Harrison Hot Springs Village Hall. (File Photo)

Harrison Hot Springs Village Hall. (File Photo)

ELECTION 2022: Harrison Mayor and Council candidates Q&A

Ahead of the Oct. 15 election, The Observer asked candidates five questions pertaining to some of the biggest issues facing Agassiz-Harrison.

What are your two highest priorities for the village?

John Allen (Mayor): My first challenge will be to deal with planning at the OCP and zoning bylaw level. What is happening at the moment is a shambles and unacceptable to anyone with any love for this community. Monster garages with suites on lot lines, ugly development crowding Hot Springs Road, illegal secondary suites in the R1, single family zone, flooding and traffic chaos. These are all symptoms of a sick planning regime.

The problem could be lousy bylaws or bad administration. Perhaps both. It has to stop. I have 40 years of experience dealing with zoning bylaws and OCP bylaws throughout the Fraser Valley. I know how to fix and properly administer Harrison’s bylaws . I will do so promptly in conjunction with elected councillors. My second priority is to mitigate the interface forest fire hazard. Prevention and good response planning will be followed by real progress on the Northern evacuation route. Handing this off to Kent hasn’t worked. We need to take control and get it done. Instead of more committee meetings and consultants, we’ll send a machine (probably an excavator) down the old forestry road through Sasquatch Park, the route I’ve been advocating for about 30 years. We’ll then see what’s needed to open it up for northward evacuation access to Hwy #7. Maybe not much, as the road bed is still intact, just overgrown.

John Buckley (Council): Sustainability and accessibility.

1. Development has to be managed so the villages growth systems and infrastructure can maintain both the residents and the tourists who visit our beautiful village. As our population ages it is important to ensure that all public spaces remain accessible and usable for all residents.

Accessibility is also important for tourism, as there is a clear trend to ensuring destinations can be accessed by all.

To that end, I support the new visitor information centre which is striving to obtain the Rick Hansen Gold Standard of accessibility.

2. Support local businesses. It’s because of them that our property taxes remain significantly lower than otherwise might be. As an official resort community, we receive provincial government resort municipality initiative (RMI) funds which amount to millions of dollars, paying for infrastructure and amenities along the waterfront and throughout our village that we could otherwise not afford.

Leo Facio (Council, incumbent Mayor): My two highest priorities for the village are to be sustainable, also have more communication with the public and work on the emergency route.

Leslie Ghezesan (Council): To check where our tax money vanished as from 2018 went up $200 to $1,200 put this money to work for us.

Allan Jackson (Council): To ensure the Village remains economically sustainable. To ensure the right and concerns of the taxpayers are protected and heard.

Samantha Piper (Mayor, incumbent Council): I still have a lot of work I wish to continue with Council. The two highest priorities initially are a Service Capacity Review (SCR) and the second is Relationship Building. An SCR will take a deep dive into sustainable service delivery. The scope of works will include a look inward and outward of the municipality’s procedures and overall framework; the purpose and goal will be to establish sustainable efficiencies, long-term strategies, community needs, and future service planning for the betterment of the community as a whole. The SCR process will require time.

If developed systematically, it will ensure a comprehensive review is generated, resulting in purpose-driven governance, municipal efficiencies, and overall community well-being. Relationship building is critically important. Council not only represents the village while at the council table but also while advocating for the village in other settings. Relationships and partnerships are what will continue to move our community forward. Joint-effort projects; regional initiatives; community to community resourcefulness; government to government ingenuity. By working collaboratively, much more can be achieved with the outcome of mutual benefits.

Michie Vidal (incumbent Council): 1. Housing needs are evolving. We are experiencing rapid growth, changing demographics and council must adapt. New residents and younger families re-vitalize our community and we must listen to their needs. Many of our seniors who have called Harrison home for many years are now considering downsizing and want to remain close to family and friends. We must find solutions and provide attainable housing for all ages. This can include incentives in partnership with programs provided by provincial and federal governments. We must continue to enhance our community where residents, businesses and visitors are provided with housing, amenities, infrastructure and programs to ensure a vibrant and thriving village.

