An interested crowd of approximately 40 people turned out to the Hedley OAP Hall to engage in the Area “G” all candidates debate last Monday, Nov. 7.
The meeting took on a friendly, conciliatory tone with moderator Bill Day’s opening remarks regarding time allowances and conduct.
Vickie Hansen took on the timekeeper’s duties.
Order of speakers was chosen by lot. First to deliver her opening address was Angelique Wood, who described her background and the things that drew her to Hedley. She told those assembled that she was interested in a balanced growth strategy, maintaining a pristine river, and nurturing relationships between different service groups.
Incumbent Elef Christensen stood on his three year record, and his community work in his 17 years as a Similkameen resident. Christensen spoke of his lobbying towards improving internet and cell phone signals in the valley, his work on the Hedley cemetery and his participation in a UBCM resolution to request free seniors MSP premiums from the province.
Flo Winfrey noted her past passion for local politics and her desire to create an industrial arts trainng centre in the area as primary reasons for running. She questioned the cost of the current Olalla water main upgrades as well as garbage rates in Area “G.”
Three questions were put to the candidates by moderator Day prior to opening the floor to the public. The first public question asked of all three candidates related to providing a flag in Woodlie Park, to which all candidates answered that they would, indeed provide a flag.
Olalla resident Tom Isherwood raised the ire of many present when he stepped up to the microphone to ask Christensen if he would have the stamina to stay awake during council meetings in the next three years, should he be elected. The question elicited some muted negative comment from a number of audience members.
Christensen also fielded another question from Hedley resident Doug Bratt, who noticed that Christensen had attended a number of conferences as a regional district director.
“How does that help the consituents?” he asked, “has any of that come back to the community?”
Christensen replied that he had gained $100,000 in grant money from one conference and 1.2 million dollars from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference in Halifax last August.
“We go to these places to beg and scrape, and if you don’t do that, you won’t get anything,” he answered.
The Hedley resident who ventured the initial question regarding the flag in Woodlie Park returned next to the microphone to ask Christensen if he would change his policy of turning everything back to the public when a request was made.
“Will you improve your approach if re-elected?” he asked, to which Christensen replied, “I’m not sure what you mean, but if I have to change, I will… I could tell the Woodlie Park Committee where to get that flag.”
A question regarding Winfrey’s desire for a trade school in the area eventually led to the revelation that Okanagan College had just opened one in Penticton, to which a surprised Winfrey responded that she would have to “investigate it.”
The question of communication was raised to all candidates, with respect to how each would propose to communicate with the electorate in Area “G.”
Wood replied that she would use both casual and more formal means of communication, by way of coffee clubs, press releases, town hall meeetings held on a twice yearly schedule, and through the formation of community service groups.
Winfrey said she might use a newsletter or include small articles weekly in the newspaper.
“I think board meetings should be televised so everyone can keep up,” she added, noting that the public had to “reach out to get the information, too.”
Christensen noted that he had established regular meetings in different places, but the numbers of people attending had gradually died off. He relied on newspapers, noting that the RDOS website had up to date information of Area “G” issues and recent board meeting decisions.
A question on improving communication was then aimed specifically at Christensen, who replied that he would initiate regular meetings.
The candidates were then asked to comment on what they would do in the case of a “doomsday scenario” – should Hedley be completely cut off from civilization.
Winfrey responded that she thought people would pool their resources. Wood noted that the regional district had an Emergency Social Services department to deal with such eventuallities, and that people should be encouraged to grow their own food. Christensen replied that he hoped residents would have gardens to rely on, and that there would be help from the outside.
Communication was a recurring theme of questions posed during the meeting. Christensen was asked how he advised people of meetings and other issues during his tenure, to which he answered that he used bulletin boards at the Hedley post office and the community board in Olalla.
“Maybe we should have been in the newspaper, too. We are limited (in Area “G”) as to how we do it.”
Other questions posed by the audience related to setting up greenhouses in Hedley, regional director remuneration, how taxpayers’ money could be saved on expensive conference junkets, keeping youth in the community, what the protocol was in the regional district for dealing with complaints or compliments and how native and community members could be brought together.
Day asked for the public’s indulgence to extend the meeting, as unanswered questions remained at deadline. The meeting ran an additional fifteen minutes in order to respond to everyone’s question, prior to a two minute wrap up by the candidates.