- Why did you decide to run for council?
Making our city a better place to live, work and play takes hard work and commitment. This is work I am excited to do and I hope you will continue to allow me to represent you, the citizens of Fort St. John. If re-elected I look forward to continuing the plans I worked hard to build with Council since first elected three years ago. As a life-long resident, I understand the dynamic community we live in and will use that knowledge to build an even stronger community today and for the years to come.
- What experience or skills, either on councils or boards in the past or in your overall life to this point, do you feel best qualifies you for council? Why should people vote for you?
Having been elected three years ago, I look forward to continuing the plans that Council committed to. I recognize that the work to make this a better community to live, work, and play doesn’t stop and I want to continue to represent you, the citizens of Fort St. John. I understand the dynamic community we live in and will serve to the best of my ability. I encourage you to vote for Byron Stewart on November 15th.
- The government has extended terms to four years with the hope that councils can better meet long-term goals. What long-term projects or accomplishments would you like to be remembered for after this term?
Just as those that have had the privilege to serve on Council prior to me being elected in 2011, my hope and desire is that I am a voice within our community and representing our community, that assists in guiding the City of Fort St. John to a brighter, stronger, safer, healthier tomorrow.
- What is the primary goal you’d like to accomplish if elected into office? How are you going to achieve this goal?
My primary goal is to move Fort St. John forward toward a secure future. Unlike many other communities in our province and nation, we have a very strong economy. As great as this is, there are challenges we must face together to protect, maintain, and build upon the social fabric that holds our community together.
My vision for a healthy community includes:
1. Nursing School
Attracting and retaining medical professionals remains a critical issue for our community. There are efforts and action plans at work led by Mayor Ackerman and our MLA Pat Pimm in regards to the critical shortage of family doctors in our community. It is my belief that more needs to be done to attract and retain our nurses as well.
The City of Fort St. John is experiencing a critical shortage of nurses. Nurses work overtime on a regular basis to ensure adequate staffing levels are maintained. There needs to be a long-range plan put in place to provide adequate staffing for the Fort St. John Hospital and also to ensure that there are enough specialty trained nurses.
Expected industrial development and population growth in the northeast will require a responsive healthcare system that includes an adequate supply of Registered Nurses. A nursing school in Fort St. John could alleviate some of these issues. Many students who attend post-secondary education choose to remain in the area where they have attended school.
The new hospital in Fort St. John, which opened in 2012, is a 23,000 square meter, state of the art facility. This facility includes an expanded emergency room and ambulatory care department, an intensive care unit, larger operating rooms, an endoscopy suite and a birthing centre, the first of its kind in northern BC. The facility is more than capable of supporting the practical training requirements for nurses.
Northern Health and our current Council have expressed concern that without a Bachelor of Science – Nursing program in the northeast, shortages of registered nurses will persist in this region
Create a local nursing school
- Educate and train our citizens right here in our community and facilities.
- Save students the costs associated with moving away to go to school.
Allow for practical training to occur at the Fort St. John Hospital
Call on the provincial government using the combined voices of the City of Fort St. John, the Peace River Regional District, Northern Health, the University of Northern British Columbia and Northern Lights College
2. Regional Policing
The RCMP serving the City of Fort St. John is a post detachment that serves and protects the City and the surrounding rural community. The City has a population of just below 20,000; and supports a trading area of more than 69,000 people within its borders and outlying service region.
The detachment has 50 police officers comprised of 34 Municipal RM, 14 Provincial RM, and 2 auxiliary constables who are supported by 17 municipal support staff (including guards) and 2.5 Public Service Employees. These numbers reflect the authorized strength in the local detachment. A significant number of these staffing allotments are new recruits, members with minimal years of service, or members on various types of leave. In accordance with the Municipal Policing Agreement the municipality funds the municipal regular members (RM), municipal staff, operations and maintenance costs. The province provides funding for the 14 provincial members and the 2.5 Public Service staff. This current funding allocation is inadequate to serve the needs of the region, thus resulting in municipal RCMP members responding to provincial RCMP members’ calls due to lack of funding.
As a resource community, Fort St. John is experiencing rapid growth which will double its population in the next ten years as decisions regarding construction of mega projects such as BC Hydro’s Site C Dam, four large LNG projects, and the Northern Gateway project are expected in the next few months. The City’s RCMP detachment is suffering from a severe lack of experienced members along with the shortfalls common in staffing, due to maternity, parental and other general leaves. The detachment foresees additional shortfalls over the next year due to a number of anticipated transfers. This will only reduce the experience level at the detachment and exacerbate a difficult situation.