2. We must continue to support the recommendations in our adopted Active Transportation Plan, Lagoon Master Plan, Parking Master Plan and our future Urban Forest Master Plan. These provide the justification when grant applications are submitted, and if awarded, provide upgrades and additions for the benefit of our community as a whole. Council has kept property taxes to modest increases. Grants provide the needed funding to ensure we have an active and safe community without the burden of substantial tax increases.

Ed Wood (Mayor): Build community spirit. Form committees and allow informal conversations by the public in village business, engage, listen, learn, and build. Quality of privacy in our homes. Ensure the draft OCP that allows for duplexes and coach houses to be built on presently zoned single home lots is not permitted.

What have you done to prepare for this position?

Allen: Harrison’s new Mayor needs to hit the ground running, rather than spending the first year learning about ongoing issues which are in front of council. I’ll be ready to do this job from day one as I have attended almost all council meetings for the past four years, even the early-morning specials. My attendance record in the past two years is almost 100%. I have often been the only one in the audience. I have asked questions and filed FOI requests to get clarity on issues which are unclear. When permitted, such as at public hearings, I have tried to contribute my expertise and knowledge of the Village.

For the past 45 years, I have taken an interest in all Village matters and thus have accumulated a knowledge base which is unique. Outside of Harrison, I have led many organisations and run many meetings which has given me a set of management skills which are directly applicable to being an effective Mayor and Chief Executive Officer. I’ve had a lifetime of successful business dealings. I’ve led and built several organisations which has afforded me an opportunity to learn how to build community engagement. Serving four terms as Harrison Mayor and several as councillor has taught me how municipal government works. I am the only mayoral candidate with any actual Mayoral or private-sector, “ real world” business experience.

Buckley: The first thing I did was print out and deliver detailed brochures with my contact information introducing myself to the residents of Harrison who did not already know me. It outlined my past civic achievements and appointments during the past two terms I served as village councillor from 2011-2018. It also spoke of who I am, what I believe and what my intentions are going forward if elected. I believe it is very important for voters to know who their candidates are and what they stand for.

Facio: I have prepared by canvasing the village with printed cards, signage, media TV interview, attended the all candidates and a facebook video.

Ghezesan: Actively participated on the council meetings from 2011 up to 2018.

Jackson: With my 9years of experience as a previous councillor, my education and my keen interest in the Village of Harrison Hot Springs I am totally prepared.

Piper: My preparation for the position of Mayor has been extensive and wrapped with dedication and anticipation for the future. An essential factor in enhancing my leadership abilities is education. I have completed various certificates, diplomas, and training that primarily focus on local government or business. In doing so, I have built a deep knowledge of municipal government, its processes, and its framework. My elected official and career experience in local government also brings insight and understanding to the council table. My natural leadership skills, vision, ethical choices and behaviour, community devotion, compassion, empathy, and creativity are who I am. I value relationships, effective communication, accountability, and team. Through emotional intelligence, I navigate various situations with grace and understanding while maintaining professionalism.

Vidal: My dedication to continuous learning is one of my strengths. Gaining a knowledge base on the roles and responsibilities of Council is necessary. My current term on Council has provided me the opportunity to gain an understanding of the Executive powers which Council is granted. Familiarizing myself with legislation which Council falls under such as the Community Charter, and the Local Government Act provided the necessary understanding of the roles, responsibilities and jurisdiction of Council, Village staff, Provincial, Federal and First Nations governments. One of my Council liaison portfolios is participation in the Agassiz/Harrison Healthy Communities. Along with other community organizations, we collectively share and discuss innovative and creative solutions to address the needs of all ages within our two jurisdictions.

As 2nd Vice President of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, I have expanded my understanding of the needs of Local Governments from Pemberton to Boston Bar, championing these regional needs with the Provincial Government.

However, most importantly, my term on Council has provided me the opportunity to listen and hear our residents and businesses concerns and bring these to the Council table. Being a member of Council is a combination of the ability to understand concerns of the community, in some cases lead and in other cases listen. Experience teaches you to know the difference.

Wood: My commitment to you as your mayoralty candidate was and is to go knocking on doors in the village, true one on one engagement. The passion I have seen and heard is what motivates me to be your full-time mayor.

I believe in quality versus quantity, the bonds that have been made, the concerns, and the questions have given me the drive for change.

