Election 2014: Thornhill’s future debated at candidates forum

The issue was featured prominently as a topic of discussion at the Terrace municipal all-candidates forum Nov. 5 at the REM Lee Theatre

The issue of Thornhill’s incorporation or amalgamation with Terrace featured prominently as a topic of discussion at the Terrace municipal all-candidates forum Nov. 5 at the REM Lee Theatre.

The forum was split into two parts, one for council candidates and other for mayoral hopefuls, and the future of Thornhill was debated in both.

A question from the media panel directed to city council candidate Don Dunster asked if his vision of the area was amalgamation of the two communities or incorporation for Thornhill.

“Forget amalgamation with Thornhill but move to the north,” said Dunster of the rural area that’s north of Terrace.

Fellow council candidate Allan McIntyre said the city and Thornhill were good neighbours and the way to continue that was to respect the decisions Thornhill makes.

“That said, there needs to be a lot of dialogue with respect to what happens in Thornhill should they incorporate,” he said, adding that referred to land zoning, tax rates, and connections of Thornhill water and sewer systems.

Council candidate Sean Bujtas spoke next, saying Thornhill residents rejected amalgamation earlier.

“We are not in charge of what Thornhill chooses to do but I also think it’s very important that we educate both Thornhill and Terrace and I think we need to look into getting a feasibility study done to see what makes more sense … and then both parties can make an educated decision on what want they want to do,” he said.

Incumbent city councillor Stacey Tyers said Thornhill doesn’t have to decide one way or the other.

Thornhill is looking at incorporation and if they choose it, they can have a mayor and council to decide what’s best for them, she said.

Tyers also commented on the taxation issues which could arise, noting that the City of Terrace already needs to spend an estimated $45 million on infrastructure within its current boundaries.

That being the case, she said she wasn’t prepared to take on Thornhill’s own infrastructure deficit.

“They have their own right to make their own decisions and we have no business telling them {Thornhill) what they need to do,” added Tyers.

Longtime city councillor Lynne Christiansen said there’s pros and cons to amalgamation but it made no sense to go down that road when Thornhill residents have already said no.

She also said Ted Ramsey, Thornhill’s director on the Kitimat-Stikine regional district board, is already promoting the idea of incorporation.

She also brought up history, saying that good relations date back many decades to Terrace founder George Little.

“There has to be a level of trust and working together, not some kind of aggressive takeover or something,” said Christiansen.

The debate about the future relationship, if any, continued in the mayoral portion of the forum when the two candidates, Bruce Bidgood and Carol Leclerc, presented different views.

It’s important that both understand what incorporation looks like for Thornhill and what amalgamation looks like for Terrace, said Leclerc.

“If it’s going to cost the city of Terrace an extensive amount of money to do a boundary extension or an amalgamation, whatever you want to call it, it needs to be looked at and we need to have really good information in front of us and we need to know going forward,” she said.

And Thornhill needs to know what it’s going to cost to incorporate or perhaps consider becoming a part of Terrace, she added.

“And we won’t know that until we have good information, a good study done for both Terrace and  Thornhill,” she said.

Bidgood, who is also the current chair of the Kitimat-Stikine regional district, took the opportunity to present an opposite view.

“I believe a local community has the right to choose its own form of government. I believe the area around Thornhill is not really well-served on the regional district,” he said, adding that it is the largest unincorporated area in Canada.

“Its new demands in terms of infrastructure and services is going to exceed its revenue generating capacity,” he added.

Bidgood said that he would only entertain a study on amalgamation after Thornhill has pursued incorporation.

During the audience question period, regional district Thornhill director Ted Ramsey said the regional district board had agreed unanimously with him to pursue incorporation, which was a lengthy three-year process that involved intensive study and review.

Only the people of Thornhill could decide one way or the other, he added.

“From what I hear tonight and I’m sitting here listening, there’s the possibility of your board being kind of split on that. How would you manage that split as mayor?” asked Ramsey of Leclerc.

Leclerc reiterated that a good decision would be based on very good information.

“The people I’ve heard from, in Thornhill actually, said it feels like they are already part of Terrace and I’m not about pushing Thornhill in any capacity into that they have to join Terrace because I don’t believe that at all,” she said.

“When you’re thinking there’s probably a split on council, I think it’s a bit premature for councillors to make that decision without having good information in front of them.”

Bidgood said it was a leadership question. “I know what the support of council is. I was there. Several times the issue of amalgamation was raised, there was no appetite [for it] on council,” he said, referring to whether council wanted to be involved in deciding what Thornhill should do in regards to joining the city or not.

“It scares me to proceed down a particular course without knowing what council wants to do, second of all, to proceed without consulting the people affected is foolhardy. “I think a mayor works with his council and does not unnecessarily create adversarial relationships with their local governments. I want to cooperate with them.”