Rural area candidates outline wide-ranging platforms during forum

Incumbent Wayne Hiebert is being challenged by Ian Marchuk and Elaine Peterson to represent Electoral Area D while Jerrylin Schembri and Elmer Kabush have put their names forward to represent Electoral Area E after director Tim Caton announced he would be stepping aside after this current term.

Hiebert has sat on regional district board for the past six years, including the last two as vice-chair of the board. He lives with his wife in Doe River where they raise horses and goats, and he previously worked for 36 years for a natural gas company.

He said there is still a lot of work to be done, including ongoing issues with core infrastructure such as sewer systems, that he wants to be a part of. He added he will resist any pressure from the Province to legislate a limit on the size of houses on rural properties, and will continue to push for meaningful reforms of the BC Assessment Authority that will benefit rural residents.

Hiebert said the state of healthcare facilities serving the region is an issue, and he will continue to advocate for more funding from Northern Health and the Province.

In regards to the incursion of oil and gas activity in rural communities, Hiebert said there is a lot that has and can be done at the regional district level to address issues such as setback distances from homes, and he will continue to work on those issues.

“I’m here to serve the people, and I will grind their axes and not my own,” he said.

Marchuk is a resident of the Chilton in Dawson Creek and has lived in the area since 1976. His background includes work in civil construction, agriculture, forestry, mining, welding and fabrication. He also served as an alternate to the late, former area director Albert Erbe from 2003 to 2006, an experience he said gave him considerable insight into the workings of the Peace River Regional District board and its value to rural residents.

He said his priorities are to focus on core infrastructure such as water, sewer and waste disposal systems. He said he also feels oil and gas development is proceeding unchecked, and he would like to make the establishment of an air quality monitoring system for rural areas a top priority as well. 

“We also need to pay more attention with what’s happening at our hospital with critical maintenance, building envelope maintenance, staffing and improving morale at the hospital,” he added.

Marchuk said in principal, he believes the Agricultural Land Reserve a good idea, but he said in practice it is suffocating rural communities.

“Our communities are dying, and they are dying because there is no room to expand,” he said. “We do want to preserve farmland, but we also want to provide the conditions for rural communities to grow.”

Elaine Petersen has lived on McKinnon Way on Bear Mountain for the last five years after moving from Dawson Creek. She said while she commends the job Heibert has done representing the area, she felt it was important for the democratic process that he have a challenger in this election.

She said her home on Bear Mountain has also given her a good vantage point to see the prevalence of the oil and gas industry in the area over the past few years. She said while it is great for the local economy, she believes there needs to be a better balance struck through more thorough regulation of the industry, especially as relates to traffic control in rural areas. She added she would advocate for more communication between the regional district, industry, the Oil and Gas Commission and the Ministry of Energy and Mines to ensure the growth of the industry in a balanced and controlled manner.  

Petersen also listed healthcare as a concern, saying she would like to see more facilities and better maintenance of existing ones.

She said she has a lot to learn but is committed to putting in the time to be a strong voice on the regional board.

“I need a lot more information, but I’m willing to take the time to learn that and listen, and with that will be public meetings,” she said.

Schembri had the forum to herself as Kabush, who hails form Moberly Lake, was not in attendance. Schembri is finishing a second term as a councillor for the District of Tumbler Ridge, which included roles as deputy mayor and as an alternate director for the regional district board for the past three years. She also served as a director-at-large for the North Central Local Government Association and Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

She said she would bring that same dedication to public service to the regional district board as a representative for Electoral Area E.

“If someone has worked passionately to lobby government for change, if someone has a proven track record of advocating, if someone has been the first person to roll up their sleeves and get to work, there is a good chance this person will work hard for you in the future as well,” she said.

Schembri said she is not campaigning on any specific issues, but instead is committed to being a “solution-focussed” director, adding that communication with her constituents will be key to finding those solutions.

However, she did say healthcare is an ongoing concern, and she will continue to press Northern Health and the Province for more healthcare funding. She added dealing with development pressures will require local governments, developers and other stakeholders getting together to find solutions.

Residents of Electoral Areas D and E are encouraged to make their voices heard on the general election day on Nov. 19. 

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