British Columbia

City hall wages and downtown challenges dominate election discussion in Prince George, B.C.

More than 200 people showed up to hear council candidates in Prince George, B.C., debate hot button topics ahead of the Oct. 20 municipal election.

Mayoral challenger a no-show at crowded all-candidates forum hosted by CBC

More than 200 people attended an all-candidates forum for mayor and council in Prince George, B.C., hosted by CBC Radio. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

The sole person taking on incumbent Lyn Hall for the position of mayor in Prince George, B.C., was a no-show at an otherwise crowded all-candidates forum hosted by CBC Radio Tuesday night.

Instead, 65-year-old political newcomer Willy Ens left the floor open to Hall to run on his record of the last four years.

Hall cited new developments downtown and the addition of seniors and affordable housing throughout the city as his top accomplishments and said he would continue to drive investment should he be re-elected.

Ens did not provide an explanation for his absence.

Overtime pay questioned

More than 230 people attended the forum at the downtown public library, prompting staff to open an overflow room where attendees could view a live video feed of the forum.

In addition to Hall, 11 of the 13 people running for council took part, answering questions on a variety of topics from community groups and audience members.

Multiple questions were asked about how much senior managers with the city are paid.

The issue has become a hot topic since a freedom of information request from the Prince George Citizen newspaper revealed members of the city's nine-person senior management team were paid up to $235.72 an hour for working overtime during the 2017 wildfire season, when the city took in more than 10,000 evacuees from neighbouring communities.

The paper ran a series of wage comparisons between the management team in Prince George and management teams in Kelowna, Kamloops and Nanaimo, finding Prince George frequently paid the highest or second-highest rates.

More than 10,000 wildfire evacuees came to Prince George during the summer of 2017. In 2018, a freedom of information request from the Prince George Citizen newspaper revealed city managers tasked with running emergency operations were being paid hourly overtime rates of between $178 and $235. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Cameron Stolz, who previously sat on council but failed to be re-elected in 2014, said he believed pay brackets need to be reviewed, as do the city's overtime policies.

Stolz was also critical of having city staff run emergency operations in the city.

"In Calgary ... In Kelowna, predominantly what you see there is Canadian Red Cross and volunteers who step forward and manage the vast majority of the work being done," he said.

First-time candidate Christopher Wood said he didn't believe the city should be paying such high rates for management positions. 

"We have a pool of qualified candidates in town who can do that job," he said. 

Incumbents defend record

Incumbent Murry Krause said it was important to acknowledge the pay policy was set in a 2011 contract and pointed out the technical nature of high-level management jobs in a city with over 800 employees.

"It's not easy task," Krause said, adding that when he was president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities he often heard from communities unable to recruit managers because they couldn't afford them.

Eleven of the 13 people running for council participated in the forum, with Dave Fuller and Kyle Sampson unable to attend due to prior out of town commitments. The forum was moderated by CBC's Audrey McKinnon. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Fellow incumbent Frank Everitt echoed those comments and defended the use of city management to run emergency operations.

"We were in a state of emergency," he said. "You need to have qualified people in place and doing the job where they're familiar." 

Brian Skakun, running for a sixth term on council, said he wants to see more frequent reviews of managers' pay and performance.

"It is a lot of money," he said.

Downtown, arts and backyard chickens also addressed

Several questions were asked about the city's downtown, which has seen an influx of new development but also challenges with increased homelessness.

Candidates were also asked if they would revisit the decision to ban backyard chickens within city limits, and how they would support the arts community.

You can watch the entire forum online or listen to individual segments in the audio embedded below or through the CBC Daybreak North podcast

Full forum:

Audio from the all-candidates forum for Prince George mayor and council held at the Prince George Public Library September 25, 2018 and hosted by CBC Prince George. Video available at facebook.com/daybreaknorth 1:55:46

Opening statements:

Candidates for mayor and council in Prince George read their opening statements during a policy forum hosted by CBC at the downtown public library. 20:46

Senior management pay:

On Tuesday night, CBC hosted an all-candidates forum for mayor and council in Prince George. Several audience members wanted questions about senior management pay answered, and numerous candidates shared their opinions on the issue. Voices in order: Lyn Hall, Murry Krause, Cameron Stolz, Paul Serup, Christopher Wood, Paul Serup, Frank Everitt, Brian Skakun, Terri McConnachie. 15:49

Downtown priorities and challenges:

Mayoral candidate Lyn Hall and council candidates Murry Krause, Terri McConnachie, Viv Fox and Cori Ramsay answer a question about providing more infrastructure in downtown Prince George during a policy forum hosted by CBC at the downtown public library. 8:29
Mayoral candidate Lyn Hall and council candidates Frank Everitt and Brian Skakun answer a question about homeless camps and drug paraphernalia downtown during a policy forum hosted by CBC at the downtown public library. 5:09

Affordable housing and aging infrastructure:

Council candidates Murry Krause and Cori Ramsay answer a question about affordable rental housing for seniors during a policy forum hosted by CBC at the downtown public library. 2:32
Council candidates Cameron Stolz and Paul Serup answer a question about how they would manage the city's aging infrastructure during a policy forum hosted by CBC at the downtown public library. 3:43

Supporting new immigrants and young entrepreneurs:

Prince George council candidates Garth Frizzell, Lyn Hall (running for mayor), Frank Everitt and Brian Skakun answer a question about supporting new immigrants during a policy forum hosted by CBC at the downtown public library. 4:33
Prince George council candidate Garth Frizzell answers a question about supporting young entrepeneurs in the city during a policy forum hosted by CBC at the downtown public library. 1:49

Backyard chickens: 

Council candidates Garth Frizzell, Susan Scott, Cori Ramsay and Christopher Wood state their positions on backyard chickens during a policy forum hosted by CBC at the downtown public library. 2:20

Arts and culture:

Council candidates Viv Fox, Susan Scott and Terric McConnachie, and mayoral candidate Lyn Hall, answer a question about arts, culture and a performing arts centre during a policy forum hosted by CBC at the downtown public library. 6:05

Read more from CBC British Columbia

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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