Both incumbent mayoral candidate Bill Streeper and challenger Kim Eglinski have experience around the council table at the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality (NRRM).
They also both agree that industry is going to be increasingly important over the next four years, particularly in Fort Nelson, and that two top priorities for the district will be the economy and health care.
Streeper said his three highest priorities for the district were a continued focus on the economy – particularly as it relates to oil and gas – the establishment of a permanent maternity ward in the hospital, and increasing local hiring.
“Fort Nelson is very dependent on the oil and gas industry ... with the closing of the two forestry operations we have become a one-industry town,” he said. “Council and I have, however, had talks with the provincial government concerning different points to try to reinstate the forest industry. However, this is not going to be a quick fix.”
Eglinski had a similar top three list if elected mayor: increasing economic diversification, pushing the NRRM’s interests with industry – including more local hiring – and improving health care in the community.
“We must continue reiterating to Industry partners that Fort Nelson will be the service centre for the Horn, Liard, & Cordova activities,” she said. “We must continue to work with Industry partners to address the [fly-in, fly-out] model, and its imperative that we continue to send a clear message about local hire/local procurement and its importance to our economy.”
Each candidate focused on the importance of opening a new maternity ward, saying it is going to be increasingly important for the municipality if LNG begins to move into the area.
That isn’t the only piece of the infrastructure puzzle that will need attention, though. The district has housing plans in place should the town triple to 15,000 people.
Despite the allure of LNG, both candidates make the case that the diversification of the economy should be the focus of the regional municipality, pointing specifically to the lumber industry, which has been lagging since 2008, when Canfor announced it would be closing down its mills in town.
Both candidates stated that they opposed raising taxes, arguing that rates should stay at their current levels so that they could remain competitive in the region.
“I think better financial responsibilities and better funding allocations could be used to keep taxes at their present level,” responded Streeper in his platform. “If funds were needed to accomplish a very important goal, then we would have to temporarily cut something else.”
Both candidates support the Northeast B.C. Resource Municipalities Coalition of eight local governments. Similarly, both Eglinski and Streeper added that not only should this coalition focus on assisting industry, but it should also make the point that local hire is important to the communities.
One of the few questions the candidates answered differently was regarding which program or service they would cut if they had to. Streeper said that while he didn’t think any of the municipality’s services were expendable, if he had to cut one it would be the road maintenance program, and it would be cut for as short a time as possible. Eglinski stated, dodging the question, that rather than cutting any one program, she would “streamline” things, seeing cutting as a “last resort.”
A common theme in Eglinski’s statements is her “no nonsense” style of leadership that she said will benefit the northern municipality, and her willingness to engage the community from the perspective of its average citizens.
Streeper stressed his experience as someone who has served the municipality for years with industry background and knowledge.