Over 200 people attended an all-candidates forum on Monday evening, one of the largest turnouts for such a forum in many years. The event was held in the Pit at Clearwater Secondary School.
The main attraction of the evening appeared to be the exchange between incumbent Mayor Merlin Blackwell, the former parks operator for Wells Gray Park, and challenger Dean Clifford, who has been described by CBC News as “the guru of the freemen of the land movement.”
Clifford began by saying that in his early years as a building contractor he had been billed by Canadian Revenue Agency for $26,000, even though he had not made that much. That led him to research the Canadian Bill of Rights and to discover how it is not being followed by our governments.
He has spent 20 years studying the law, he said, and he found that governments across this country are overstepping their authority.
A question submitted to the moderator by this reporter asked Clifford if he understood the intent of the Financial Disclosure Act. It noted that he had not declared he and his wife are owners of Clearwater Valley Resort on the financial disclosure forms he was required to fill out when he began his candidacy. He said the ownership is through a security interest (an enforceable legal claim or lien on collateral that has been pledged, usually to obtain a loan), which he said he was not required to declare under the act.
Sandra Holmes asked if he believes in evidence-based healthcare. He replied that what is more important was that people have the freedom to believe in whatever form of healthcare works for them.
Cindy Wilgosh wanted to know what would happen to those who do not believe in his beliefs, if he were elected mayor. Clifford replied that, if a person holds public office, it should not matter what others’ beliefs are. One of the reasons he is running is to make sure the government follows the Bill of Rights, he said.
Clifford was asked about comments on Twitter in which he described Islam as “an invasive disease” and whether that might affect any Muslims who live in the community. He said that, while he sees communism as a bigger problem in Canada, he would not like to see Sharia law brought here.
The challenger said he wanted to look into how roads and other infrastructure are funded. He would demand a full accounting to make sure Clearwater gets its fair share.
“The world is not going to do things for us,” he said. “We have to do things for ourselves. If you want things done, I’m the guy to do it.”
Even though the District of Clearwater is a relatively young municipality, he is often told that it “punches above its weight,” said Blackwell.
The community could face a building boom in the next few years and will need new infrastructure to accommodate it. That means getting grants from senior levels of government, and in order to get grants, we will need to have the trust of the grant-making agencies, he said.
It is also necessary to maintain the trust of Simpcw First Nation. He described the band as one of the most progressive in the province and is becoming, if it isn’t already, the largest employer in the North Thompson Valley.
In response to a question from Laura Soles, pipeline workers could vote in the election, he said. However, they would have to declare their residency here and that might lead to complications with the tax authorities.
Scott Streadwick said that, as a business owner, one of the biggest problems he faces is the TNRD planning department, which Clearwater uses on contract. “Are there any plans to look at other options?” he asked.
Blackwell replied that, with the development that’s coming, in-house planning and inspection are going to happen. He had been skeptical that a small community could handle it but, after speaking with other mayors, he now sees it is possible.
“We can go forward or we can go backward, it’s completely up to you,” Blackwell said.
AREA A DEBATE
The debate for those running to be TNRD director for Area A (Wells Gray Country) was short and sweet. Incumbent Carol Schaffer reported on the progress that’s been made while she’s been the area’s representative, including improvements to fire protection. Upcoming projects include the Vavenby ice rink and a left turn lane at Jenkins Road.
Challenger Usoff Tsao was unable to attend because of work commitments and so sent a short video. He and his family moved to Clearwater in 2019 and he would like to do what he can to serve the community, he said.
CLEARWATER COUNCIL CONTENDERS
All 15 candidates running for Clearwater town council participated in the forum.
The first to speak was Tom Grimm. He grew up in the Valley, first in Avola, then in Clearwater. He’s been working some of the time in Alberta and some of the time here. “My vision for Clearwater? I want what you want,” he said.
Lyle Mckenzie was the only candidate to begin his talk with a land acknowledgement. His special focus is on housing. “It’s about advocacy,” was how he described a councillor’s job. “Sooner or later, you will find an avenue.”
It’s time to stop communicating by keyboard and do things face-to-face, said Ron Rotzetter. He would like the TNRD to give the land where the pipeline camp is located to the district. One possible use would be a water bottling plant, he suggested. Princeton owns property that it leases to industry, he noted.
Suzanne Emerson said being a farmer has helped her learn how to plan, not just for one day or one month, but for years in advance. She thought projects such as solar or thermal power, or an expanded farmers market, could help reduce taxes.
Being a town councillor involves asking lots of questions and making decisions based on the strategic plans, said Lynne Frizzle. “It’s all about pipes, water and sewer. It’s not sexy,” she said.
Bigger pipeline capacity means bigger taxes from Trans Mountain. Barry Banford would like to see that 80 or 90 percent of that extra money go into reserves in order to avoid borrowing or increasing taxes later.
Although not an incumbent councillor, Candus Graffunder earlier served five years with the Wells Gray Services Committee and then two terms with the District of Clearwater council. “I have no hidden agenda,” she said. “It’s important to have a sustainable, united community.”
Emergency preparedness and community health were the priorities for Bill Haring. B.C. Wildfire Service should keep a crew stationed in Clearwater all summer, as was done previously. The dykes on the Flats need to be upgraded, he said.
Harry Minci said he would like to put his time into his community. To help with staffing shortages, daycare hours should be expanded so mothers can go to work, he suggested.
Recent crises motivated her to run for council, said Jessica Toscano. Even though she lives in Vavenby she depends on Clearwater and would like to see it grow.
Lorelei Rogers turned things around and asked the audience what they see as the priorities. The overwhelming consensus seemed to be healthcare.
The hospital and ambulance should be the priorities, according to Theresa Braaten. She has lived all her life here and has been involved in many groups and organizations.
Shelley Sim has already served three terms on the town council and would like to serve for one more. She would like to identify opportunities for the district to offset property taxes. She also serves as the North Thompson school trustee but she felt having the two positions actually helps her to do a better job with both.
Clearwater is a welcoming and friendly place, said Carly Star Lepoidvin. The hospital seems to be the hot topic and will require work at the provincial level.
Ken Matheson said he served in the Canadian Army and then 20 years with the RCMP. His goal in going into politics is to provide a valuable public service, he said.