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SRD Electoral Area candidates discuss the issues most important to them

Candidates asked about most important issue, how they plan to tackle it
Electoral Area Director Candidates for the four Strathcona Regional District electoral areas have spoken about the issues facing their respective areas. Photo courtesy SRD

In order to give voters a chance to get to know their candidates in the 2022 federal election, the Campbell River Mirror reached out to each Strathcona Regional District Electoral Area candidate to ask the following question: “What is the biggest issue in your community, and how do you plan on addressing it over the next four years?”

Candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name, within their respective electoral areas.

Electoral Area A (Kyuquot/Nootka-Sayward)

- Sarah Fowler

“The biggest issue in my community is the road. Always the single most pressing thing people reach out to be heard on. But this year we have seen some improvements and gotten 14 km chip sealed.

Transportation issues are common when your home is off the beaten path. If you had to drive three hours to get groceries, go to the bank or hospital you would understand why we like to talk about the road so much. Instead of looking at it as a one big issue I tend to break it apart into relationships. The price of market housing in larger urban centres affects sales in remote places. The rural shrinkage that happened when the mill shut down in 2000 has perhaps bottomed out and we are rebounding with people moving out to the country as internet services improve. They see the the quality that village life can offer and often bring skills, jobs and families with them.

But the simple fact remains if my truck breaks down not only are my kids out of luck for drivers to school but also my ability to get food supplies is challenged. There is an inextricable link between transit, housing and food.

Hopefully these words can fulfill your purposes and you consider me your candidate of choice for regional director of Area A on general voting day October 15.

Thanks for voting.”

- Gerald Whalley (incumbent)

”The biggest issue for Area A’as a whole, that local government can impact, is our lack of adequate internet service. To address this issue, I have successfully advanced the case for Area A participation in the Strathcona Regional District’s partnership with City West, which is a well-established internet service provider.

This will provide my constituents with state-of-the-art high-speed internet, television and telephone access via an undersea fiber optic cable that runs from Vancouver to Prince Rupert and all around Vancouver Island, with numerous landing sites such as Sayward and Kyuquot. The hookup to each home is absolutely free, and there is no obligation to purchase these services afterwards, although they will always be available. I will continue to work to make sure that this undertaking is completed as soon as possible.”

Electoral Area B (Cortes Island)

- Mark Vonesch

Vonesch is the only candidate running for the position, and has been acclaimed.

Electoral Area C (Discovery Islands-Mainland Inlets)

- Marc Doll

“The list of issues that are facing our island communities in Area C, as expressed to me by community residents, is fairly long.

At the top of the list is the need for a range of affordable housing options. Other urgent issues include the labour shortage, roads that are unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, a marked lack of BC ambulance first-responders, and the impending challenges of climate change (e.g. fire, drought, storms, food security).

In Area C both candidates recognize and agree upon many of the issues and challenges ahead.

The debate is about how to engage the community and plan the path forward, and who is best qualified to do this. While the other candidate proposes an appointed advisory council to inform the Regional Director about community concerns, I believe that a single elected representative, even one informed by an appointed council, would not be able to effectively tackle this long list of challenges. Our campaign is proposing something quite different. We are promoting an independent, elected, inclusive and democratic organization that would bring the community together, something like a Community or Residents’ Association. This organization would work with the Regional Director and together they could be very effective.

A Community Association could provide a safe place for all residents to meet regularly to discuss issues and make decisions together for our community. It would enable the community to have a collective voice that could inform the Regional Director, as well as anyone else seeking input. And it would also do much more than this. It would harness the energies, experience, expertise, and passion of the community as a whole to vision, plan, seek grants, advocate for and actually implement solutions to the challenges we face.

Such an organization already exists in Area C and represents Read Island and the Outer Islands: the Surge Narrows Community Association. On Quadra Island we already have many close knit and highly skilled neighbourhoods and organizations that have shown how much they can achieve. Now I’m eager to help develop a formal, long-lasting association that will help everyone pull together even more. I see this as the next step in working together as a community for our community

A Community Association is something that I have first hand experience with as I was the president of one for five years. Along with my current volunteer positions on Quadra Island (Fire Department, ICAN, Community Kitchen), I offer decades of experience in community leadership and board governance, including leading various organizations and building relationships at the government level. My skills and experience would enable me to be an effective representative from day one for the region that three generations of my family are grateful to call home.

Real progress for Area C needs an experienced and effective leader elected as Regional Director, working together with an inclusive and independent Community or Residents’ Association. I see this as the best way to address the issues confronting Area C, now and for many years to come.”

