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Mayoral hopefuls square off

Prince George got its first look at the man who would be mayor Wednesday night as candidates Lyn Hall and Don Zurowski faced off in their first debate.

Prince George got its first look at the man who would be mayor Wednesday night as candidates Lyn Hall and Don Zurowski faced off in their first debate.

Hosted by CBC Radio One and the Prince George Public Library, Hall and Zurowski faced a variety of questions in front of a standing-room only crowd of about 450 at the downtown branch.

Throughout the night, Hall pointed to his experience on the school board to showcase his leadership style and Zurowski pushed for a Prince George that was open for business.

The two candidates found themselves on the same side of the issue more often than not, with each agreeing on areas the city needs to work on such a downtown revitalization, youth engagement and infrastructure needs.

When asked by moderator Russell Bowers, host of CBC's Daybreak North, about a potential performing arts centre, both Hall and Zurowski expressed a desire to see it built, but pessimism that it would be constructed any time soon.

It would take a financial commitment from all three levels of government, said Hall, and the latest information from the city manager was that it was anywhere from five to eight years before the federal government would have any funding opportunities.

"I can't stress too strongly that we need to look at that funding piece," said incumbent city councillor Hall, but encouraged ongoing work between city staff and the performing arts centre society to have a project ready to go when money came available. "It's a really tough go for us and we just can't do it on our own."

Zurowski noted the city has great amenities that aren't quite meeting community expectations.

"I'm a friend of the arts," said Zurowski. "But let me assure you, the performing arts centre, with me as mayor, I would not be a supporter of it being built first term. It's not just about the capital cost of building a performing arts centre - that's but one piece. It's the ongoing operating expenses."

Zurowski did say he would be open to the idea in his second term as mayor.

Band executive director Jason Morgan questioned the candidates about the city's relationship with the Lhedli T'enneh and their dubious shared centennial - 100 years of the city and 100 years since the First Nation was removed from their settlement in what is now Fort George Park.

"In my view, we're all home," Zurowski said. The former city councillor is campaigning on a platform of "Let's get Prince George growing," wanting the city to reach a population of 100,000.

"Your families are growing faster than non-aboriginal communities and that's a good thing. We aspire to have more residents living here," Zurowski said. "We really hope aboriginal people play a very large role in the future of Prince George - it must if we're to thrive."

The agreement signed between the municipal government and the Lheidli T'enneh in 2002 needs to be strengthened, said Hall.

"You are our community. We have some partnerships with you now but I think they can be expanded upon," he said. "It's the participation of city council along with your band council that we're going to resolve some of these issues."

The next scheduled head-to-head mayoral forum will take place Nov. 6 at UNBC's Canfor Theatre, hosted by The Citizen, CKPG and the Prince George Chamber of Commerce. That debate begins at 7:30 p.m.

City council candidates will have their chance to get in front of the public on Oct. 18 during an all-candidates' forum at the Fire Pit beginning at 11 a.m.