By-election candidates voice their vision for a better community

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C – By-election candidates voiced their thoughts on specific issues in Fort St. John during M…

Energeticcity is the voice of the Peace.  But we need your help. Give $10 a month today and be the reason we can cover the next story!

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C – By-election candidates voiced their thoughts on specific issues in Fort St. John during Monday’s forum

The Fort St. John and District Chamber of Commerce hosted the virtual forum to give voters a better understanding of each candidate’s platform.

Candidates had 90 seconds for opening remarks and then 60 seconds to answer each question from the media and residents.

The candidates were asked a wide array of questions touching on nursing shortages, relationships with First Nations communities, and downtown revitalization.

The candidates running in the Municipal By-Election are Sarah MacDougall, Tom Whitton, Jim Lequiere, Jon Gosselin, and Trystan Jones.

The by-election will take place on May 15th at the Pomeroy Sport Centre.

Advanced voting is taking place on May 5th and May 12th. Special voting opportunities are expected to occur at senior care facilities on May 13th and the hospital on May 15th.

The city’s 2017 by-election had a seven per cent voter turnout with 15,287 eligible voters and only 1,120 submitting their ballot. During the 2018 general election, 20 per cent of the 14,479 eligible voters headed to the polls. All five candidates were asked how they would improve voter engagement.

Lequiere acknowledged the low turnout over the years, stating the city needs to keep pushing the importance of voting.

“Voting is important in the civic election. In my opinion, more important than the provincial or federal [elections] because it affects us more. It affects your day-to-day.,” says Lequiere.

Whitton called the 2018 byelection turnout “ridiculous” and calls for council to get more eligible voters active in the community. The candidate commends the city for its work engaging voters, but he believes there needs to be more excitement leading up to elections.

“If elected, I would like to change the sign bylaws. They leave a little bit of a grey area. I would like to see set rules that line up with federal and provincial guidelines that say where you can and cannot put signs,” says Whitton.

Gosselin shared Whitton’s sentiments and believes fewer people have cared to vote over the years.

“That’s a problem. We need to start working with youth in school. Right in middle school all the way up to college,” says Gosselin.

He hopes to see voting in all forms of government become mandatory in the future.

MacDougall hopes to bring in more engagement by targeting media and messaging towards all voters. She also proposes going out into the community and schools to spread awareness on the importance of the democratic process.

“I would also like to see us talking more about democracy at non-election times. It does just have to be the month before elections; it can be in the four years between elections,” says MacDougall.

The easiest way to increase voter participation, according to Jones, is by increasing access to the vote.

“Early voting periods, we have two for this election, I don’t think that’s enough. Mail-in ballots, it’s something we’re doing this election due to the coronavirus, perhaps intuiting that into a regular thing,’ says Jones.

The full response to voter turnout can be viewed below:


One of the five candidates will be seated at a council that has been together for the last three years. Candidates were asked how they will fit in while pushing for change they want to see.

Whitton notes that being on council means that every decision made isn’t on one person’s shoulders. He made a point of meeting almost everyone on council before running for the empty seat.

“I think everybody that is sitting on council right now is passionate about the things that are important for our community, and I don’t think I’m bringing up anything that will [surprise them],” says Whitton.

Gosselin expanded on Whitton’s thoughts, saying the goal of everyone on council is to make the community better for everyone.

“We can’t make decisions on our own. We have to persuade people that what our vision is, is the right vision. Sometimes, that’s going to come with a few headbutts and arguments,” says Gosselin.

MacDougall believes it all comes down to relationship building, which aligns with the experience she accumulated after working for Northern Health.

“We’re not just there to do a job. We’re there to get to know each other and understand each other’s backgrounds and perspective,” says MacDougall.

She adds that everyone having differing opinions will result in the best decision being made for the community.

Being the youngest candidate in the election, Jones looks to bring diversity in energy and opinion.

” I think it is very important for there to be diversity in intellectual thought, and I think I can bring that to Fort St. John City Council,” says Jones.

Before retiring, Lequiere led a team at Spectra Energy with a focus on budgets.

“You have to embrace change and value other team members opinions. And you have to foster trust by earning it,” says Lequiere.

The full response to the question can be viewed below:

The city’s recent financial plan shows a $112.8-million budget for 2021 and $113.3 million for 2022. Candidates weighed in on spending changes they’d like to see for programs and services in the city.

Gosselin wants to see a change in policing in the community.

“One of them is creating a regional police force that deals with out-of-town calls and one that deals with in-town calls so that way our units aren’t being stretched thin,” says Gosselin.

A focal point for MacDougall is spending money on rebuilding the community, both economically and socially.

“For example, if we are going to spend money on helping places like Northern Health recruit and retain employees, that is going to have a ripple effect of helping with the healthcare of our community, helping with the mental health crisis,” says MacDougall.

The budget can always be slashed, depending on what council and the city finds important. Having experiencing combing through a budget as a Totem Preschool board member, MacDougall wants to identify where council is overspending.

