DC candidates in-depth: Blair Lekstrom

Talk about your time in the community and community-building. What boards/commissions or committees do you sit, and talk about key projects you have had a hand in?

From 1993 to 1996 I served on Dawson Creek City Council as a councillor and from 1996 to 2001 I had the honour of serving as the Mayor of Dawson Creek. During this time, I was engaged with a wide number of the boards in our community. I worked hard to ensure the Fair Share Agreement, now called the Peace River Agreement became a reality and through negotiations with the provincial government was enhanced over time.

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This agreement sees revenue shared with our region from the province based on industrial taxation received by our provincial government. Our region has often said that we felt that we did not receive a fair reinvestment of funds back into our region from the provincial government and now this agreement has corrected that inequity that previously existed. I also helped promote the development of our city through ensuring people were aware that Dawson Creek was open for business and we welcomed new investment.

 

In your opinion, what is the role of a city councilor in a 10 to 20,000 person city?

The role of a City Councillor is to represent the constituents, businesses and industry in your community. Your role is to work with your fellow councillors and the Mayor to set both short and long term goals for the community and to ensure that the decisions you make as a council are both affordable and sustainable. There is no greater role as an elected official than being a good listener. 

 

Are there any particular issues or local decisions that have you running? Why and what are they?

I am not running because I am upset with the decisions of city council. Unless you sit at the table where the decisions are made it is hard to know the full depth of the discussions that led to that decision. I am running because I believe I have the skill set to help build our city into an even better community than we already have.

What are the three most important issues facing the City?

1. Financial stability and living within our means is the single most important issue our city faces moving forward. Running a city is not a lot different than running your household. There are certain things we require in our day to day lives in order to survive and then there are the things that are nice to have. The challenge lies with purchasing those things that are nice to have if you know that you cannot afford them. I love our city and I love the services, the facilities and the infrastructure we have but we must ensure we live within our means.

2. I believe our city needs to focus more on our road and sidewalk infrastructure. It appears that many of our streets are now in need of substantial work with many possibly needing a full rebuild versus simply an asphalt overlay. The cost of rebuilding a road compared to putting down an overlay of asphalt is of concern because what that now means is that our capital budget will not be able to go as far as the residents would like to see it go. Along with the other communities in the region our city may want to investigate tendering all of our capital road works out together as a larger package of work may attract some additional more competitive bids.

3. As our city moves forward and experiences the growth that is expected we must ensure our city planning is done correctly. Our city like all others has a number of different zoning areas within our city boundaries. Residents want our residential areas to remain just that, residential areas. As a city, we want to ensure that industrial development does not encroach on these areas while at the same time continue to have enough industrial zoned land for those that want to either expand their operations or for those pursuing new opportunities. Our city must also pay close attention to our commercial zoning requirements as we look after our existing businesses and be prepared with sufficient properly zoned commercial land to attract new businesses.

There are a wide range of other issues that are extremely important to our city but I have put forward the three above as my priorities as a candidate for city council.

Matters such as health and education are more provincial matters and business, but are often lumped into municipal politics. What role can a municipal councilor play in health and education when it comes to these institutions in their city? 

It is important that Mayor and Council work closely with the community as well as the provincial government when it comes to the provision of healthcare in our city. Implementation of a citizens committee to work with council is something that brings a broad spectrum of experiences with the system and new ideas on how we can ensure our city receives the services we expect in a city of our size.

We must look at all of the different sectors of healthcare such as the number of family physicians, our seniors care and our ability to have our seniors live independently in their homes as long as possible, and our acute care provision. An important part of all of this is ensuring our health facilities keep pace with the needs of the community. On the issue of education, it is important to work closely with our school district when necessary but the reality is we elect our School Trustees to represent our needs in the K-12 system.

The role of a city council when it comes to education really lies in working with our advanced education system through Northern Lights College. Our region is very fortunate to have Northern Lights College which is a first-class institution.

 

What can you, if elected as a councillor, do to help reduce crime in Dawson Creek? What ideas can you bring to the table?

Community safety is of prime importance to everyone in our city. As we pursue making our city an even better place we have to always remember that families and businesses want to locate in an environment which is safe. I believe it is very important especially for a newly elected council to set their policing priorities in cooperation with the city of Dawson Creeks staff sergeant and then meet monthly to go over how well the members are doing in meeting our collective goals. Council must work with their detachment to ensure they are responding to the concerns of the citizens.

 

How do you balance the push for economic growth and environmental sustainability? 

We are very fortunate to have the abundance of natural resources that are located within our region. I believe that we can extract those resources in a sustainable manner and at the same time minimize the impact we have on the environment. In British Columbia we are amongst the best stewards of the land in the entire world but that does not mean we cannot continue to work towards being even better. There is not one of us who doesn’t leave some form of footprint on this earth in our day to day lives but the sign we are living sustainably comes from each and every one of us mitigating that footprint when possible. We can grow our economy and at the same time look after the planet on which we live.

 

How do you see industry, small business, and nonprofits’ relationship with the city of Dawson Creek?

Having been previously elected to city council and then staying well informed about our city once I left municipal politics, I believe our city has done a very good job in developing and maintaining good relationships with our business community, industry and our nonprofits. That does not mean that we don’t continue everyday to try and improve upon those relationships.

 

Do you think the downtown core is successful and thriving? Why or why not, and cite examples.

Our downtown core is doing quite well. We have a strong representation of businesses in the downtown core but that is something that we must always pay attention to. The reality in most every city is that as new commercial development comes to your city most is being located on the entrances to your city. This in itself creates challenges in maintaining a strong downtown core. As we move forward our city could develop some form of a theme in our downtown that reflects who we are. One example that comes to mind is we are Mile Zero of the world-famous Alaska Highway and we may want to look at developing our core around that theme. Whatever direction if any is taken must be done in cooperation with the already existing businesses who are located there as they will have a wealth of knowledge and ideas on what they believe will help.

