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Fort St. John byelection: Building First Nation relationships, welcoming newcomers

Candidates talk improving collaboration, finding partnerships, fighting racism, and having minority representation on council
Fort St. John byelection canadidates discuss building relationships with First Nations and newcomers at the All Candidates Forum, May 3, 2021.

You could eat your way around the world in a Fort St. John church hall in 1975, and the same is still true today. Anyone collecting stamps for their cultural passport will have plenty from the city's many regular festivities: World Fair, Doig Days, Holi Festival and Diwali celebrations, and the Pan African Caribbean Association’s Black History Month, to name just a quick few. 

City council byelection candidates were asked at the All Candidates Forum how the city should grow its relationships with neighbouring First Nation communities, and make the city a more welcoming place for newcomers. 

Here are their responses:

Sarah MacDougall: We need to be getting out to these communities, inviting them together to the table to have discussions: what are our values, what are their values, how do these values align, and how can we work together? As we continue to build those relationships, we will see that we’re probably not that far apart and that there are many opportunities to collaborate and work together. 

I’d also love to see the community be more open and welcoming to newcomers. My family and I love to attend the World Fair that’s put on most years that highlights all of the different ethnicities that do call Fort St. John home. So building upon that, building that into every event that we have, and educating all of our communities on the other ethnicities that do live with us, side by side in our community, will be important.

Trystan Jones: As a person of colour and the only minority running for city council, I think it's very important to have representation in our elected officials, so that they can see themselves in places of power as well as feel like their voices are heard. I think it’s important for their to be diversity and for people to feel like they have a voice on council.

When it comes to making people feel more accepted, we need education, we need awareness. Growing up in Fort St. John I was the victim of racism all the time. As a minority it was something that was very commonplace and something that I just kind of took. My burning passion in life is to fight racism.

When it comes to engagement with our indigenous communities I think we need to do way more, having way better relationships, and providing more opportunities for our indigenous youth can go a long way.

Jim Lequiere: I would like to see some cross-training, our councillors going out the Doig or the Blueberry or the Halfway First Nations, and just sitting in on their council meetings and seeing how their run and what they talk about and what’s important to them. I’d also like to see the Doig, the Halfway, and the Blueberry come into our council meetings and sit down and see how they’re run. They’re not that far apart. 

During Doig Days, or the winter festival, I’d like to see more involvement cross back and forth. It just makes for good relationships because we’re all in this together.

Tom Whitton: Our indigenous communities are absolutely our partners across everything that we do on a daily basis, and inclusivity is paramount to that. To start off with I would like to see us engaging a little more with them. I do know that the existing council does talk to them on a regular basis.

I got to sit down with one of the band managers here over the last couple of months and learned a lot more about what they do, what they would like to see, and the help they would like to garner from the city and the things they would like to partner on. I think that’s really important for us. Yes, we can be partners, we can work on things together, and it can help our community and it can help their community.

It’s not a zero-sum game. If we can find win-wins working with our First Nations communities and really working toward an inclusive environment in the city at the same time, that’s a win.

Jon Gosselin: Being someone who is Metis heritage, partnering with First Nations, and our indigenous partners at the Doig, Halfway, the Dane-zaa, the Blueberry, it’s so important. I am so grateful for the current council and the mayor for the amount of work they have done in making sure they are getting included as we’ve seen with the Festival Plaza and the RCMP station. But there is definitely more we could do.

I would love to see, very much so, a very diverse city council, having our indigenous partners right on council, having minorities on council. One of the things some may have seen was that I was constantly posting to get people in the Multicultural Society to run for council because I believe, as Trystan says, we need a more diverse council, 100 per cent.

Watch a replay of the May 3 All Candidate Forum below:

Election dates

Voting will take place at the Pomeroy Sport Centre May 15, with advance voting opportunities May 5 and May 12.

Special voting opportunities will take place May 13 at Peace Villa from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.; Peace Lutheran Apartments from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.; and Heritage Manor from 4 to 5 p.m.

A special voting opportunity will take place May 15 at the Fort St. John Hospital from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

The new councillor will take their Oath of Office on May 25.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at