Original Published on Oct 06, 2022 at 13:06
By John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
After several years of trouble at city hall, residents of Silverton should start to see movement on many much-needed improvements, said candidates at an election debate held at the Memorial Hall last week.
All the candidates at the Silverton council candidate forum September 29 promised that teamwork, openness, and better public communication would be the hallmark of the tiny village’s next council after the election.
Nearly 60 people – a third of the population of the community – attended the town hall in person and online. The meeting was organized by the local Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Voice. The audience heard from five of the six candidates for council and Colin Ferguson, who was acclaimed as mayor (see sidebar). Luce Paquin was travelling to attend a family matter and couldn’t attend.
Audience members asked questions during the two-hour meeting on issues ranging from infrastructure priorities, garbage attracting bears and rats, to relations with a local hotel owner and protecting health services. And if generally the answers were non-committal or lacking in detail, all the candidates promised to look into and act on the issues if they sat on the new council.
Rebuilding period complete
Part of the reason for general answers is that only two of the six candidates for council have a full term under their belts. The village has seen two by-elections in the last two years, one that installed a new mayor and a councillor in 2021, and a second that saw one councillor elected just six months ago.
It’s not only the elected leadership that’s been in flux. The Village lost its CAO, installed a temporary one, and just hired a new permanent CAO in September. Incumbent candidate Leah Main said that’s made dealing with pressing issues difficult.
“We did come through a very rough patch with staffing and council issues that occupied pretty much all of our attention for a couple of years that shouldn’t have,” she said. “Those problems have been fixed now and we’re ready to get to work.”
Clarence denBok said his short time on council was in a period of rebuilding, and he agreed things were changing after several years of stagnation, especially with the recent hiring of a new CAO for the community.
“We’re moving forward, there’s lots of enthusiasm,” he said. “…It was super-dysfunctional, there were staffing issues. There was a lot of energy spent, oxygen sucked up on stuff that didn’t need to happen. That’s not happening now. We’re so task-focused, we’re excited about the possibilities for Silverton, and looking forward to working with [CAO Viv Thoss]… She’s full of vim and vinegar and full of enthusiasm, and rarin’ to get to work with us.”
“This council’s got some traction. If we’re not all together, hopefully the new council that takes over… it’s going to be an exciting time,” noted Brian Mills, who’s been working to upgrade the community hall as an emergency shelter and cooling centre. “As long as there’s money out there to get, and we are going for it.”
And while newcomer Margaret Scaia wasn’t there for the problems, she said she’d work to ensure the public was part of the solution.
“I’d like to see a greater use of public forums, so that we don’t miss individuals or groups that aren’t normally heard, or unsure how to voice their concerns…” she told the crowd. “I’d like to see really strong consultation with volunteer and advisory groups in Silverton, so we don’t have time restrictions on them talking about their concerns, so that we can maximize resources council has to work with them…”
Several ongoing issues were raised by residents, including speeding along the highway, crumbling sidewalks, an aging footbridge across the creek that runs through town, and garbage. One resident complained about the long wait-time for action on many issues. She asked why council seemed to have a “blind eye” when it came to unsightly properties and problem garbage spots, blaming poor sanitation for an increase in bears, rats and raccoons around town.
Councillors agreed it was an issue, but said it really was up to citizens to do their part.
“It is up to the people to compost properly, and to keep your food indoors so as not to feed them,” said Arlene Yofonoff. “And just keep on setting your traps and being aware of what you have outside.”
“The Village is working on the issue… given the population of Silverton, and funds available to hire bylaw enforcement, I think we have to lean first on responsibility of each individual to keep ourselves safe,” said Margaret Scaia. “I don’t think hiring more bylaw officers will necessarily solve the problem.”
“The Village has limited capacity when it comes to enforcement,” agreed Leah Main, who noted the Village has been working with Wildsight BC to try to deal with attractants around town. “We have very limited capacity to enforce bylaws, unless you’re willing to look at a double-digit tax increase. So we rely on education and peer pressure.”
Brian Mills said he was concerned about bears in the community, and noted the Village was working on introducing more bear-resistant bins around town.
As for the highway, it’s difficult to do anything about speeding, the audience heard.
“The stark reality is we don’t own the highway,” noted Leah Main. “We have no jurisdiction whatsoever. We can’t even put up signs on the right-of-way without [Highway’s] permission.”
She suggested calling a meeting with various levels of government to address the issue.
“Perhaps we could have a better communication with our local RCMP for more presence on our highways so everyone knows they’re there,” added Brian Mills. He said he was especially concerned about a footpath that creates a dangerous interface with the highway, and he wanted to see that problem addressed.
Margaret Scaia suggested speed bumps might be an answer. But Arlene Yofonoff noted speed bumps would be a non-starter, and suggested traffic-calming measures like strategic landscaping can help slow speeders.
“I’m sure it is frustrating, but maybe it is time to take another run at it,” said Clarence denBok, who said the RCMP seemed willing to talk to the community, but “in the end getting stuff done is a different story.” He agreed with Leah Main that the next council should try to gather all the stakeholders to the table to discuss the problem.
Last mile a priority
One resident asked about plans for financing the ‘last mile’ fibre-optic line to people’s homes, and if that would require borrowing by the Village.
Mayor Colin Ferguson clarified that no money would be borrowed by the Village for the project, as the Village would be seeking access to funds being made available by the federal and provincial governments. He also noted that they are still waiting for a response to local governments’ proposals, so the project was on the back burner for now.
However, the question prompted a wider discussion on the future of high-speed communications in the village.
“It is our right to have high-speed internet,” said Arlene Yofonoff. “I feel we are all being held hostage by Telus because they could, with all the money they have, simply provide everybody with high-speed internet.”
“I’m a big proponent of fibre-optic,” said Clarence denBok, who suggested a pilot project hooking up downtown businesses and public areas to the service as a proof-of-concept for a community-owned internet utility.
Brian Mills said the hospital was his biggest priority, but agreed a pilot internet project would be a good thing, as did Leah Main. The veteran councillor said she was in favour of the project to lay cable to every home.
“I’m absolutely in favour of having fibre to every single home and business, but how we get it, how we cost it out and pay for it — it’s going to be grants, grants, grants and grants.”
However, all the candidates were in accord when an audience member asked what they would choose as a priority – fixing an aging water line in town, or installing fiber-optic connections to all the homes in Silverton.
“Everybody in Silverton knows no one is going to choose fibre-optic over water,” said Clarence denBok. “The watermain absolutely, of course, and the other stuff will come along.”
However, “I don’t think things are either-or,” added Margaret Scaia. “Both are very valuable… I don’t think we have to compete on those issues. We have to manage those needs based on the resources available to the people of Silverton… we need to work on both in a realistic way.”
“This was a fun meeting – it was really good,” said moderator Gary Wright, thanking the crowd for their participation at the end of the evening. “Folks in Silverton are pretty outspoken, and get to the point… hopefully you got the questions asked you wanted, and you learned something about the candidates you haven’t learned before.”
There was only one moment of discord during the evening, and it came with the final question to the candidates. Don Broughton, a perennial council critic and failed mayoral candidate, asked Leah Main to commit to meeting with him to discuss the deterioration of the footbridge.
“No, I will not meet with you,” she said. “Our previous meetings have ended with you speaking extremely disrespectfully and aggressively and abusively to me. You can speak with staff and they will show you what is being done to protect the creek from the deterioration of the covering of that bridge.”
Broughton tried to denounce Main at the end of the meeting but was shouted down by the audience.
Advance polls were Wednesday, October 5 in Silverton, while the general election will be held on October 15.