With the elections now over and a new city council about to be sworn in, Terrace will soon have a better view of what the next four years of municipal politics will bring.
Front and centre are two issues which will have as much impact on Terrace as they will on the surrounding area.
One is Terrace’s future relationship with the unincorporated community of Thornhill and the other is the formation of a northwest coalition of local governments to press the provincial government for a share of resource revenues.
As chair of the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and vice-president of the North Central Local Government Association, mayoral candidate and city councillor Bruce Bidgood was a champion of the latter.
And when it came to Thornhill, he took a hands-off position, saying the community should decide its own future.
But Bidgood was defeated by Carol Leclerc so it will be up to her, along with the new Terrace council, to decide how the two issues should now be approached.
During the election, Leclerc, who won the mayor’s seat with 1,456 votes compared to Bidgood’s 969, said that an amalgamation of Terrace and Thornhill should be considered along with incorporation of Thornhill.
It’s an opposite view of both Bidgood and Thornhill regional district director Ted Ramsey who has already persuaded his fellow directors to ask the provincial government to consider incorporating Thornhill as its own local government.
Incorporation would mean Thornhill would have its own mayor and council and pay for many of its own services. Leclerc argued during her campaign that the possibility of amalgamation should be investigated for its cost and other implications through a study that could potentially be financed by the provincial government.
She now says amalgamation is in no way a certainty, but that a study might already be in the works.
“I am wondering if the province is going to be doing that when they look at the incorporation for Thornhill,” she said.
According to Ramsey, the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, which is in charge of processing the applications for incorporation, said its review depended on the local government elections.
“The ministry wanted to see the outcome of the election,” said Ramsey.
Leclerc has also cautioned that determining the future of Terrace and Thornhill will take time.
“That’s going to take a long time,” she said. “I think as things start to unfold I see three options. I see Thornhill incorporating, I see Thornhill rejecting incorporation and then being the same status as they are now where they have one regional director on a board … and I don’t know if they will be pleased with that. The third option would be Terrace extending its boundaries to include Thornhill.”
She said the government presented options in the past to pay for infrastructure related to amalgamation.
“The last time in 1997 the province stepped up with a nice little package and that was like a dream come true, but was rejected by Thornhill at that time,” she said.
Ramsey said that he and Terrace’s new mayor may be at odds on the issue but he doesn’t see anything changing for Thornhill because it is separate from Terrace and makes its own decisions.
“Would I say there isn’t going to be any sort of process that looks at amalgamation? There might be, but it certainly won’t be driven by me,” said Ramsey. “In my understanding, the director becomes the pivotal player in it … they have to get through me.
“This is the process,” he said about the incorporation option being requested of the province. “It’s the democratic process, let’s proceed. When we get all the information on the table, it could be too expensive.”
Leclerc affirmed that her plan for amalgamation might also be found by a study to be too expensive for Terrace taxpayers.
“We would have to be responsible for the snow removal, never mind starting to put in water and sewer and sidewalks and things that a city needs,” she said, but added that tax revenues from the Skeena Industrial Development Park could help balance out those increased costs.
Ramsey and Leclerc may also have a different vision about something else in Thornhill – its closed junior secondary school now used by sporting and other groups.
Ramsey has said the school would be a good spot for Thornhill’s new municipal headquarters if his incorporation plan succeeds.
Leclerc, on the other hand, is the trades training coordinator for the Coast Mountains School District and her employer may wish to re-open it as a trades training centre. “With my school district hat I know that the school district is exploring options right now,” said Leclerc.
The other big regional issue is the future of the Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance, which was formed this summer as a coalition of the Kitimat-Stikine regional district and the municipalities within the district and rural area directors.
Its role is to lobby the province for a share of resource tax revenues. Potential large industrial resource projects, if developed, would generate many millions in taxes each year and the coalition wants some of that to buffer the costs to local governments of increased social, infrastructure and other services that would come from an influx of people. The City of Terrace first commissioned a report on revenue sharing back in 2012 and joined the alliance this summer.
Bidgood, as the chair of the Kitimat-Stikine regional district, even had “Northwest Quest” pins drawn up to support the plan.
According to Ramsey, who argues that Thornhill has more to gain from a revenue sharing deal than Terrace because the money would be given first to areas like Thornhill with the most infrastructure needs, the recent elections have given pause to the alliance.
“The alliance right now is in a little bit of a sensitive area,” he said. “Don’t forget the alliance members changed all over.”
Post-election, says Ramsey, the alliance must first re-establish the fact that it’s going to continue on as an alliance and he hopes Bidgood can stay in some capacity.
“We were also looking for someone who could be a steady employee who could keep everything pulled together. We’re still looking for that person and I know who I am going to pick,” said Ramsey.
Leclerc said she has every intention of continuing to promote the alliance. “If there is nobody who is willing to take the lead on that I am not going to let that fall,” said Leclerc. “I will make sure that continues.”