The Howard Philips community hall was packed, the air was electric as the Masset all-candidates meeting got started Thursday evening, but in the end, there were no verbal fireworks, just a well-run, civil debate which saw the issues aired and many questions answered. The format allowed each candidate to state his or her platform, as follows:
“During the past decade I have worked with a number of different council members,” said Mr. Pages. He’s been on council since 1993 and mayor since 2001. He said in that time, everybody has worked diligently, without increasing the burden to the taxpayer.
“Masset has one of the lowest tax rates in the province,” he said, “that will remain one of my priorities.
He said recent achievements include the ongoing joint projects, such as the new hospital and the sewer project, and said it has “Â…proven it takes more than one small community to realize many goals.”
“Masset has a bright future,” he said, “with your support November 19 I’d be proud to continue serving as your mayor.”
Mr. Wheeler cited the new hospital and joint sewer system with Old Massett as good examples of what the past councils have done, but added ” We have dropped the ball on others”, such as safety concerns at the airport. “We should get it recertified as soon as possible,” he said.
He also said there has been a problem with village contract work not being tendered properly, “which results in a high level of suspicion.”
“The GMDC deficit is still not resolved” he said, adding that he would “take the required steps to run a balanced budget.”
He also said that the village showed a lack of respect to its unionized workers in not earlier reaching a settlement, that the community forest project has been dragging on too long, and he argued that more resources should be put into tourism.
“It is now time to give the tourism committee more resources and more support,” he said.
Mr. Wheeler, who delivered his platform in the allotted four minutes, had to speak a-mile-a-minute to do so. He also said he would fight to get the northern living tax allowance restored, look into Masset collecting its own garbage and try to remove illegal drugs from the community.
“There is much work to do,” he said, “we need a change in attitude in how we do business and how we treat people,” he said.
Ms Brown has been on council for six years. “I am very proud of what we have accomplished in that time,” she said.
“The neighbourly rapport we have with Old Massett and Port Clements is the envy of other parts of the Charlottes and in British Columbia,” she said, “We have done a lot.”
Mr. Buell, who has lived in Masset for just 15 months, said he is here to stay and outlined five major concerns.
He listed the crystal meth scourge, the exorbitant crime rate, increasing village revenue from fishing lodge customers, the timely completion of the hospital and joint sewer project, and what to do with the old hospital and mental health offices once they are vacant, as the most important issues he would tackle.
Candidates for council were limited to a two-minute presentation, and Mr. Buell could barely fit his comments into the time.
“My apologies for running over,” he said, “as you can see, I have a lot of ideas. I am hoping to implement a few.”
The crime rate is scary by any standard, Mr. Gray said. “Drugs are here and they shouldn’t be. We have to find a way to deal with that. I have a feeling that council has not been as strong as it should have been,” he said.
He also cited the lack of bid processes for public works. “I do not think we are getting proper value for our money,” he said. “Our mil rate is the highest on-island. Look around, show me the result of high taxation,” he asked.
Ms Liddle outlined her experience on several committees, saying she has also served on Old Massett Village Council, which will be helpful if she is elected.
“I would like to keep the working relationship between Old Masset Village Council and Masset,” she said. She noted the two great successes that cooperation has achieved, the new hospital and sewer project, and said Masset should develop a 20-year business plan to help the tourism industry.
“I’d like to see work done on our economic development and community development plans”, he said, adding that more development at the airport is important, as is new up-to-date equipment for the new hospital. He also would like to improve roads and sidewalks, as well as water and sewer services, and noted also that the community forest is important.
Council veteran Ed Woode joked that if he is re-elected, there would be “Â…no free airmiles, no free parking, and no streets paved with gold.” He then outlined a typical council agenda, from call to order to question period, in case any member of the audience was unfamiliar with how council conducts its regular business.
Brian O’Hara read a statement from candidate Bret Johnston, out of town on Delmas Co-op business.
“Masset is the greatest place in the world, (there is) great potential in town,” he said, then noting that bylaw enforcement is a problem.
“I feel I can make a contribution to council with my background and experience. I will work to the best of my ability to serve the community,” his statement said.
The next segment of the evening involved questions from the audience. All candidates agreed the village should borrow the money necessary for the new hospital, and when Paul Powers said he agreed, the questioner asked him when he had changed his mind. “I have lots of questions but I did not say I was against it,” Mr. Powers replied.
One resident complained she had a dog problem, and the village should hire a bylaw enforcement officer. Ed Woode said council probably would do that, Paul Powers said “I am all for it” and Rollie Wheeler said “I want to create a mutli-purpose position to do enforcement.” Barry Pages said “If it is the wishes of the community to hire a full-time bylaw enforcement officer, it’s something we can look at.”
At this point, a rumour surfaced that Mayor Pages had received kickbacks on a property sale. Mr. Pages said there was no truth whatsoever to it, and said “all I can say is I was shocked. I don’t know where it started. What can I say?”
On the Greater Massett Development Corporation and its deficit, Mr. Pages said his main concern is that the rec centre continue to operate, and said “there is still a way to go. I am confident they can get it to a sustainable level.”
Rollie Wheeler said he has serious concerns about GMDC. “We have to get to the bottom line to balance the budget,” he said, “We have to make sure the dollars are there to keep GMDC and the rec centre running.”
Janet Brown said it has been running very well, and “I can’t think where there is a rec centre that doesn’t cost people money on their taxes,” she said, ” Trying to self-destruct GMDC is not an answer.”
Brent Buell said “One thing we do not want is to lose it. It is vital to the community, ” and Brian Gray said he’d like to see an independent third party assess GMDC, its books and its assets to find out how to cut costs and to make it work. Marlene Liddle said both GMDC and the rec centre “play an integral part in our communities’ health overall. “They are getting out of the deficit slowly,” she said. Paul Powers said it is an asset to the community, “we have to work something out’, and Ed Woode said “sooner or later we are going to get the deficit down and be in the black.”
One questioner said Mr. Wheeler had made numerous racist remarks in the past few years, and questioned his fitness for office.
“It doesn’t make a person a racist if he doesn’t agree from time to time,” Mr. Wheeler said, adding that he has worked well with Haida and non-Haida people, and “if anyone has the opinion I am a racist, you are entitled to that.”
“I really don’t know where she (the questioner) is coming from,” he said.
One questioner said the biggest problems are drugs and crime, calling the situation the worst he has seen in 40 years.
Brent Buell said he has a zero-tolerance approach, and would consider banishing drug dealers, if legally possible. He also suggested council members take a drug test. “Let’s promote healthy lifestyles,” he said.
Brian Gray said he favours a neighbourhood block watch, and said residents should give the dealers the cold shoulder. “Make them know they are not wanted,” he said.
The meeting wrapped up shortly after 9 pm, with organizer Lorrie Joron saying ‘good class’ just before the candidates’ final summaries.
Rollie Wheeler said “please take the time to consider the issues, where you want the village to go, and Barry Pages said “It has been an honour to represent the community as mayor. I’d like to continue doing that.”