The Village of Ashcroft’s all-candidates’ forum held on Oct. 3 saw the five nominees vying for four vacant councillor seats discuss several issues of relevance to the local government and community.
Candidates Jonah Anstett (incumbent), Joris Ekering, Doreen Lambert, Nadine Davenport (incumbent), and Jessica Clement presented their view on topics such as reconciliation, housing and medical staff shortages, economic diversification, and a dog park, among other issues. The forum was moderated by Dana Foster and had more than three dozen members of the public present at the Ashcroft Community Hall, while more watched online.
Ashcroft’s mayor Barbara Roden, who ran unopposed and was acclaimed last week into her second term, was also present for the forum and presented her views on some of these issues too. Roden thanked the outgoing council for all their accomplishments and stressed the importance of having a council that encourages a “respectful exchange of ideas.”
Incumbent Anstett said that while he came from having a “zero political background” to help the community, he accomplished what he set out to do and hopes to serve the town for a second term.
Lambert, who has been on council formerly, said that after taking time off from local politics for a bit she is ready to be back and serve the community. She said she was passionate about recycling and is looking at a way to help seniors get their recyclables to the depot.
Ekering and Clement are new entrants this election, and they presented their respective visions to help the community. Ekering was the only candidate at the forum who heavily focused on Ashcroft’s need to adapt to climate change.
Clement, meanwhile, came with a strong portfolio of having worked with several committees in Ashcroft, including organizing the the annual fall fair. She said that sitting on various committees has shown her what services are lacking in the community and how the council can work towards making Ashcroft stand out in the future.
Incumbent Davenport stressed the “collective success” that the outgoing council achieved over the past four years, including setting up a community garden, a water treatment plant, etc., and spoke about attracting the right kind of business and industry. Davenport also stressed the importance of getting young families and 20-to-30-year-olds to stay in the community, as well as using educative measures in schools to achieve Indigenous reconciliation.
A question about housing, and what has prevented its progress in Ashcroft, was asked of returning councillors. Both Anstett and Davenport highlighted challenges they faced in terms of delays, a limited amount of land and space, and restrictions brought about by existing bylaws.
Roden added that while the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to many delays, there are challenges in attracting developers to smaller communities. Even though the cost of land is lesser in smaller communities, it is too expensive for developers to embark on projects while importing supplies, labour etc., she explained.
Candidates also spoke about driving the economy by focusing on tourism, recreation, and the arts.
Clement highlighted how even though tourism can be a key economic driver, the issue is to convince tourist to stay longer than a day. Lambert stressed the need for developing more motels and hotels for tourists to stay in, as well as paved sidewalks.
Davenport said that it is essential to attract new and innovative businesses in recreation. Ekering and Anstett emphasized promoting the art, artists, and mosaics in the community to attract tourists and make the village a place where artists come to stay.
“We have a community full of talented artists, but there is no showcase… The more we can promote the arts the better we are,” said Ekering.
Roden said that promoting Ashcroft as a mountain/off-road biking destination would be a way to brand the village as a recreational hub in the future, which could also provide an economic boost. “Come for the mosaics, stay for the mountain biking,” she suggested. The mayor also stressed the need to take advantage of existing trails and build more to connect Ashcroft with the Ashcroft Band to solidify relationships with the First Nation.
Ekering also suggested that branding and marketing Ashcroft as a community that has adapted to climate change by implementing solutions would be ideal, as not many communities have done that yet.
Anstett spoke about tapping into other economically viable aspects of the community, such as fishing and other recreational activities to promote the village and drive tourism.
Talking about establishing a trail along the river, most candidates were opposed to the idea, citing it to not be financially feasible, speaking of how it affects fisheries, and other issues surrounding liability.
Another issue where candidates had differing opinions was on the development of a dog park.
Anstett and Davenport maintained that giving up prime land for a dog park would take away from it being used for other economic needs.
Clement suggested that a dog park does not take a lot of infrastructure, and if there’s an opportunity for a huge commercial development then the dog park can be easily moved. Her sentiments were also echoed by Mayor Roden ,who said that after the success of a community garden, a dog park beside it would be a good idea.
The full forum is available to view on Valley Community TV’s Facebook page. The general election will take place on Oct. 15.