It is my commitment to you that I will do everything in my power to open the community up and truly listen, learn, and build.

  • Door to door petition to stop the selling of the overflow parking lands/civic hall.
  • Lobbied Brad Vis / Laurie Throness, meeting in person, to stop selling of overflow parking lands/civic hall
  • Phone conversations with the provincial deputy attorney General regarding grant applications.
  • Volunteered my time to assist the village during the onset of the COVID crisis.
  • Member of the Search and Rescue, short duration.
  • Strong advocate to upgrade and maintain our infrastructure, ie Threat of flooding due to our substandard dike. Drinking Water Plant/Source/Wastewater Treatment Plant.
  • 2014 Harrison Hot Springs councillor candidate

Leadership is about listening, learning, engaging, directing, and building community spirit. I would allow true public participation in the ‘village” business. Presently if a member of the public has a concern, and they attend a council meeting, they can only ask questions of the elected official “after” they have already made their minds and voted on the matter. It makes absolutely No sense to not allow questions or make comments “before“ council makes their decisions.

If elected, what steps would you take to ensure Harrison is safe from the threat of wildfires?

Allen: Job one will be to revisit the interface fire hazard assessment report and correct the erroneous wind pattern data. That report is based on the fallacy that the Harrison summer winds blow from north to south. They don’t . They actually blow from south to north. So that report needs to be corrected and re-written. I expect the corrected report will state that our major threat is a forest fire in the East Sector. We will start to mitigate that by re-opening Quarry Road so that we can get vehicles back in there to fight fires. We will then remove the accumulated fuel from the village’s 73 acres along McComb Drive and limb-up the trees. The same process will be carried out at Firehall Park and other village-owned woodland. Longer term, creating a community forest ( Harrison Forest Park) will allow us to manage the whole 400 acres east of McComb Drive to reduce the fire hazard. I will ensure that our fire department is equipped to deal with woodland fires and is not confined to the blacktop only. Land-owners will be encouraged to manage their lands to reduce the interface fire risk. Bylaws may be required.

Buckley: After speaking with Harrison’s fire chief, I was informed Harrison firefighters are structural firefighters, who have been trained in fighting ‘outside’ fires such as houses, buildings, hotels.etc. Members are currently taking interface training. This type of training teaches them how to respond, react to and fight wildfires along mountains and forested areas. I would also continue promoting public education on the dangers of outdoor fires such as campfires, fireworks, etc, as well as to further our OCP’s fire corridor requirements.

Facio: We completed a FireSmart plan with a consultant and the fire department in 2017, this has been put into our new OCP, new homes will be expected to have new FireSmart materials and landscaping.

Ghezesan: (no answer provided)

Jackson: The fire department and the village must come up with a “good old fashioned Fire Drill” this must be related to the residents via an “Alert System.”

Piper: A healthy tree canopy in the community will positively affect our local environment and climate. It starts with the Urban Forest Management Plan. In this plan, I anticipate we will have a better understanding of what we have, what we should have and where we should have trees. We all play a role in the safety of our community, and that starts at home. Initiatives preventing wildfire devastation can be developed through the proven practices of FireSmart. Although our community is a designated FireSmart community, I see the development of a FireSmart/Public Safety Committee beneficial to building initiatives and educational opportunities with a lens on residential areas. The importance of having an alternative route for the safety of our residents and visitors, primarily due to the prolonged dry seasons and longer wet seasons, is necessary.

Relationship-building will be essential while continuing to advocate with neighbouring communities for a secondary emergency route. Although the identified route is outside our community boundary, we can continue to champion the need to the provincial government. Our local fire department is full of undeniable expertise and passion. Ensuring the fire department has the resources, equipment and training required to do their job safely and effectively is essential to our overall community safety. I will always prioritize this area of the budget as crucial.

Vidal: In 2019, our village was awarded the BC FireSmart Community Protection Achievement award. This was in recognition of the steps taken to mitigate the danger of fires. Council can use standards that aid in helping to protect our homes. Land Use planning and development must include initiatives including design, construction materials and landscaping which support resiliency and protection to our homes and infrastructure. Our council, land use planners, neighbors and First Nations all need to work together. We all recognize that being FireSmart is a shared responsibility between Council and homeowners, and I encourage everyone to visit the BC FireSmart webpage for great information and recommendations. Many communities have adopted a Community Wildfire Protection Plan which helps to prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from wildfires, especially in our Interface Wildfire Development Permit Area. I support our village developing a similar policy.

