(Haida Gwaii Observer/File photo)

Protecting watershed key to Queen Charlotte candidates

Queen Charlotte has a real live contest for council.

Not only does the village have its first challenge for mayor with two experienced contenders — Greg Martin and Kris Olsen — but there are seven councillor candidates and more than one is on the fresh side of 40.

Still, there is a glaring imbalance in the number of women seeking a seat.

“I’m disappointed that I’m the only woman running, but I understand how busy people in our community are,” said councillor candidate Lisa Pineault, speaking at a candidates Q&A on Oct. 4.

“Particularly the women.”

That line drew loud applause from the 60 people who turned out to the candidates forum at GidG̱alang Ḵuuyas Naay. Nearly as many tuned in to the forum online via the Haida Gwaii Radio Society.

Mayoral challenge

One of the key issues was protecting the forested slopes behind the village.

Kris Olsen said council needs to start thinking about climate change and the growing risk of wildfire.

“If there’s a forest fire, resources will be scarce and we need to be prepared,” Olsen said, suggesting a new service road behind the village that would act as a firebreak as well as an emergency service road and recreational trail.

Asked if he would support a ban on logging the forest from the Honna River to behind Spirit Lake, Olsen said yes, he believes in protecting Queen Charlotte’s watershed.

Greg Martin said he too would like to see the watershed protected, but is wary about putting a new road in, given the development it might bring.

“I also want to protect that watershed. But I believe the best way to protect it is to put it inside a community forest,” Martin said.

“You don’t have to log in a community forest — Taan makes a lot of good coin from carbon credits, I understand, and that’s a very real option here.”

Besides protecting freshwater, Olsen and Martin were asked what they would do to get Queen Charlotte’s wastewater treated if elected or re-elected mayor.

After a referendum and survey showed it’s what most residents want, Martin said he and the current council signed a letter of understanding with the Skidegate band council to connect with their system.

“We’re doing more engineering work, we’re trying to nail down the costs,” he said. “With that done, we’ll have a better chance of getting the funding.”

Asked about plans to build a sewage plant with capacity for 3,500 people, Martin said that was the threshold chosen by engineers.

“We can take their advice or leave it,” he said. “If we want funding, it’s better to take it.”

Responding to concerns that the cost of pumping sewage to the Skidegate system may be too high, Olsen noted that the pipe will have to go at least as far east as Skidegate Landing anyway, regardless of which way it flows.

Olsen said connecting to Skidegate may also offer ways to include the BC Ferries terminal or to serve a future hotel by the Kay Centre.

“There are studies to see and things to look at, but that’s my opinion,” he said.

Martin pointed out that the village has had several successes over the four years he was mayor, including fundraising for the Wellness Pole in front of the hospital and lobbying the province for a 19-unit affordable housing building.

If re-elected, Martin said he will keep working to free up Queen Charlotte’s limited housing market, starting with a look at co-op housing.

Apart from housing, Martin’s other top priority is to get the village out from the “stranglehold” of ferry service cuts imposed in 2014, an issue that is growing worse as islands tourism gets better.

Olsen said for many of the issues facing Queen Charlotte, the best approach is to tackle them together with all the islands communities.

“I would like our council to work towards getting the all-island protocol table running again at regular intervals so that islanders know what is going on in each community, and we can work on our common issues together,” he said.

“We can build island pride, island wide.”

Councillors pick priorities

After the mayoral candidates, it was time for the seven councillor candidates to present their ideas.

Alan Moore agreed reigniting the protocol table is a good idea, and said his prime concerns are the control and production of energy on Haida Gwaii, housing, transportation on- and off-island, and food security.

On the sewage question, Moore said it’s important to remember the urgency is more about provincial legislation than an environmental catastrophe. The village should avoid a hasty decision, he said.

Asked about the growth in tourism, Moore said there too, the village has to think long-term.

“Tourists are not a renewable resource,” he said.

Carl Coffey was away at his father’s 94th birthday, but George Farrell read a statement on his behalf.

Coffey said he wants to be part of “a fair, honest, transparent council that is open the public and seeks their input,” noting that he had trouble communicating with the current council.

Coffey also said he wants to see local businesses and talent hired to complete village grant projects.

Devin Rachar served a short council term after winning a by-election last year, and so far he’s encouraged.

“I feel like I’m just getting started,” he said.

Besides council, Rachar has served on the board of the Misty Isles Economic Development Society, and is an alternate for Gwaii Trust. One priority for him next term is renewable energy — last Monday the council voted to seek a feasibility study on local wind, solar, and micro-hydro projects.

Other priorities are holding the province to its promise of $10 a day childcare; seeking an enforceable, all-islands animal welfare bylaw; and deciding how marijuana shops take shape in the village.

“I’m in support of them being in Queen Charlotte, it just needs to be regulated, just like alcohol, just like tobacco,” he said.

Lisa Pineault began by noting her long history of volunteering and entrepreneurship here.

Asked how the village can encourage better services for tourists, Pineault said it’s been an issue since she was growing up.

“We’re always just a step behind the growth in the tourism industry, and maybe that’s how the growth happens.”

As for putting a swimming pool in the village, Pineault said an all-islands pool might be viable, but otherwise it’s just too costly.

Richard Decembrini said his first term on council saw ups and downs, but overall they actually accomplished a lot, like building the boat launch (something that came in handy during the barge grounding) and having the youth centre go to full-time staff.

The village still has big challenges, said Decembrini, who thinks existing engineering studies are likely underestimating the cost to connect with the Skidegate sewage system.

But one of the biggest issues, he said, is the often empty public gallery at council meetings.

“That’s probably been the hardest part over the last four years — not having that public input,” he said.

Jesse Embree said he is new to many council issues, but recognizes the village is in the middle of a key shift toward tourism.

A member of the select business licensing committee, Embree said he favours licensing for Airbnb-style rentals, including fire inspections, noting that it could give the village leverage if a lot more off-island people buy up rentals.

Dave Clair, who moved to Queen Charlotte for six months, six years ago, said one short-term priority on the tourism front is finding better parking for RVs.

“It was crazy this year,” he said.

Clair joined other candidates in praising how family-friendly the village is, and said promoting a walkable, bike-able downtown is a good way to make kids feel they can get around, and safely.

“It’s one of the few places I still see little kids riding around on their bikes,” he said. “I think we just need to keep doing what we’re doing.”

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