MaryAnn Freeman asks a question during today's candidates' chamber luncheon.

Election 2014: Terrace council candidate urges better cooperation between city and chamber of commerce

Discord between the two bodies called "the elephant in the room"

WHAT was an opportunity for the local business community to hear from Terrace’s municipal candidates at a luncheon earlier today evolved into a discussion about the sometimes antagonistic relationship between the local chamber and city council.

Council incumbent James Cordeiro used his three minute statement at the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce candidates’ luncheon to bring up what he called “the elephant in the room.”

“I want to talk about council, the chamber, and looking forward,” he said. “The longer the rift between the chamber and council goes on, the deeper it becomes. Continuing this discord distorts the relationship we have and it clouds the inherent benefits of us working together.”

He gave the city-owned Skeena Industrial Development Park as one example of where the council and chamber can cooperate adding that, “while acknowledging that reconciling the relationship between the Terrace city council and the chamber is going to take a lot of effort on both our parts. I’m willing to work towards this regardless of the outcome of the election.”

Elaborating on his statement during the audience question period, Cordeiro said his comments were based on “a number of issues that have caused friction between the chamber and council. There’s been a definite lack of communication and collaboration between the chamber. I know that there’s been a perception that council has been ignoring or not acknowledging issues specifically around taxation.”

But they were also based on what has been an especially vigorous online debate taking place on social media between several candidates and their supporters over the course of the election, with Cordeiro noting he had had different remarks prepared but “frankly, the stuff online has been so agitating to me, I just felt I needed to put that out there.”

Speaking afterwards, chamber executive director Carol Fielding said she doesn’t think council and chamber are “too much at odds” and that the situation seems extra divisive right now because it’s election time.

“Because the chamber is the voice of business in the community, we are the advocates and the lobbyists and that’s our role in communities across the province, so I think what’s happened is that when we bring issues to council they’re not always going to agree with us,” she said. “Undoubtedly there are individual issues that are sitting there, but I really think that overall, the overall situation is good.

“I think that the issue right now is magnified because it’s election time, and I really think that that’s not a fair observation in view of election time. People are heated – this is a big job to run in your community,” she added.

Incumbent councillor Brian Downie also spoke to the issue, noting that the chamber and council need to have “not only communication but a working relationship.”

“Moving forward, how can we get the downtown improvement association, TEDA [Terrace Economic Development Authority], the chamber, and the city all on the same page?,” he said. “It is an important time and obviously the last thing we need is to have conflict.”

Meanwhile, the Keith Ave. neighbourhood plan was a main audience concern, with a number of audience questions speaking to the issue. Downtown parking, traffic, housing, and how to grow the economy while still retaining the area’s environment were also discussed.

But today’s event almost didn’t happen.

Fielding said that as of mid-morning last Friday, Nov. 7 not enough candidates had committed and she was worried there wouldn’t be enough notice for members to attend, leading her to send out a note cancelling the event.

But a flurry of online pushback took place on social media over the weekend, prompted by a post by mayoral candidate Bruce Bidgood criticizing the event’s cancellation.

By Monday, the event – which ultimately saw about 50 attendees – was back on, said Fielding.

“That was just because of the stuff on Facebook over the weekend. We really felt the chamber was taking a huge beating because they were implying we had favourites, but that wasn’t the case at all, it was just a business decision,” she said. “As it turns out I was wrong (to cancel the event Friday) and it turned out good. We had some candidates today that couldn’t make it last week and we lost some candidates that were available last week to come today, but made other plans. That happens.”

Council candidates Sean Bujtas, Brian Downie, Craig Lyons, Allan McIntyre, Lucy Praught, Michael Prevost, and Brenda Wesley were in attendance, as was mayoral candidate Carol Leclerc.

A regional district planning meeting scheduled for the same time meant Bidgood, and council candidates Stacey Tyers and Jessica McCallum-Miller were not able to attend.