It was standing room only at the District of Hope all candidates meeting Wednesday, as over 250 Hope residents came out to see twelve of thirteen of Hope’s candidates vying for six council seats make their pitches.
Candidates had an opportunity to introduce themselves to the crowd before moderator George Rice posed questions on aging infrastructure, attracting diverse business, housing and other issues of concern for the community. Incumbents Bob Erickson, Donna Kropp, Scott Medlock, Heather Stewin and Dusty Smith were present at the meeting. All new candidates, save for Sung Yun Wong, were present: John Duff, Sharlene Hinds, Steven Patterson, Victor Smith, Matthew Steberl, Paul Stock and Craig Traun.
On aging infrastructure
In response to a question about Hope’s aging infrastructure — including the tourist information centre and museum, fire hall and police station — incumbents defended work done over the last term and new candidates kicked around ideas including a cultural centre and innovative building approaches to lower costs.
“To date, the focus has been on upgrading other infrastructure such as roads, sewers and including bringing the pollution control centre into compliance and recently some repairs to district hall,” Medlock explained.
The district’s asset management plan, including master plans for roads and water, were mentioned by both Medlock and Kropp.
As for the visitors centre, Medlock called for a cost estimate to be done on the visitors centre building, in order to compare whether to relocate or rebuild the centre.
Both Hinds and Erickson brought up an idea which has been kicked around for years, for the district to attain the old Emil Anderson building at 6 Avenue. Erickson said he has brought the idea to the district, in council meetings, a total of three times.
“It’s centrally located, it could house the public works, the city hall and the city hall, presently, could become a tourist centre and museum,” Hinds said. A referendum would be required to purchase this property, Erickson said, adding Hope Search and Rescue could also move there.
Victor Smith called for innovation to lower maintenance costs, citing successes in solar powered lights and metal roofing at another project he was involved in.
A cultural centre is a worthy investment, Steberl said, to encapsulate facilities such as the visitors centre and museum.
The only mention of Station House in response to this question was from Paul Stock, who called for a binding referendum on the project.
On attracting more sustainable, living-wage employment outside of tourism
Candidates were then questioned on how the district can attract more businesses, outside tourism, that can provide sustainable, living wage employment.
Incumbents pointed to a busy development department and new businesses setting up shop as signs that Hope is moving in the right direction. The community development department, which deals with rezoning and building permits, is the busiest it has been in 25 years said Medlock. A new concrete plant and mattress recycling business are also signs of success, Stewin said.
“AdvantageHOPE is looking at refocusing into three different silos: one being tourism, one being investment and the other is on attracting industry,” she said, adding that infrastructure including sewer and water systems need to be in place for businesses to be attracted to the available industrial land, much of which lies in Silver Creek.
Despite AdvantageHOPE being the district’s economic development organization, councillor Bob Erickson advocated for hiring an additional economic development officer.
“We must hire an economic development person, responsible to the district council, who works full time in bringing business to Hope and attracting industry…A new economic development officer, or another one, or it could be the same one,” he said.
Planning for development was another theme touched on by Erickson, who floated the idea of creating a land map that shows all the land available in the district for industrial, commercial and housing development. The map, would be updated on a quarterly basis, something not yet available.
Other incentives, such as tax breaks offered by the district, is something Traun said he supports and pledged to keep an open mind when rezoning applications pass through council should he get elected.
Workforce housing is crucial, said Duff, echoed by Kropp who added diverse housing options and affordable accommodations for families is needed.
“We are the answer in the Fraser Valley (for affordable housing), we’re much better off than anybody else,” said Victor Smith. Together with events hosted in Hope, light industry along 6 Avenue and Flood Hope Road and collaboration with First Nations, affordable housing will provide the right mix for attracting business he said.
Steberl said the district should focus on attracting the clean technology and motion picture industry to Hope: he mentioned a cultural centre with a soundstage as a first step to attracting the latter.
Patterson also dispelled the possibility that the resource economy could return to Hope, instead the town must focus on attracting “skilled labour, the creative class and medical professionals” to overcome the number one hurdle Patterson said plagues the town, namely a small workforce.
Using the town’s existing amenities, like the Fraser Canyon Hospital, the golf club and the recreation centre, to attract a higher-end retirement community is one idea said Hinds.
Dusty Smith said negative chatter about Hope on social media could negatively influence whether an investor decides to set up shop here, so a shift must be made to broadcast what is great about the community instead.
On council attendance
None of the current councillors seeking re-election have a perfect attendance record, although each assured the audience that they do prepare for and take meetings seriously. In response to a question on attendance from a community member, councillor Stewin said she missed three meetings, Erickson missed five, Medlock missed three, and councillors Dusty Smith and Kropp didn’t give exact numbers.
There was, however, one candidate with a perfect attendance record.
“I do want to give a shout out, I know this might not be appropriate, but John Duff did not miss one single council meeting,” Stewin said, to laughs and applause from the audience.
“He is the reason that those videotapes exist,” she said, referring to the videos filmed and uploaded online by the District of Hope Ratepayers Association, of which Duff is a member.
To watch a full video of the all candidates meeting and to read The Hope Standard’s full election coverage, see hopestandard.com/municipal-election. The mayoral all candidates debate will be covered in the Oct. 18 edition.
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