Kitimat voters in the upcoming municipal election should carefully, very carefully, consider who are the best candidates that will, as much as humanly possible, produce a “world class” municipal mayor and council.
Northwest Coast Energy News will not endorse any individual for mayor or council in the 2014 municipal election.
However, this election is probably the most important in the District’s history and so this editorial will outline the issues facing the District of Kitimat.
When that council takes office in January 2015, it must have one item high on the agenda. Plan B. That’s B for Bust. In the past few days, just as the nomination process closed for municipal candidates, the world’s commodity markets began showing a sharp downturn and that commodity downturn will be a factor, like it or not, during the years that the new council will be in office.
So the District of Kitimat, elected officials and staff will have to consider both a possible boom if LNG goes ahead or a bust if the world’s commodity markets tank, as some are already predicting. (Although it should be noted that apocolyptic news is good “click bait” in part two we will discuss the consequences of the current commodity down turn)
Why a “world class” council?
The term “world class” has been bandied about a lot recently, especially by BC Premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But that “world class” term has largely been political spin. For Clark it gives her government a hall pass if they decide, in the end, that Northern Gateway isn’t worth the trouble. For Stephen Harper, “world class” is nothing more than a propaganda term.
When it comes to Kitimat, however, it is wise to take the term “world class” seriously. How many small town councils have to deal with the world’s second largest corporation, Royal Dutch Shell, the twelth, Chevron and, if Glencore takes over Rio Tinto, the tenth? How many small town councils have to deal daily with federal and provincial governments, governments that while praising Kitimat for its potential really want to bury it by taking for themselves much of the advantages that industrial development could bring here?
There is already one world class local council in the region, just down the road in Kitamaat Village, the Haisla Nation Council, which shows that with strong, intelligent and determined leadership, a small group can come out ahead in tough negotiations with giant transnational corporations and the governments. Yes, rights and title do give the Haisla Nation a negotiating and legal advantage, but a paper advantage is useless without vision and as Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross has said in interviews, the abiity to learn from mistakes and apply those lessons. We’ve heard people say that if Ellis Ross ever chose to run for mayor of Kitimat (which he wouldn’t because he is focused on improving the lives of the Haisla) he would win in a landslide.
The present council has had a couple of major failures, both with the Northern Gateway project. The first was the failure to participate in any way with the Joint Review process. Council chose to be neutral, and stubbornly maintained that neutrality meant sitting out the entire Joint Review hearings rather than participating in such a way that the Kitimat was properly represented during the hearings without taking a stand one way or another. The Haisla intervenors ablely not only represented the interests of the Nation, by default the Haisla often represented the interests of the entire district before the JRP. The second was the plebisicite which had a convoluted question and protracted disageement on how the plebisicite should be managed.
The question for voters is have those candidates for mayor and council who are part of the present adminstration shown a willingness to learn from those mistakes and do better in the next four years?
Which candidates for mayor and council have the intelligence, determination and vision to quide Kitimat during the next four years. Which candidates have the negotiating saavy and yes (whether male or female) cojones to get the best deal for the District in the coming years?
Access to the ocean
The big issue in this election, whether or not we are in a boom or a bust, is action to ensure that the residents of Kitimat have unimpeded access to the ocean for both casual recreation and for boaters. That means Kitimat needs a tough, determined council that is willing to really represent the residents in in the water access issue.
When it comes to the Regional District’s actions on the sale of MK Marina, the District of Kitimat has acted like a wimp. The attitude seems to be well, Kitimat has only one vote on regional council and the rest of the region doesn’t really care, so there’s nothing we can do about it. True leadership would be finding an imaginative way to make sure the interests of the people of Kitimat in gaining access to the ocean are not lost in regional council indifference.
It also means that there must be better relations with the Haisla Nation and a way around the fact that Rio Tinto controls far too much of the waterfront.
There’s also the long term problem that the federal government decreed two years ago, without consulting either the District or Rio Tinto, that the private port would become a public port. We’ve heard nothing about that since but the Harper government’s potential interference with the port of Kitimat cannot be ignored.
That may mean hiring additional staff. This site has said time and time again the District needs its own in house staff city solicitor who can deal with all the issues that come up, rather than depending on occasional legal advice from a lawyer on retainer. If the district can hire smart planners and economic development officers, it should also bring back the position of “harbour master” which existed on paper some years ago and that way there would be one district staffer who could use that title (even if conflicts with the feds) to work full time on ocean access.
One thing is certain, all members of the current District Council have had a huge work burden during the past three years, a work burden far beyond anything that is normal for a small municipal council in a town of 8,000 people. That work burden will likely increase during the next four years.
Experience counts. Voters should ask which councillor and mayoral candidates have handled that work burden the best? Which of the candidates, new or old, are genuinely willing to take on that burden, which will range from negotiating (within the powers of a municipality) with some of the world’s giant corporations, many with a century of more of negotiating experience, while at the same time dealing with perennial issues like snow clearing in the winter, garbage collection during bear season and deciding which of Kitimat’s unique system of sidewalks need to be fixed this year?
There are at least two positions on council that are up for grabs by new comer candidates. Who ever wins those positions will change the makeup of council, may even change the voting pattern (which during the current situation was often four to three one way or another, with Corrine Scott who is not running again, often, but not always, casting the deciding vote). So the voters should listen carefully and decide no matter what their position on all issues, who are the candidates that will strengthen the overall council.
One issue candidates
While we won’t know for certain until the debates, there appear to be a number of one issue candidates running, candidates that, it seems, want to refight both sides of the Northern Gateway plebisicite.
Unless these candidates show a wider vision the voters should reject those candidates.
On the “pro development” side there is a strange notion that if Kitimat could only elect a council that welcomes any industry, any time, then the world will beat a path to our door. That’s not only a fantasy, it’s a bad negotiating tactic as Christy Clark has found out. Clark in her provincial election campaign put all her political eggs in the LNG basket and (to mix metaphors) now the LNG industry is calling her cards and Clark has very little in the pot and a very weak hand. The big corporations would love a council that comes begging, cap in hand and will take any handouts the company may offer. Just look at Petronas and what it is demanding (not asking) from British Columbia.
On the other hand, a candidate who is stubbornly on the environmental side is also a danger to the future of the district, since that candidate may also be an impedement to tough negotiations needed to protect the district’s environment including the Kitimat airshed, the Kitimat River and the Kitimat Arm.
Electing a council that is unbalanced either on the pro development side or the pro environment side will solve nothing and will only increase the polarization in the community.
Electing one issue candidates who care only about one side or the other energy debate while it may give some voters satisfaction, will likely mean that these candidates, if elected, will not be working hard on the day-to-day municipal issues like water, sewerage, snow clearing, how many books the library has or unraveling the recycling condundrum.
So cast your ballot for those candidates best suited to take on the world, while at the same time making sure the sidewalks are safe.