by Mark Page, Local Journalism Initiative
A crowd of 55 local constituents gathered on the evening of September 28 in the Nakusp arena auditorium to hear seven Village councillor candidates vie for four available positions.
Mayor Tom Zeleznik opened the all-candidates meeting with a speech focused on the successes of the past four years. Zeleznik is unchallenged, so retains his position as mayor by acclamation.
Beyond highlighting projects such as downtown revitalization, he outlined challenges such as a tight housing market, lost jobs at Box Lake Lumber and wildfire-related emergencies.
Council candidates were asked to introduce themselves, detailing what makes them great candidates for council and what changes they would make to the village. They were then asked a set of five preselected questions and questions from the audience, on issues ranging from Nakusp’s housing shortage to the downtown rat problem.
In her opening statements, Andreea Myhal spoke of her record as a volunteer and her desire to give back, along with wanting to get down to the practicalities of running a village.
"Where do we get our utilities from and where do our taxes go and what does life look like now, what will life look like 10, 20 years from now," she said. "We have to make sure this community is cozy and solid and healthy."
To best respond to many of the issues facing Nakusp, Myhal said she would look at what other communities have done to solve similar issues. She also said she seeks to encourage growth in local areas by "connecting the dots" between various organizations trying to accomplish tasks such as encouraging local food production.
On housing, she said Nakusp could be "looking at examples from other communities," as well as possibly developing Village-owned land and encouraging private development. "There's lots of wonderful ideas out there," she said.
Jo Law touted her lifestyle at the meeting and spoke about how that could influence the way she would act as a council member.
"The work of a councillor takes a great amount of care, knowledge and connection with the community," she said. "These aspects are attributes which I feel are my strengths."
As the owner of a vegan food truck and someone who lives in a tiny home, Law also said she believes in keeping it local and reducing her carbon footprint. She thinks living in this way can help solve the area's housing challenges, calling for the building of tiny house communities.
To solve some of the village's other problems, including the lack of skilled tradespeople, Law said education is key, needing to "identify the gaps and fill these niches."
Mason Hough outlined his focal points for "improving life in Nakusp," calling for strengthening of relations with local First Nations, supporting young families and "making sure housing needs of our elders, seniors and long-term residents are met."
"We have a lot of land, definitely looking to easing some of the bylaw and red tape that are faced with some subdividing," he said. "So I think if we could open up some of that land it would definitely benefit a lot of people."
Mason did later caution he thought it was "a bit of a slippery slope there" with development and he wanted to avoid larger projects. "Obviously we want to continue with this small town vibe here. I don't know how much we want to attract developers."
Another issue Hough spoke up about was climate change. His ideas to deal with this revolved around educating the community to be more environmentally conscious.
In her opening statement, Victoria Youmans gave a list of five issues she would like to focus on as a council member: “the downtown pest issue, housing and affordable living, job creation and families, children’s and seniors’ programs, and bringing events to our area."
Youmans said these topics were based on her experience living in Nakusp and on conversations with other locals, and that solutions would come from getting together with community members to "buckle down and work together."
Youmans said that to bring developers to the area, Nakusp needs to focus on quality of life, saying the town needs "to have more things for families, to attract people to want to come long-term."
"Find ways to keep people here, to want to come here. So if that's attracting contractors, we have to attract his or her family," she said.
As the only incumbent councillor running for re-election, Aiden McLaren-Caux said he was proud of the accomplishments of the current council and laid out a very specific list of objectives for the next term. These included improving recreational infrastructure, working on the business model for the hot springs, working with a local housing society to develop more units, getting more value out of forestry and supporting destination marketing for the tourism industry.
With all that, he said, "we need to be mindful of our impact on the world around us."
This extends to other work he is interested in as a council member, including the goal of the Village becoming carbon neutral by 2050. He offered concrete plans for this, such as improving electric vehicle infrastructure.
"The future is coming whether we like it or not," he said.
Though Tina Knooihuizen said Nakusp doesn't need major changes and is already a "healthy and vibrant thriving village," she did outline some issues to work on. Those include housing, more industry, and medical and ambulatory care. To help find solutions to these problems, she pledges to engage with the community on a personal level.
Of her approach to council, she says "I would much rather sit down one-on-one and connect over coffee."
On housing, Knooihuizen hopes to have studies done to help solve land use issues and to figure out how to bring developers to Nakusp.
"Attracting developers is necessary to improve the housing situation," she said. "I know we have a challenge with the island-like location we have."
Dawn (Dolly) Edwards
Dolly Edwards said in her opening statement that Nakusp needs "balanced growth to survive," hoping to tackle the issues of housing and jobs in tandem.
"I want our population to have well-paying jobs and we desperately need affordable housing for young families, professionals and seniors," she said.
Edwards said that it is hard to get a contractor in Nakusp, feeding into the issue of a lack of housing.
"It's hard to get your gutter fixed or your window cleaned or your steps repaired. Everyone is so flat-out busy – and part of it may be the housing issue, that people aren't here, aren't able to live here," she said.
While working through these issues, Edwards said she wants to keep an eye toward "preserving our gorgeous and natural environment." Her ideas included promoting electric vehicles, e-bikes and building smaller dwellings to lessen the carbon footprint.
Mark Page, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice