For the third time, the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality has elected Bill Streeper to represent it as mayor, this time over his former council colleague, Kim Eglinski.
“It’s going to be a different council than the last one, but it’s going to be workable,” said Streeper, who has been mayor since the NRRM was formed in 2009.
Like many other local governments in the Northeast, all four council incumbents who ran for re-election won another term. Laurie Dolan, Todd Osbourne, Doug McKee and Danny Soles will be joined by newcomers Kyle Andrews and Lorraine Gerwing.
Nathan Bauder and Skip Hall also ran as challengers, but were unable to claim enough votes for a seat. Meanwhile, Eglinski chose to run for mayor instead of re-election as councillor, while Ron Vigeant decided to step down after more than 20 years on-and-off in local politics.
Voter turnout for this election was 35.4 per cent, which was down from 39.4 per cent in the 2011 election, but considerably higher than the overall turnout of 23 per cent for northeastern B.C. In fact, Fort Nelson was only a few tenths of a point behind Pouce Coupe for the highest turnout in the Northeast.
The mayoral race was a tight one, with 840 of the 1,540 ballots cast – 55 per cent – in Streeper’s favour. The other 700 went to Eglinski, who had sat under him on council since 2009.
In a post-election interview with the Alaska Highway News, Streeper said he wasn’t fazed by his lower margin of victory compared to 2011, when he took two-thirds of the vote against Doug Roper. “So it was a closer race. Was I really surprised? No,” said Streeper. “She was councillor for six years.”
He said that, in his opinion, the deciding factor in the election was experience: “Is now the time you want somebody to learn, or do you want somebody that’s been there? I’m not saying that over a matter of time she couldn’t have done the job, but time is precious.”
Streeper was referring to the potential for LNG to expand the region drastically in the coming months, and he pointed to his experience in the oil and gas industry as an asset that would help bring Fort Nelson develop properly during the boom.
This was Dolan’s second election to the position of councillor, in a campaign that she said stood in stark contrast to 2011.
“You can make portfolios and give suggestions, not knowing what’s going on at council,” she said of her 2011 campaign. “It’s a completely different ballgame – I found that it was more work this time,” she said.
She also said that some of the topics were a little different on this campaign trail, with health care and the economy being hot-button issues that the municipality is beginning to focus on in earnest.
Many of the campaign platforms revolved around ensuring that if LNG does come into the area, that the community will be prepared.
“It’s hard to plan for the future when we’re not the only ones making those decisions,” said Dolan.
One of the fresh faces on council, Kyle Andrews, received a remarkable 1,077 votes, more than all other council contenders except for Soles and Dolan.
“I figured I’d have support going in, but the amount of support I have, it’s amazing,” he said. “It makes me happy. I get a sense of pride from it. But at the same time, now I’ve got that much more responsibility, it seems.”
Andrews admitted that his first term would start out with a learning curve: “I’m just hoping that I can keep myself open and transparent and keep communication lines between the town open.”
He said that while he didn’t think other councilors were against more open communication, he pointed to former councillor Eglinski as a model for transparency. “With Kim, you were more than welcome to visit her at her business, and she had her Facebook page and all that kind of stuff,” Andrews said. “So I’m hoping I can kind of mirror that.”
There was also a non-binding poll included with this ballot asking residents if they were in favour of doing away with Daylight Savings Time, similar to their southern neighbours in the Peace Region.
Their answer was a resounding yes, 1,096 to 371. Streeper said prior to this election that despite the poll being non-binding, council would take steps to change the official time in the NRRM if residents supported the move.