Wood: Due to our rapid development, high density, it is not only wild fires but fires period. We need to train our fire fighters to handle all fire situations. I would work with the fire department to assist them with their needs, training and equipment. An evacuation route is a must, we can’t rely on just Hot Springs Road. We must work with the District of Kent, which employs our joint emergency co Ordinator, the position has been vacated, and has been recently posted. I would ensure the OCP includes the “wildfire zone” in all future development projects.

During the past few years, there have been gaps in meetings being recorded or broadcast online. This has created some questions of transparency. Do you support additional efforts to broadcast and record meetings? Why or why not?

Allen: “Additional efforts” is not nearly good enough. As Mayor and CEO I will ensure that ALL public council meetings are recorded and broadcast on Zoom or other media. There is no valid excuse for not doing so. We have spent thousands of dollars on the equipment. We know it works well. We just have to turn it on.

I will ensure that all issues which should be dealt with in public are actually dealt with in public. There will be no more use of “ in-camera” ( secret) meetings to hide issues from the public if they have a right to observe those discussions. For the past fourteen years, I have campaigned for “open, honest government”. That’s what I will deliver to Harrison residents. Your civic rights matter and will be respected by me.

Buckley: Yes, of course I would support increased transparency of recorded meetings as per what the community charter allows.

I campaigned on wanting to create more transparency between residents and the village in our day to day operations.

Facio: We did put in additional recording both in the village chambers and when the pandemic arrived we moved to the memorial hall where the ability for Zoom was installed, due to some conflict with the festival off the arts the recording will continue after the counsel has been asked to change their meeting date.

Ghezesan: We have to make it mandatory recordings evry meeting and broadcast them; we improving our transparency.

Jackson: I feel only items that should be discussed “in camera” are Legal, Land, and Labour”. everything should be discussed in a public forum and recorded.

Piper: I full-heartedly support consistent broadcasting and recordings of council meetings. At the start of my second term, I spoke in favour of recording meetings; we as council discussed options and logistics that resulted in the start of the video recordings that we see today. I also supported utilizing Zoom as a platform for residents to attend meetings. Yes, of course there was a learning curve, the pandemic restrictions, summer events, and technical difficulties which we all genuinely tried to navigate to the best of our abilities. The recordings and Zoom access are good for those unable to attend a face-to-face meeting. Not everyone in our community is available at the same time of day therefore providing access options for council meetings is an inclusive approach. Still, it also assists with showing processes, spreading knowledge on local projects/initiatives and business of council, as well as provides ease of access to council meetings. Can we do better? Probably, and if we can, we should; however, we need to remember additional equipment and technical support come with a cost that must be considered with budget and we need to be open to hearing what is and is not working for the community.

In my opinion, concepts of secret meetings, lack of notification, meetings without minutes, and changing to an organic approach for meeting structure are theories based on perceptions. The reality is the business of council is heavily legislated through the Community Charter. The strong language of “Must” when referring to the business of council is outlined in the legislation. Council must conduct public meetings, must have a Procedure Bylaw (rules of procedure for meetings of council), and must be recorded (minutes) to mention just a few of the requirements. I admit, the processes can be frustrating or confusing at times, partly due to the pace however, adhering to legislation is a necessity. The remarkable thing about municipal government is how reachable it is because it is local; residents have access to its front door and elected officials. There are many other ways government can be malleable and avoid barriers and I see those being reviewed in my plans for a Service Capacity Review (SCR).

Vidal: Prior to the pandemic, video recording equipment was installed in Council Chambers which allowed residents to view Council meetings on You Tube. During the early stages of the Covid pandemic, Council meetings were moved to Memorial Hall providing a larger space for physical distancing requirements. Video recording equipment was re-located, and once Public Health Orders mandated no public attendance at Council meetings, live streaming via Zoom Conferencing was introduced, allowing full participation for residents. In support of tourism recovery, and to accommodate the return of our numerous festivals and events, Council meetings returned to Council chambers at the Village office during the summer months. Council meetings have now returned to the Memorial Hall with full video recordings and Zoom Conferencing capabilities.

