The Observer thought we should check in with our mayoral candidates as the municipal election campaign heats up.
In Masset, signs supporting various candidates have sprouted all around town. From e-mail we have received and talking to the two men running for mayor, it appears that one of the hottest issues in this campaign is a rumoured tax hike in connection with the Greater Massett Development Corporation.
It’s no secret that the GMDC – an entity controlled jointly by the villages of Masset and Old Massett, whose main function is to run the recreation centre and other former military assets – has run a deficit ever since it was created. (Although it spends more than it brings in, it still has millions of dollars in the bank.)
Mr. Wheeler claims that Mr. Pages, the current mayor, suggested during a council meeting about a month and a half ago that Masset contribute $75,000 to help out the GMDC, and that one option for finding this sum would be raising taxes.
“It came out of Barry’s mouth,” Mr. Wheeler said. “I’m sitting there in shock… I just sat there and I just looked at Barry.”
Mr. Wheeler said he didn’t argue against the idea at the time because “he wasn’t bringing it to the table, it wasn’t a formal motion. He did mention it in passing and that’s how it came out.”
Mr. Pages said the story is completely untrue and that he has never said any such thing.
“All I can say is, council has never discussed tax increases,” he said. “I’ve never talked about taxes being increased.” In any case, a decision to raise taxes could not be made by the mayor alone.
Mr. Pages agreed the future of the GMDC is a concern, but said Masset and Old Massett have worked hard together to bring the deficit down in the past few years and that he believes GMDC will soon be on a sustainable footing.
He said the circulation of rumours is normal for election time, and that he is looking forward to clearing up the misinformation at the all-candidates meeting Thursday night (Nov. 10).
Mr. Wheeler said he continues to have great concern about the GMDC. “It’s a huge problem,” he said. “Sooner or later the money is going to be all gone.”
At some point, he said Masset is going to have to sit down with Old Massett and make some tough decisions – “decisions that hurt” – about the corporation. But he vowed that whatever happens, if he’s elected mayor, he would not consider raising taxes to save the GMDC.
On the issue of his attendance at council meetings, Mr. Wheeler said he just went through the minutes at the village office and by his count, he has missed 12 meetings in the three years he has been a councillor.
“I’ve missed about a dozen meetings,” he said. “If that’s the only issue they’ve got on me, I guess I’m doing pretty good.”
In Port Clements, the campaign is much more low key. Mayor Dale Lore said he hasn’t been doing much campaigning other than just talking to people. For five days last week he was out of town with his son’s high school soccer team at the provincials in Nakusp.
He’s also been extremely busy with village business, he said, lobbying for extensions for projects like the multi-purpose building and the Industrial Road improvements. Now, he’ll travel to Terrace in early December to help the Northwest Region Hospital board pass an important motion about funding for the new North Graham Island hospital.
“As you can see, this is not something you can do while holding down a full-time job,” he said.
The biggest issue in Port, he said, is whether the town wants to align itself with the Haida Nation in the future, or with the big logging companies.
In Mr. Lore’s view, the future lies in cooperation with the Haida, in local wood manufacturing, and in getting a locally-controlled forest tenure, like a community forest.
We didn’t get a chance to talk to the other candidate, Cory Delves, although he did tell us last week that he thought the campaign was going well and that he was getting good feedback from voters.
Voting day is Nov. 19.