Recruiting is difficult in a northern community. RCMP recruits are generally cadets with minimal training who require experienced members to ensure they are trained as efficiently and effectively as possible. It is imperative that this is done to adequately serve the community and ensure officer safety.
I believe we need to look toward building safer communities through Regional Policing.
- Create a Regional model involving all Peace Region municipalities and regional districts to allow for the fluid movement of officers throughout the region.
- Centralize admin staff and specialized police units to ensure adequate staffing levels as demand increases or decreases.
- Provide recruits with the opportunity to develop into their roles with adequate resources to prevent unnecessary burn-out and fatigue.
3. Boundary Expansion
We are a rapidly growing community and the population both within our municipality and on the fringe of our community, within Area C of the Regional District, is expected to continue to grow. This growth will continue to put strains on the services the City provides the residents of our community as well as our regional neighbors. My hope is that our regional neighbors will endeavor to work cooperatively with the City, as our current growth pattern is detrimental to the City and our ability to sustain the services we provide for the region.
- Focus on long-term planning to have land available and accessible to our growing community.
- Call on the provincial government to allow a boundary that is suitable for the growth that we are expecting.
- Lessen the tax burden upon local citizens and business owners by incorporating more industrial zoned land.
- Ensure the transportation master plan is incorporated within all future boundary expansions.
… Without boundary expansion, we need to move forth with an action plan to become a Regional Municipality… We need to move forward to secure our future as a strong healthy community.
- What is the biggest issue facing the community?
I would have to say the over-all shortage of medical professionals, specifically family doctors, is our biggest issue. A Community Action Group has been formed by Mayor Ackerman and our MLA Pat Pimm a few of our local doctors and members of the Concerned Citizens for Health Care. This group has been tasked with looking into long term solutions to:
- Leverage combined resources
- Clearly understand the causes of the issue
- Investigate partnerships as components of a community solution.
The roots of the issue pertain to a combination of:
- The “fee for service” compensation model for doctors
- The business model of our medial clinics
- A global shortage of medical professionals
- The changes to the agreements with the College of Physicians & Surgeons and other international governments, most specifically South Africa.
A variety of discussions and actions approved by Council have taken place over the past year:
- A review of the Northern Medical Program Trust has been requested to ensure that the program can be an effective retention tool for Northern Communities, such as Fort St. John.
- Mayor Ackerman met with Minister Lake in March and we as a Council, along with MLA Pimm, met with the minister in September.
- Mayoral Ackerman and City staffs attended the Penticton Rural Continuum of Care Conference to meet potential recruits and begin working closer with Northern Health on recruitment.
- Provided support and city resources for the North Peace Division of Family Practitioners for their recruitment plans in Australia.
- The Community Action Team have been meeting regularly with the Northern health Recruitment Team and this fall, Sharlene Thomas was put in place as a dedicated recruiter for Fort St. John
There are a variety of partnerships Council currently has in place or are moving toward a commitment that will assist with this issue:
- Northern Health
- North Peace Division of Family Practice
- MLA Pat Pimm
- MP Bob Zimmer
- Live Care
- Pure North
- And the collective voice involving The City, Northern Health, Northern Lights College and the University of Northern BC to secure a nursing.
- What can the city do to prepare for the province’s potential LNG industry and Site C dam (both positive and negative aspects)?
I am for resource development as long as it is done in ways that both respect our community and benefit our community & region.
As to Site C, we are waiting on our on Provincial Government to make a decision so that we as a community can move forward with appropriate planning for the betterment of our community. I have been a member of our negotiating team along with Mayor Ackerman and Councillor Bolin, since January 2012 and it has been a long drawn-out process.
As a Council we agreed that our FIRST PRIORITY is to protect our community from any negative impacts that can be inherent with a project of this size, of which is not to be constructed in our community. Even though Site C, if constructed, will be located in Regional District Area C, as a Council, we recognized that this project, if approved by the Provincial Government, will greatly affect and impact the daily lives of our residents. With this in mind, we as a Council, created the “Let’s Talk Site C” discussions with you, the citizens of Fort St. John. These discussions formed the template we have used for all negotiations with BC Hydro.
