to attract new business is to demonstrate that businesses can, and do, thrive in our community.
The city should continue to be proactive in reaching out and connecting with potential investors. We need to go to them, introduce ourselves, and invite them to visit our community, and then work with them to find ways that our city can become their destination of choice. Once an industry or business takes that first step towards our community, we need to greet them at the door, welcome them, walk them into our community, show them around, and provide any reasonable assistance we can to make them feel at home here. We also need to make the investment and development processes clear and straight forward in order to reduce or eliminate as many barriers as possible.
8. What should the city do to stimulate downtown investment?
I have been pleased to work on the Energize Downtown committee, which has formulated a plan, with the input of local residents, businesses, as well as outside experts. The plan addresses this very issue. It is not a simple or quick process. Essentially, I believe the bottom line is that we have to create a place where people want to gather; where they want to live and work and play.
Downtown needs to become a destination. People need a reason to be there, and they need to feel safe. For this to happen, the downtown needs to be cleaner, more accessible, and more inviting. We need to provide adequate parking and make our downtown more walkable. We can work with existing businesses to explore creative downtown marketing opportunities, and strategically attract new businesses and multi-use developments that blend residential, commercial, institutional, and entertainment uses, where those functions are physically and functionally integrated and connected.
9. What has been the city's greatest achievement over the last four years?
Over the past four years, we have seen incredible enhancements to our community, including our new fire hall, skateboard park and spray park, along with a new community gym, in partnership with our school district. We have cleaned up our downtown, paved more streets, constructed new sidewalks, and expanded our trail system. We have new housing developments and have extended our city boundaries, and we have increased our funding to our non-profits. All of this, and more, while actually lowering our tax rates.
This can be attributed to our staff and contractors, our strategic planning, and our efforts to secure provincial funding in lieu of taxes from surrounding industry. Some will argue that more could be done, more should be done, but at the end of the day, I believe the city has done a commendable job of balancing the call for more services with the reality of what those services cost.
10. What has been the city's greatest failure over the last four years?
I believe the city’s greatest failure over the last four years (and likely before that) has been that we haven’t communicated enough of our progress, our initiatives, our successes, and our good news stories to our residents. There is so much good happening, and so many times we hear from those outside our region about the reputation we have or the acknowledgements and accolades we have received, and yet our own community is not aware of it. Sometimes we simply need to be reminded of what an awesome community we live in!
11. What's the biggest opportunity facing the city over the next four years?
Our city’s biggest opportunity lies in our residents. From the experience of our seniors, to the vision and dreams of our students, to the creativity and ingenuity of our local businesses, to the contributions of our many organizations and non-profits, to the diversity we see in our new residents (and some not so new), to the strengthened relationships with the indigenous communities in our region, we have what it takes to make significant economic, environmental, and energetic steps forward in the next four years, and beyond!
12. What's the toughest challenge facing the city over the next four years?
Our city (along with many other cities) will continue to be faced with the challenge of aging infrastructure. Our water and sewer lines continue to age, along with many of our roads, and all of this infrastructure needs replacing over time – some sooner than later. The challenge is to continue to grow and expand, while ensuring that what we already have is taken care of. Fortunately, the city has a long-range plan and has put in place a work plan and a financial strategy that addresses this challenge.
Finish this sentence: When I'm not deep in thought about city politics and civic issues, I'm…
... spending time with my dear wife, Sharon, walking, sitting on our deck, working in our garden, or volunteering in the community. I believe that it is critical that we maintain a balance between our work and our personal life. Work comes and goes, but it is our relationships with family and friends that will last.
What's the last book you read?
I am currently reading a book called A Higher Loyalty by James Comey, who served as director of the FBI from 2013 to 2017, that outlines his perspective on ethical leadership, and how to do what is right rather than what is politically expedient.
What's the last movie you watched?
I’m not a big movie watcher – I don’t like to sit still that long. I do recall watching the movie Superman, starring Christopher Reeves, when it was first released in 1978. I’m not positive, but I’m sure it was quite entertaining!
The best thing about Fort St. John that people don’t know about is…
For me, one of the best things about Fort St. John, that people may not be aware of, is how many various activities there are for people to engage in. From all kinds of drop-in and team sports, to book clubs and workshops, to music and theatre, to arts and crafts, to churches and clubs – there is literally something for everyone! If you think there is nothing to do in Fort St. John, then you haven’t looked very hard!
If you weren't living in Fort St. John, where would you be?
My wife and I have talked about where we would want to live if we didn’t live in Fort St. John, and we haven’t actually thought of anywhere we’d rather be. Having said that, a short vacation to somewhere warm is always nice, midway through the winter.
Want to know more about Gord Klassen? He can be reached by phone at 250-787-1750, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connect with Klassen on Facebook at facebook.com/FSJCouncillorGordKlassen.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.