Wood: All council meetings must be at minimum recorded and available to the public, my preference would be to include zoom so the public can feel free to ask questions.

With the pandemic’s effects on tourism, do you think Harrison can still continue to survive on tourism alone?

Allen: Tourism is Harrison’s only industry, but it is no longer the dominant source of tax revenue it once was. The reality is that Harrison has fallen behind as a BC destination resort and our tourism industry is now foolishly focussed on day-trippers rather than overnight stays. This is unsustainable. We cannot grow a viable business sector on ice cream and beach BBQs.

We need “heads in beds” and overnight visitors who spend money in restaurants and shops while here. A serious discussion about our future economy needs to be part of the OCP review which I will initiate. My professional qualifications and extensive background in BC tourism will serve to find ways to enhance real tourism in the Village. If we can’t do that, I fear that we are destined to be a retirement/bedroom community with a small tourism area swamped with day trippers. We must, and can, do better.

Buckley: After speaking with Tourism Harrison, I was informed that while the pandemic did have a significant impact, the residents did their best to support local businesses.

This past summer showed a fabulous return of visitors with hotels operating at near capacity. With the ongoing support of Tourism Harrison, Tourism can and will be the economic engine for Harrison and the greater region.

Facio: In 2021 tourism started to make a comeback and I believe this year in 2022 the tourism industry has had a tremendous rebound, with the additional extension of the region which includes Agassiz and Harrison Mills I believe tourism will get stronger.

Ghezesan: Too much is spent on tourism. Harrison is old enough to be advertised.

Jackson: Tourism is vital to the economic health of to all our various businesses, and generates income to the Village through Pay Parking, and the Resort Municipal Tax which has brought in over 8 million dollars since 2007.

Piper: Yes, I believe we can, partly due to our location. Harrison has much to offer with our breathtaking environment, experiences, area history, the dedicated business community, and recreational opportunities. At the same time, we should remain open to new and innovative ideas while being acutely aware of the change in consumer expectations. Due to technology and the push forward from the pandemic, home-based and small businesses continue to grow. It is critical to continually think big picture, build relationships, and monitor the ever-changing economic landscape through the lens of what it means for our community. The RMI funding for the community is a lifeline.

Continuing to work with the Provincial Government and advocating for the continuance of the RMI funding is crucial for our community. This funding enables tourism-based infrastructure improvements that create experiences for visitors to enjoy, encourage return trips, and residents, in turn, enjoy the same improvements. Having year-round events, festivals, and infrastructure that supports all-season activities is essential. Building upon the relationship with the Sts’ailes people and local Indigenous communities, local businesses, groups, associations, societies, Tourism Harrison, and the Harrison Agassiz Chamber of Commerce will ensure that the hard work and dedication for local events is supported by residents and visitors alike, resulting in drawing in customers for our local businesses. Attracting and retaining employees locally is essential for the success and sustainability of our local businesses. Putting our heads together to develop sustainable strategies that include affordable housing for workers is an absolute must. I see this work launching through committee work, meaningful engagement, and collaboration.

Vidal: Our visitors are returning to Harrison, tourism is recovering and remains the economic drive of our community. Travel restrictions have eased, and we have seen a substantial return and an increase in our tourism numbers from local, provincial and international visitors. Tourism is our main economy, and we must continue to promote our Village as a year-round destination. Steps have been taken in this direction including our Lights on the Lake winter display and the construction of the eco-friendly artificial outdoor skating rink which will re-open later this fall. Supporting these initiatives and finding other innovated and creative ideas will help to ensure our tourism industry continues to thrive and grow.

Wood: I believe with Smart development, including: green space, visual appearance, storm water management, tree buffer zone, energy efficiency (LEED), carbon footprint. The development on Hot Springs Road, Terra estates, is an example of how broken the village is, we need real change at the leadership level, before we scare all the people away.

Read the full Q&A session online at www.agassizharrisonobserver.com.

Election 2022Harrison Hot Springs

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