- Robyn Mawhinney

“What a learning adventure this is, being a candidate for Regional Director. My appreciation for the diversity of people who embrace the challenges and beauty of a rural island lifestyle is renewed. Housing, emergency services and overnight emergency ferry availability, and community engagement are recurring themes I’ve heard and I’ve come to realize how intertwined they are.

The housing crisis is more than a headline, it’s a lived reality for many islanders. Beyond our personal housing situations, lack of appropriate housing concerns reverberate: businesses and their ability to hire, seniors wanting to remain in community, families wondering if their children can ever live here, and many who feel gravely concerned about lack of overnight emergency ferry availability and full-time ambulance staffing.

Finding solutions and making shifts which work with our rural nature requires an engaged community. My vision includes a Community Advisory Council with representatives from a range of areas across Area C and within Quadra itself. A truly representative Advisory Council will include tourism, silviculture, business interests, environmental advocacy, and involvement from the under 30s all the way to our elders.

An Advisory Council is just the first step to having more community input on planning decisions. Community engagement extends to discussing critical topics at open house meetings and inviting digital input from folks who prefer to share their ideas from home.

I believe an engaged community making informed decisions which suit our island values and rural nature will spark solutions. The issues are connected and so are we.”

Electoral Area D (Oyster Bay-Buttle Lake)

- Brenda Leigh (incumbent)

“Area D is mostly comprised of Residential lots in the North and more ‘Rural’ land designations in the south. People live here for a reason: as an alternative to urban life. Residents here value their friendly neighbourhoods and our beautiful, natural settings. I have opened many gorgeous parks and recreation areas in Area D over the years and our community parks, rivers, lakes and oceanfront are what makes Area D so desireable.

Again, people live here for a reason. They do not want through traffic on their streets and the traffic, noise, pollution and speeding vehicles through their neighbourhoods. They do not want drug dealers on every street corner. They want to maintain safe, rural lifestyles.

During this campaign, I learned of the traffic problems being endured by residents surrounding Ocean Grove School due to parents dropping and picking up their children at a school which is far too crowded and has inadequate parking. This has become an unsafe situation of parents racing with their children down Crawford and Peak Drive to the nearest highway intersection which has no traffic controls to allow people to proceed safely. The street parking and speeding is putting people at risk. I have written to the Ministry of Transportation to alert them to this problem. I would encourage parents to discuss this issue with the local School Board and the Ministry of Transportation to ensure that they are also working towards a solution. I will ensure that people in Area D get the care and attention they deserve over this and many other issues over the next four years.

I will continue to advocate for our rural lifestyle and I will not radically ‘change direction’ in our community. People are longing for stability and predictability in their lives right now. Our citizens do not need the untold costs of runaway development to be added to their current property tax bills. They do not need representatives who cannot articulate what they would aim to ‘change’ without significant costs to property owners.

I acknowledge that change is a constant in our lives. However, all of us have the democratic right to address the rate of change and the future of our community. I will continue to be the voice of reason who will strive to see that we do not lose all that we value about living here and keeping Area D the beautiful, rural area that still exists.”

- John Rice

“In speaking with many of the residents in this community, the biggest issue I’ve heard people talk about is the lack of community planning for the past three decades.

The Area D Official Community Plan (OCP) has not had a ‘Core Document’ update since 1996. While any OCP is a living document that receives minor amendments over its life span, the last amendment made to the one in Area D was in 2013. I believe this is something that needs to be revisited and revised.

The importance of a core document update is significant as the OCP is a tool for local government planning and land management, laying out the vision for how land will be used and how housing will be designed for the community.

As local governments are being asked to tackle critical issues, such as homelessness, affordable housing and housing security, communities need to have well defined community plans. Critical planning documents such as the OCP need to be updated regularly to capture the constantly changing demographics and needs of a community.

To address and fix this problem in four years, it’s time to:

- Get feedback from residents by way of public hearings with the community to understand their needs and concerns;

- Gather feedback from all stakeholders within the community, including business, also through public hearings, and understand their needs and concerns;

- Make available a variety of questionnaires and surveys using online methods and door-knocking;

- Ensure all stakeholders have an opportunity to participate in dialogue.

Once all the information is collected and compiled, the development of a new OCP would then be brought back to the community and all stakeholders for further input. Additional information may be required at this point.

Many newcomers to the community are likely not aware that the community did collaborate on a new OCP in recent years; however that updated document was removed from the regional district’s Board Meeting Agenda without any explanation back to the community,

While the Area D community has several big issues that need to be addressed, I believe that many issues are fixable with the right person elected on Oct. 15.

I would like to be the Director that gives the community back its voice and operates in a transparent fashion.”

RELATED: Seven candidates running for Strathcona Regional District electoral area directorships

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