 

What do you know about public transportation options in Dawson Creek? Do you have any ideas regarding public transportation?

Our cities public transportation is provided under contract by BC Transit as is the case in most municipalities in British Columbia. The city pays a portion of the operating costs of this service which appears to be meeting the needs of the community. It is important that the city review our transit schedule and routes on a regular basis to ensure we are staying up to date with the new development that continues to occur in our city.

It has been said by a handful of current councilors that DC must mind its fiscal gap and are not doing it. One current councilor pegs the city’s own building upkeep bill at approximately $40 million dollars behind. What has (or hasn’t) City Council done, and what more can be done?

 As I have said earlier in the questions I have answered, it is very difficult to judge the decisions that have been made by council unless you have the full package of information which led them to the decisions they have made. From my perspective it appears that although we have a wide range of wonderful services and facilities, the question is can we sustain them all financially. One of my top priorities if elected is to investigate this very issue and work with my city council colleagues to come up with both a short- and long-term solution. This may include some very difficult discussions amongst council and certainly some very difficult decisions.

If elected, what steps will you take to put DC on firmer financial footing?

One of my priorities will be to work at removing the amount of Fare Share money now used in the cities operational budget. The Fare Share money we receive comes from the provincial government and we must not become so heavily dependent on it in our operational side of the city. I will work hard with my colleagues on council to move this revenue over to the capital budget which in turn gives our city a stronger financial footing moving into the future. This cannot be done overnight as we have become dependent on it but it can be accomplished with a strong commitment of all on council.

It’s easy to suggest projects, or improvements to services, but it all costs money and the City has a limited budget. Do you believe the City has to raise taxes in order to do what you feel needs to be done? Or do you feel there are services that can be cut? Why or why not?

Until any newly elected councillor or Mayor can answer this question it is important that they engage with the City Manager and begin a process of evaluating how each dollar is spent in the city. This must be done collectively as an entire council so that everyone gains the same understanding of the financial picture of the city. I believe that we pay enough taxes already and am not prepared to commit to either raise or lower taxes until I have the opportunity to engage in the discussions I mention above. The only promise I or anyone can and should make when running for elected office is I commit to you that I will work hard and do my best. Any other promise could go unrealized if you can’t gain the support of the majority of your fellow councillors.

Do you want Rotary Lake opened? Why or Why not? If so – please provide a list of steps that should be taken by the city or that the city could recommend to operators. (And in what form, if it should re-open).

I believe Rotary Lake should be reopened. It has been in existence for many decades in our city and has provided a place for families and their children to go and enjoy not just the swimming but also it is a place to hold picnics and just generally get together. In no way will I ever minimize the tragedy that has occurred at the lake, period. It is called Rotary Lake for a reason and that has allowed the city to operate it at a cost to the taxpayer that is both acceptable and sustainable.

I believe that the decision that has been made by public health and the orders that have been issued are wrong. I do agree that we must ensure the safety of users of Rotary Lake must be of prime importance to all of us and I am confident that we can together make that happen. 

With the removal of Rotary Lake, some have noted the lack of affordable recreation options for families and youth in Dawson Creek? What do you feel council has done in this regard, and what do you plan to bring to the table if elected? (Aside from your feelings on Rotary Lake).

I think our city has done a great job of providing affordable recreation options for the youth of our city. There is no question that some families regardless of the price are challenged to afford some of these for their children. For this reason many of the recreation opportunities provided for our youth have an assistance program provided to help those who may not be in a position to afford such activity for their children. Just like the youth recreation programs such as minor hockey who provides such assistance, there may be an opportunity for council to pursue further opportunities. 

Are you in support of a runway extension at the Dawson Creek Regional Airport? Why or why not?

I would be in support of a runway extension at our airport only if we had a commitment from one of the major airlines that they would provide regularly scheduled service to our community. If that commitment was not there then no. This issue has been around going back to the 1990’s when I was on city council then. While I was the Mayor of our city I invited WestJet to come and meet with us to discuss the possibility of them coming to Dawson Creek and beginning to provide a regularly scheduled service.

They came and we had great discussions but in the end their business case led them to establish a service in Grande Prairie at that time. Dawson Creek is in a unique position with Grande Prairie a short drive to the east of us and Fort St John a short drive to our north, both with airports providing regular scheduled flights from a number of the major carriers. The tough reality is that even when we had a major airline providing service to our city through our airport, many residents still made the decision to go to either Grande Prairie or Fort St John for their flights.

What are your feelings on how City Council has handled the incoming legalization of recreational marijuana?

I believe they have handled it similar to any new business being established in our city. This is a controlled substance and therefore any incoming business must meet the requirements as outlined by both the Federal and Provincial governments. The cities only jurisdiction lies with establishing which zoning this must fit within as well as the cost of the business license. 

Should councillors travel to and attend conferences and events inside and outside Dawson Creek that the Mayor may also already be attending, expensed to the City? If so, why and what tangible benefits must come out of these? If not, why not?

There are a number of valuable conferences that councillors should attend along with the Mayor and then there are others that the Mayor can and should attend on their own representing our interests. We elect 6 city councillors and 1 mayor as each brings a different perspective to each issue.

You get one million dollars for a single DC or related area project. No strings attached — your choice. Where does that money go?

I would put it directly towards the city debt.

 

Don’t forget the DC Mirror council candidate mega-debate at Encana Events Centre Thursday Oct. 11.

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