Jack Talstra hasn’t sat at a Terrace city council table since 2008 but the former mayor’s name came up repeatedly last night at an all candidates forum leading to the Nov. 15 municipal election.
He was praised several times by candidates for being the inspiration behind the city’s Skeena Industrial Development Park, consisting of more than 2,000 acres located just south of the Northwest Regional Airport.
It was a Talstra council more than a decade ago which first negotiated an option to purchase the provincial Crown land for resale to industrial concerns.
Council candidates, mostly ones running for re-election, noted that the long term goal of the park is to house industries which will pay taxes and provide jobs.
In response to a question from audience member Greer Kaiser about the possibility of an influx of temporary foreign workers to be mostly employed at any industries located on the half of the park which has been bought by a Chinese economic development zone, mayoral candidate Bruce Bidgood noted that while immigration is a federal matter, the sales contract with the Chinese agency contains safeguards.
“If the company does not develop the land, the city has the option to buy it back. That’s a legacy of Jack Talstra’s,” said Bidgood in adding that the sales contract followed the risk averse philosophy of the former mayor.
During the mayoral candidate portion of the evening, when there was vigorous debate over whether candidates were grouping together to promote common causes, Carol Leclerc noted Talstra’s leadership style during her previous stint on council.
“There was no discussion ahead of time,” said Leclerc, adding that “it was about being independent ….”
But one hallmark of Talstra’s latter years in office, the purchase of the former Terrace Co-op property for $1 million by the city in 2005, came in for criticism.
Referring to the ongoing cost of environmental remediation of the property in order to get a clean bill of health for resale, several candidates said it was a mistake to have made the purchase in the first place.
Council candidate Sean Bujtas, for one, noted that the city has foregone tax revenue from the land over the years.
But, he concluded, “if [remediation] comes at a cost, it needs to be done [in order for the land] to be developed.”