Council candidates grilled at forum

The candidates for city council were in the hot seat on Tuesday night at an all-candidates forum co-hosted by the Prince George Citizen, Prince George Chamber of Commerce, the B.C. Northern Real Estate Board and UNBC.

Moderator Marnie Hamagami grilled each candidate one-by-one with a selection of personalized questions in front of the crowd of several hundred at UNBC's Canfor Theatre.

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Incumbent mayoral candidate Lyn Hall was the first up to bat, and was asked about the issue of wages and overtime for the city's senior managers.

"It's my plan to bring that particular policy to council, the new council, for review," Hall said. "My anticipation is there will be changes."

On the issue of attracting the newly-legal cannabis industry to Prince George, Hall said the city has already taken the first steps be finalizing its cannabis-related bylaws on Monday night.

Incumbent council candidate Frank Everitt was next in the hot seat. Everitt was asked if he thinks the city's holiday policy for city managers which starts at four weeks of holiday time per year and increases to six weeks per year within three years of service is appropriate.

"We want our staff to go on holidays," Everitt said.

Vacation time is an opportunity for staff to relax and recharge, and return to work more productive. Employers which discourage or penalize employees for taking their holiday time end up with hiring rates of burnout and reduced productivity, he said.

On the subject of city employees, Everitt was questioned about the 100 additional employees on the city's payroll.

"When someone is on the payroll for a day, a week or a month they're on the payroll (list) for the year," Everitt said. "My understanding is it closer to 34 (new, permanent employees."

Incumbent council candidate Garth Frizzell was also posed the same question.

"As council, we set the direction, we set the budget, and (city staff) decide how to do it," Frizzell said.

Being on city council is a juggling act, because residents don't want reduced services (and frequently want increased service), but also don't want to pay more taxes, he said.

"I'd love to spent a lot less money, and I'd love to provide a lot more services. You have to balance it," Frizzell said.

First-time council candidate Dave Fuller was challenged about his dismissal of scientific fact in his role as an advocate for the removal of flouride from the city's drinking water.

"I don't know what evidence-based information I've dismissed," Fuller said. "I did work to reduce the waste going into our water supply. I think my record is I can make change in this community."

Long-time city councillor Murray Krause was asked if he thought the location at 18th Avenue and Foothills Boulevard was the correction location for a proposed BC Transit facility.

"No," Krause said, to much applause.

"BC Transit thought it would be the perfect spot. (City) staff looked at it and thought it could work," Krause said.

But the public outcry against the project was heard loud and clear at the council table and changing direction was the right move, Krause said.

Incumbent council candidate Terri McConnachie was asked how the city can continue to be friendly to new businesses, while controlling fees and taxes.

"The best practice of this city council was, in addition to getting out into neighbourhoods, was also working with the chamber (of commerce)," McConnachie said.

City council needs to listen to the city's business community and to continue to promote the city, she said.

First-time candidate Cori Ramsay was asked if city council made the right call in caving to public pressure to increase public access time to the newly-rennovated Masich Place Stadium.

"The people came out and spoke. It is a facility for the people," Ramsay said. "Our councillors listened... and that's their job."

First-timer Kyle Sampson was asked what role the city should play in funding a replacement bus service once Greyhound ends service to the area.

"I think more of an advocacy role. We want to permit people to leave and coming to Prince George, but is it our job to provide that? Probably not," he said.

Incumbent councillor Susan Scott was asked if the city should consider creating a local police force to replace the RCMP as a cost-saving measure.

"I doubt the premise. No, I don't see creating a local police force as a cost savings," Scott said.

Newcomer Paul Serup was asked about his position on the development of a new pool downtown, and whether he thinks the referendum was a sufficient mandate to justify the project.

"I think that should have been done very differently," he said. "Putting the pool at the Days Inn site is a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars."

Long-serving city councillor Brian Skakun was asked if he would support the adoption of a ward system to provide representation for various parts of the city on council.

"I don't think so, we're quite small," Skakun said. "If you're going your job properly as a city councillor, you should be able to represent the whole city."

Former city councillor Cameron Stolz, who is looking to make a return to council, was asked why voters should give him a second chance after a widely-published incident in which he was three years in arrears paying his city taxes.

"I was going through a very difficult time with my business," Stolz said. "I made what I thought was the ethical choice to pay my employees, then I paid my suppliers. In hindsight, I should have eaten some humble pie and reached out to some of my friends and family and paid my taxes."

Council candidate Chris Wood was also in attendance. The full debate was streamed live on The Citizen's Facebook page.

Mayoral candidate Willy Enns and council candidate Viv Fox did not attend. Fox sent a representative to read a statement on her behalf, as she was in Williams Lake attending an emergency preparedness meeting that had been planned months in advance.

General voting day in the B.C. municipal election is this Saturday.

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