Especially after reading the RCMP’s 2020 report, Jones believes programs for survivors of domestic and sexual violence are insufficient in Fort St. John.

“I would wish to engage and provide as much support as I can,” says Jones.

“I would also seek to engage with various anti-racism programs, whether that’s through Resilience BC’s anti-racism network or other such programs based around education and awareness. ”

Noting the large amount of money the city has spent on infrastructure projects over the years, Lequiere hopes to bring more attention to the state of sidewalks and roads.

“We still have areas in town, in my opinion, that have bad cracks, uneven roads and sidewalks that are not safe for seniors to walk on. Also, we could use a good paved parking lot downtown,” says Lequiere.

He adds that less money should be spent on parking meters.

Allowing businesses to have easier access to city services is something Whitton deems important.

“We need to cut red tape on businesses. We need to make sure that they can get the quickest possible answers for setting stuff up, for getting permits, for moving through that ‘yes’ point to getting where they need to be for their organizations,” says Whitton.

As not-for-profits struggle to receive funding, Whitton calls for the city to “empower” organizations to take on projects.

“Whether that’s within the city or around the city. I think that’s a great opportunity for us to shave off some extras of the city and move them over to a not-for-profit organization.”

The full response to the question can be viewed below:

Hospitals across Canada have been experiencing nursing shortages, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The B.C Nurses Union recently spoke about how Fort St. John nurses have been worked to exhaustion over the past year. Candidates were asked how the city can aid the recruitment and retention of nurses in the city.

MacDougall says the hospital experienced shortages throughout her time with Northern Health. The resolution to this shortage is by creating a community that workers want to live and stay in.

“[We need to] market ourselves towards people whose values would align with what we have here in Fort St. John. That active lifestyle, the vibrant community, this small town mentality with a big heart and hard workers,” says MacDougall.

Encouraging local students to get into fields that are experiencing shortages is another idea MacDougall spoke on.

Jones says the city needs to instil trust in the healthcare system and science while being honest about feelings towards the health care system.

“I’ve been standing shoulder to shoulder with nurses throughout this pandemic at one of the largest hospitals in British Columbia. They have done some tireless work. And I really empathize and feel for them right now, as this pandemic draws on,” says Jones.

Lequiere says healthcare professional shortages have been an issue throughout his 35 years in the city.

“We have now an economic development group working for the city. And it’s their job to sell the city. So between northern health and the economic development group and for change on city, we have to address that why we can’t get doctors and nurses and healthcare professionals up here,” says Lequiere.

While on a similar wavelength to MacDougall, he believes advertising Fort St. John as a family-friendly city will bring in and retain workers.

Whitton is calling for amenities that cater to several interests, which will keep professionals here long term.

“Not everybody has the exact same interests in life,” says Whitton.

Like several candidates, Gosselin is on board with the nursing program at Northern Lights College. He believes this is a good first step in combating the shortage.

“I’m a big fan of volunteering to nonprofits. I work with them every day. And if we can get people more involved in helping the community, they’ll want to stay in the community,” says Gosselin.

The full response to the question can be viewed below:

Despite downtown shops opening up over the past few years, many downtown lots, mostly owned by the city, are vacant and undeveloped. Candidates spoke on if they believe downtown is thriving and how the city can encourage the sale and development of downtown land.

All candidates were in agreeance that downtown is not thriving.

Building new structures that combine different services is something Lequiere would like to see. To do this, he believes the city needs to find investors willing to build on vacant lots.

“We need structures, in my opinion, that have restaurants and delis and stores on the bottom, along with offices on the second floor, and I’d also like to see some condo suites on the third floor with balconies,” says Lequiere.

As for several other issues brought up at the forum, Whitton is deadset on the city selling itself to bring in investors.

“We need to go out there, we need to find them, we need to show them this is the place that they want to invest their money,” says Whitton.

To make the process smooth, Whitton went back to cutting the red tape by streamlining the permitting process and adding incentives.

“If you fit our mandate, if you’re fitting what we’re looking to build, we will possibly look at two or three years of taxes, whatever it might be, whatever those incentives look like, maybe we put a nice sign up. We have the people, we have the capability, we can do it,’ says Whitton.

Gosselin calls the empty lots an “eyesore”, agreeing with Lequiere’s thoughts on filling empty spaces with multiple services, such as the old hospital.

MacDougall calls the 100th Street action plan a great start.

“As we slow people down and make the downtown a vibrant destination, developers are going to want to get in on that action. They’re going want to build new shops, new services, and also places for people to live because we do know that young professionals, or folks without children, or older people on the brink of retirement want to live, work, and play in the same neighbourhood.,” says MacDougall.

Jones suggests partnering with local indigenous communities to create culturally sensitive locations that also create economic and social development.

“Whether that’s through shops, boutiques, and services with mixed-use development, so condos and buildings on top to create more sustainability,” says Jones.

