British Columbia·Metro Matters

In towns poised for LNG boom, incumbents hope voters dance with the one that brought them

With news this month that a major $40-billion liquefied natural gas project is going ahead — connecting Dawson Creek in the northeast to Kitimat in the northwest — the major question in each community is who is best positioned to manage the money.

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Now that LNG, connecting Dawson Creek to Kitimat (pictured), is going ahead, municipal elections in these northern communities is coming down to who is best positioned to manage the money. (CBC)

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Hello, it's Andrew Kurjata writing from CBC's Prince George newsroom. I'm here to let you know what's going on in municipal politics in northern British Columbia, you know, the part of the province where most of your natural gas and much of your electricity comes from.

With news this month that a major $40-billion liquefied natural gas project is going ahead — connecting Dawson Creek in the northeast to Kitimat in the northwest — the major question in each community is who is best positioned to manage the money.

For mayoral incumbents Phil Germuth of Kitimat and Dale Bumstead of Dawson Creek, the pitch, like the Shania Twain song, is simple: dance with the one that brought you.

The pair were on stage together earlier this year demanding government leaders support the LNG industry and flew into Vancouver to get their photos snapped with Justin Trudeau the morning after the final investment decision was made in October. 

Now they're touting themselves as the steady hands that helped make LNG happen and will attract more investment in the form of local jobs and contracts.

You won't hear any arguments from their challengers that the investment is good news. In Kitimat, David Johnston helped organize pro-LNG rallies for the district, and in Dawson Creek, Trenten Laarz works in the trades.

Instead, the hopefuls say they would do a better job than their opponents of bringing the whole community into the decision-making process. Laarz has repeatedly brought up the 9 a.m. start times for council meetings as a barrier to engagement, since people like him have jobs that prevent them from taking part in the discussions. In response, Bumstead points to his active Facebook profile as a means of engagement with the whole community; he has over 2,000 followers in a city of just over 11,000.

In Kitimat, Johnston says he would also use Facebook along with regular community meetings, to bring more people into discussions about how to lead the community through a period of what could be unprecedented growth: new buildings, an influx of workers and all the opportunities and challenges that go along with a major boom. He accuses Germuth of being happy with the status quo, but the question for voters is: with their town in the economic spotlight internationally, is that a bad thing?

Mayors by acclamation

For most cities in the north, the decision to stick with the same ol'  has already been made: Prince Rupert, Terrace, Fort St. John and Quesnel's incumbent mayors have been acclaimed after no one stepped in to take them on (a man dressed as a jug of Kool-Aid was briefly on the ballot in Terrace but bowed out early).

Over in Prince George

But there is an election in Prince George, the largest city in the region by far! While incumbent Lyn Hall isn't a 100 per cent shoo-in, the only person taking him on has largely been absent from debates and media, hanging up on the city's only paper mid-interview, and not putting up campaign signs.

Which isn't to say, there aren't election issues: homeless campsneedles in front yardscity hall wages and the perennial issue of aging infrastructure are all in play. For the six incumbent councillors, the hope is voters are relatively happy with the direction the city has taken the past four years, which includes downtown development, a strategy of shutting down crime hot spots and a couple of major fights with residents over community planning.

With at least two positions open to someone new, some of the other candidates are aligning themselves alongside the current crop of councillors, with others taking on a more oppositional stance, particularly on the issue of staff pay.

You can recap the all-candidates forum hosted in Prince George here.

Ultimately, though, one of the biggest questions facing the north come election night is: will anybody vote? With the combination of a shorter campaign period, fewer community newspapers than past years and a lack of mayors' races to capture the public interest, historically low voter turnout could drop even lower.


That's it for us!

For election night coverage from northern B.C. and the Interior, tune in on Oct. 20 from 8 to 10 p.m. PT with host Sarah Penton on CBC Radio One or on the CBC Radio App.  

For more civic election coverage, CBC and UBC will host a mayoral debate in Vancouver on Oct. Oct. 17. Check out the latest municipal headlines at cbc.ca/bcvotes2018 and if you have any questions about the municipal election, drop us a line at metromatters@cbc.ca.

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