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City council, mayoral candidates weigh in on sustainability issues

UNBC hosted the first public forum of the civic election on Tuesday night.
Sustainability forum
UNBC professor Annie Booth addresses the audience before the start of an all-candidates forum at UNBC on Tuesday night.

UNBC hosted the first public forum for the city council and mayor candidates on Tuesday at the university.

Roughly 100 people filled the seats at UNBC’s Canfor Theatre to hear from candidates on topics regarding sustainability and the environment, including questions about air quality, protecting the city’s urban forests and improving sidewalks and cycling lanes.

Mayoral candidates Adam Hyatt, Teri McConnachie, Lisa Mitchell, Roy Stewart and Simon Yu attended the forum, along with city council candidates Richard Cook, Garth Frizzell, Doug Jeffery, Trudy Klassen, Colleen Mahoney, Karm Manhas, Wesley Mitchell, Karen Muir, Cori Ramsay, Nour Salim, Kyle Sampson, Paul Serup, Brian Skakun, James Steidle, Chris Stern and John Zukowski.

City council candidates Tim Bennett and Ron Polillo were unable to attend the forum, due to a scheduling conflict with a regular School District 57 board of education meeting. Candidates Susan Scott and Cameron Stolz were also not in attendance.

ON AIR QUALITY

McConnachie said being elected doesn’t turn you into an expert on everything, so it’s important to work with groups like the PGAIR roundtable, which brings expertise and insight to what the city can be doing to improve air quality

Diversifying the city’s economy to bring in clean, sustainable jobs is one way to reduce the city’s dependence on heavy industry and transition to a cleaner future, Sampson said.

The city has been taking action, including the creation of the Downtown Renewable Energy System, Frizzell said. The new Canfor Leisure Pool, currently under construction, is connected to the system.

“Heating a pool takes a lot of energy,” he said. “By connecting it to the (Downtown Renewable Energy System) we reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 90 per cent.”

Jeffery disagreed that the city is taking air quality seriously, after the city’s environmental coordinator position was eliminated.

“If you let go the environmental coordinator, that sends a message,” he said.

Air quality is a multi-generational problem for the city, Stewart said, which will take cooperation from multiple levels of government and industry. Improving the infrastructure for electric vehicles would be a start, he added.

“The city is so late, they think they’re first,” Stewart said.

Improving and upgrading the city’s basic infrastructure, including improving public transit and cycling infrastructure, will be key to improving air quality and protecting the city from future extreme weather events, Mahoney said.

“Urban development is the elephant in the room,” Steidle said. “We need to look at effective community planning.”

ON URBAN FORESTS

Wood said he would start by putting protections in place for Ginter’s Meadow and looking to buy the undeveloped private land above the park to protect it as well.

“We have to form bylaws to make it harder to sell the parks and develop them,” Skakun said. “It takes a political willingness to hold onto those parks.”

Klassen said the city doesn’t just need to look at preserving green spaces, it also has to look at how to manage them to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate and pressures they’ll face in the future.

“We have wonderful greenspaces here,” Lisa Mitchell said, but the city needs to invest in maintaining them and managing them.

The city could protect greenspaces and improve local food security by planting food producing forests and using livestock, instead of chemical herbicides, to control undergrowth, Manhas said.

Stern said he runs a tree farm, and trees aren’t terribly expensive.

“I’d like to see the city by 10,000 trees a year, maybe on Earth Day, and give them away at CN Centre,” Stern said.

Ramsay said she spearheaded a review of the city’s tree protection bylaw, and city council did increase the budget for planting trees. But council needs to hear back from the community what its priorities are, especially with a review of the official community plan coming up.

“I look forward to seeing the results of that and championing those ideas,” she said.

Serup said he wouldn’t want to see the city interfere with private property owners’ rights to cut trees on their land.

“I think we’re doing well for greenspace,” Serup said. “We are well treed.”

ON SIDEWALKS AND CYCLING LANES

Hyatt said the city has to get its spending on capital projects under control, so there is money for maintaining basic infrastructure like roads and sidewalks.

“If we keep flushing money down the toilet, we aren’t going to have the money for sidewalks…” he said.

Cook said investing in basic drive education is needed, before increasing cycling lanes.

“Riding a bicycle in this town is dangerous,” Cook said. “I have seen some terrible close calls.”

Prince George has eight months of winter, Yu said. What Prince George needs is a vision for a series of interconnected, underground walking tunnels like in Montreal.

“What we really need is a long-term vision,” Yu said. “All these plans we do for the next generation.”

Cycling year-round in Prince George is possible, Salim said, because he has done it. But there are major safety upgrades needed, he said. Bike lanes just stop, leaving cyclists nowhere to go.

“(And) snow removal is very bad around the smaller streets,” he said.

Fellow cycling enthusiast Wesley Mitchell added that “every spring we’re fighting potholes, we’re fighting cracks” in the roads.

Improving accessibility and safety is important, Muir said, especially for those who choose not to or can’t afford to operate a vehicle.

Zukowski said he doesn’t have an answer, but he would engage with bicycle and walking groups to get it.

“The only way to find out how to serve you, is to ask you,” Zukowski said.

Video of the forum will be available on the Prince George Public Library’s website this week, for those unable to attend.

The library will be hosting a forum for the six mayoral candidates on Wednesday (Sept. 28) at the Bob Harkins Branch downtown, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Then all the candidates will be back in action at Canfor Theatre at UNBC on Saturday (Oct. 1) at 1 p.m. for a general all-candidates forum hosted by the Citizen, UNBC, the Prince George Public Library and CKPG.

For more details, and information about additional upcoming election forums and events, check out all the Citizen’s coverage of the 2022 civic election.

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