The mayoral candidates were unable to attend due to a previously scheduled meeting with the Fort St. John Petroleum Association.
The discussion was intended to focus on arts, culture, heritage and history in the community. While the forum initially strayed to discuss the revitalization of downtown, advertising the Peace River, and cleaning up the lookout (both part of the Regional District, not Fort St. John), eventually it made its way back on track.
Many of the ideas discussed between candidates and members of the public ran on a theme of sharing.
Councillor Larry Evans suggested turning the old fire hall into a center for the Fort St. John Arts Council, including much needed space for Stage North, and other studios. The key would be the different groups finding a way to share the space, and work together with the North Peace Cultural Centre. This is an idea Stage North Executive Director Sue Popesku says she would support.
Despite all the talk of sharing and community, in the end it seemed that much of what the public wanted the candidates to hear was about money. Many people present feel that sports are supported more than arts in the community. Fort St. John Museum Manager Heather Longworth asked the candidates what the difference between the two is to the City, and why sports seem to be preferred.
Councillors Dan Davies and Trevor Bolin explained that sometimes they have to run the city like a business as they have financial interest in many of the sports buildings in the city, like the Pomeroy Sport Centre. The City also owns the Cultural Centre, and spends upwards of $600,000 annually on it and the Cultural Society, who in turn run the NPCC like a business. They argue sports arenas typically don't make money, and only recuperate some of the costs from user fees, while the Cultural Centre has the ability to be profitable.
Despite that, many of the public in attendance maintained that a good balance between recreation and arts is what will keep people in the city. It seems that many of the Arts Council members want the city to subsidize more arts programs. Candidate Carol Kube suggested the groups seek sponsorship from companies like oil fields, rather than ask for more money from the city.
The forum heard far more from current councillors Larry Evans, Trevor Bolin, Bruce Christensen and Dan Davies. The mix of newcomers chimed in when they could, including School Board Trustee Gord Klassen and recent high school graduate Brandon Joice. Carol Kube often made herself heard, although sometimes lacked the information to back up her statements, while the forum only heard from Sarah Palmer once, unfortunate as what she had to say was well prepared.
One thing that everyone in attendance could agree on was Gord Klassen's suggestion that more meetings like this one happen. Despite spending much of the meeting off topic, many ideas for the future were shared between potential councillors and the public.
The next All Candidates Forum will be held on November 7, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. at the Pomeroy Hotel.