For example, he mentions the partnership in Vancouver between Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh nations to redevelop and create a mixed-use and sustainable neighbourhood.

“That may be ambitious for Fort St. John, however, I do think we can take inspiration…”

The full response to the question can be viewed below:

In most cases, the city is at the mercy of the province when it comes to funding. Candidates were asked how the city can improve programming without waiting on the province.

The Foundry is a provincial program that offers access to mental health and addiction supports for the younger generation aged 12 to 24. Thomas says the city has attempted to receive the program for some time after being shortlisted in 2019.

” I would like to see us doubling down on those efforts and making sure that we get in line right away as soon as possible,” says Whitton.

He also suggests partnering with Northern Health to get a treatment and rehabilitation centre, which many candidates believe is long overdue.

“For someone to say otherwise is naive,” says Lequiere.

“There are some holes in our programs that we need to fill, and that’s basically getting the treatment and getting the support when they’re done the treatment,’ says Gosselin, who says his family has experienced mental health problems his entire life.

Not-for-profits don’t have to wait for provincial funding and can get out in the community and make a difference instantly. MacDougall says this is the opportunity for the organizations to shine.

“I think the city is taking some great steps in setting up their community foundation that will help community non-profits to be stronger to have more access to funding, and even just help boards of not-for-profits to know how to run themselves better,” says MacDougall.

She adds that lobbying the provincial government is still crucial in getting the proper supports.

The province’s budget released last month introduced new and existing funding that Jones believes is ripe for the taking.

The full response to the question can be viewed below:

The local RCMP detachment is understaffed, despite a new building being in the works, that doesn’t come with additional funding for staff. Candidates explore how to address staffing needs among the police force.

Gosselin doubled down on his thoughts that the city needs a regional police force. Staff would be funded by the city, with specific units being sent out to assist in surrounding areas such as Taylor.

“Have the province or those districts pay for it. And then that way, our money is going directly to helping our citizens with their protection, and provincial money goes to help provincial matters and other jurisdictions strictly,” says Gosselin.

MacDougall believes the city needs to identify why the detachment is understaffed, suggesting taking some duties away from police. Those duties would then be reallocated to the appropriate service provider.

“For example, are they doing mental health checks that would be better done by a mental health care practitioner? I would like to start with looking at their duties and seeing what we can take off their plate first,” says MacDougall.

Both Jones and Whitton believe the city needs to speak about restorative justice while also taking some duties off the plate the RCMP’s plate.

“Restorative justice saves us millions of dollars every year, and we need to take more advantage of it. Keep our cops out of the courtroom, let it be handled in a restorative way,” says Whitton.

“We can rehabilitate repeat offenders, and reintegrate them into our society, not necessarily through the penal system, but through other ways as well,” says Jones.

The full response to the question can be viewed below:


Candidates were asked how the city should grow its relationships with neighbouring First Nation communities and make the city a more welcoming place for newcomers.

All candidates suggested engaging more with First Nation communities, with some proposing sitting down with each council to better understand how they function. In turn, inviting them to the city as well.

“As we continue to build those relationships, we will see that we’re probably not that far apart and that there are many opportunities to collaborate and work together.,’ says MacDougall.

“I would like to see some cross-training, our councillors going out the Doig or the Blueberry or the Halfway First Nations, and just sitting in on their council meetings and seeing how their run and what they talk about and what’s important to them. I’d also like to see the Doig, the Halfway, and the Blueberry come into our council meetings and sit down and see how they’re run. They’re not that far apart,” says Lequiere.

“Yes, we can be partners, we can work on things together, and it can help our community, and it can help their community. It’s not a zero-sum game. If we can find win-wins working with our First Nations communities and really working toward an inclusive environment in the city at the same time, that’s a win,” says Whitton.

Gosselin applauds council for including First Nation communities in certain projects but believes more could be done.

Jones notes he is the only minority running for council and believes it’s important to have representation among elected officials.

“So that they can see themselves in places of power as well as feel like their voices are heard. I think it’s important for there to be diversity and for people to feel like they have a voice on council, “says Jones.

Growing up in the city, Jones says he was a victim of racism on many occasions.

“My burning passion in life is to fight racism.”

The full response to the question can be viewed below:


Following the media questions, candidates answered a slew of questions sent in by residents, which can be viewed below:

The by-election will take place on May 15th at the Pomeroy Sport Centre.

Advanced voting is taking place on May 5th and May 12th. Special voting opportunities are expected to occur at senior care facilities on May 13th and the hospital on May 15th.

Thanks for Reading! is the voice of the Peace, bringing issues that matter to the forefront with independent journalism. Our job is to share the unique values of the Peace region with the rest of B.C. and make sure those in power hear us. From your kids’ lemonade stand to natural resource projects, we cover it–but we need your support.


Give $10 a month to today and be the reason we can cover the next story.

Don't miss a news

story with our daily email!

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.