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Mayoral contenders exchange barbs

The jabs were mostly light-hearted Thursday night as mayoral candidates Lyn Hall and Don Zurowski faced off in a forum at UNBC.

The jabs were mostly light-hearted Thursday night as mayoral candidates Lyn Hall and Don Zurowski faced off in a forum at UNBC.

The two sat down for an hour-long back-and-forth led by political science professor Tracy Summerville, hosted by The Citizen, CKPG and the Prince George Chamber of Commerce.

Asked at the end to summarize what the pair had learned about each other, Hall said he came away with the impression that Zurowski would be less hands-on and not as connected to the community as he would be as mayor.

When Zurowski took his turn at the end of the night to outline what he had learned about Hall, he described his opponent as a gentleman.

"But this isn't a Mr. Congeniality contest," Zurowski said.

Earlier in the night, Zurowski characterized Hall's proposal to bring city council out of chambers and out into the community as a "waste."

"Moving a council meeting to the Hart Highway or to College Heights is simply inefficient," said Zurowski. "We're only 11 minutes from the Hart Highway, generally, to the council chambers. It's a waste of staff time and resources and it's not what we need to do to get in touch with the community."

But it's not about the time it takes to get to city hall, said Hall, it's about the access the community feels they have to council and the fact that chambers can be an intimidating environment.

Zurowski also said he believed in representative government where those elected do their homework on the issues of the day.

"I want to do the job I'm elected to do and not seek permission for virtually every decision," Zurowski said.

"I'm not looking for permission to make a decision. I'm looking for information to make the best decision possible, that's what I'm looking for," Hall responded.

Summerville urged the candidates to poke holes at each other's platforms throughout the course of the evening - which drew a crowd of more than 300 to UNBC's Canfor Theatre - and urged them to defend their positions through her own questions.

A major plank in Zurowski's platform is to have the city grow in population to 100,000. But that's something that would require bringing 77 new people to the city every week over a five-year period, said Summerville.

It's not something that would be accomplished in his first term, said Zurowski, adding that it's a lofty goal that would take strong partnerships with the sectors like the construction industry.

Prince George isn't even meeting the national average for growth, said Hall, noting that an eight to 12 per cent rate of growth over four years is a more realistic goal. "It's going to be a lot of tough work," Hall said.

"I'm not comfortable with being an underachiever," said Zurowski. "This is a vision and a vision without action is a pipe dream."

Despite their different approach to leadership, the two candidates often found themselves on the same side of the debate, agreeing on the need for a bigger population to increase the tax base, a need for post-secondary institutions to contribute to economic development and the role that the city plays in the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George.

While Zurowski said his "day one, job one" task if elected would be to sit down with the city manager and communicate the need for a two-way respect between staff and council, Hall said his focus would be to improve the relationship with the on-the-ground staff.

"They're most visible and they need to be ambassadors," said Hall. "Their morale is very low."

CKPG will broadcast the debate on Nov. 11 and again on Nov. 14.