We have not yet reached an agreement with BC Hydro but continue to try. At this time, we as a community have invested so much time, energy, resources and money into this elongated process I personally will be very frustrated if the dam is not approved. Non-approval at this stage will mean that much of what we have done was a waste and not recoverable. It will mean that BC Hydro will keep the lands they have purchased in perpetuity while our City will grow around the 85th Ave proposed mine site area. It will mean that the lands that are within the Peace river Valley will continue to be held in a state of limbo and never be used in the full potential of farmable property. It will mean that our community and region will continue to wait for BC Hydro and our Provincial Government to attempt this project again with the hope the next generation is less stubborn. The decision is completely in the hands of Minister Bennet’s department and we are as ready as we can be for our community. His remarks made recently are a bit surprising to me as it is very much a change of tone from the meetings we have had with him and BC Hydro over the past three years.
As to LNG, let’s get this going! However, again please respect and exhibit a true benefit to our community and region.
We are in this together!
- How do you see arts and culture contributing to a sustainable community?
Arts & Culture are vitally important to the social fabric of our community. We are very fortunate to have a strong economy of which attracts a great deal of attention our way for those that are unemployed and looking for opportunity in others areas of our province and nation. The strong possibility of gaining steady employment continually brings new persons to our region and community. It is the social fabric that keeps those persons here, entices them to make our community their new home, not only for themselves, but also for their families. Arts & Culture, Sports & Recreation, Education, Health Services and Community Safety are the essential ingredients for a community to sustain, survive and prosper.
- What elements do you think should be included in a Cultural Policy for the City?
I would like to see more exposure to our First Nations cultural history included within any Cultural Policy. While Fort St. John is the oldest non-native settlement in British Columbia, we have shared the beauty of the Peace Region with our First Nation neighbors for all these years. I think any Cultural Policy had better be inclusive and educational regarding our shared history.
- Who or what is holding back the growth of the community you’re running in?
We must continue with responsible, sustainable and long term community development as outlined in the Official Community Plan (OCP). It is necessary for Council and City staff to continue with transparent communication through all forms of media on issues that impact the citizens of Fort St. John and our regional neighbors. Forecasting, evaluating and responding to the desires and demands of our citizens, in regards to increasing our standards on service delivery, while maintaining sustainable and affordable policies, will continue. It is vitally important that we continue building relationships with regional partners and collective voices (Peace River Regional District, Northeast BC Resource Municipalities Coalition and the North Central Local Government Association) Together we must continue to work with the provincial government on critical issues such as:
- Community safety
- Learning facilities
This is our community … we need to move forward together to secure our future.
On November 15th, please VOTE for Byron Stewart.
- Seven of Northeast B.C.’s eight local governments have joined together in a coalition of “resource municipalities.” Do you agree or disagree with this move? Why? Name one suggestion you would make to this coalition, and explain how it should implement that idea.
The downloading of services onto the municipalities is an ongoing issue throughout our nation. A united voice, whether it be through the Northeast BC Resource Municipalities Coalition (NEBCRMC), the North Central Local Government Association(NCLGA) or the Peace River Regional District (PRRD), is essential for the City of Fort St. john and I am pleased to serve on two of these three organizations.
- Do you agree with Fort St. John’s proposed downtown revitalization plan? Why? What would you add or subtract?
I absolutely agree that we as a Council should, need to and are consulting with the residents of our community to formulate the best course of action in regards to our downtown revite, renewal or rejuvenation. No decisions have been made other than to consult and discuss with the residents of Fort St. John, what might be able to happen and what may be the best route to improve our downtown. Please tell us what we should add or subtract. We are in this together!
- How can this city develop arts and cultural activities to bring in more economic benefit to the community?
The economic benefit for the community comes from persons being attracted to what is being offered and those persons being able to structure their daily activities around that event or activity. The economic benefit grows as more persons and their families choose to make Fort St. John their home therefore adding to the cultural growth of our community.
The City currently hosts a number of these events and activities, including Canada Day celebrations, the High On Ice Festival, the Christmas Parade and others. There are also events and activities the City supports in various ways, such as the Moose FM Block Party, Movies in the Park, the Airshow, the RCMP Musical Ride, North Peace Fall Fair and more. Additionally, The City provides financial support through funding and/or tax exemptions for various facilities (Museum, NPCC, Arts Post, etc) and cultural organizations, such as the Arts Council, the FSJ Library, the North Peace Cultural Society and more.
The partnerships, events and activities are actively being worked on by many and I expect they will continue to grow and develop with the changing needs and expectations of our residents.