DC candidates in-depth: Jerimy Earl

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?

2 years as the Communications and Events Coordinator for the Dawson Creek & District Hospital Foundation, spearheading the completion of the Cancer Care Clinic and the Renovation and Refurbishment of the Maternity Ward, along with raising funds for a variety of other much needed equipment.

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5 ½ years as the Director of Corporate Partnerships at the Encana Events Centre, serving as the key liaison and stakeholder engagement facilitator between the business community and the facility. 

6 years volunteering on the board of Directors for the Dawson Creek and District Chamber of Commerce, 3 ½ as President advocating for local businesses during both the boom and bust. Involved in a myriad of community events, capacity building initiatives and advocating for the interests of local businesses

I’m currently the Marketing, Communications and Member Engagement Specialist at Lake View Credit Union, in addition to marketing, a significant portion my work has to do with collaborating with local non-profits to provide both financial and promotional support for events to enhance the communities we work in.

Helping to organize and MC various musical and cultural events throughout the city both professionally and in a volunteer capacity. Oktoberfest, the Big Chill Music Fest, DC Music Festival, Easter Extravaganza (I was the guy in the Buffalo costume), etc… 

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

The primary function of a city councillor in any city is to help decide what services the city should be providing to its citizens, to what extent it should provide those services, and what its citizens are willing and able to pay for those services. Those basic, fundamental questions inform the vision and strategic priorities of the council which are then articulated to city administration in the form of by-laws, policies and the appropriate allocation of resources. On top of that, I think a good councillor should always be taking the temperature of the public, through both formal and informal means, in order to ensure that the vision being enacted is benefitting the broadest possible cross section of the community.

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

I think with recovery of our local economy and with the recent announcement of the LNG Canada facility in Kitimat, our city will soon be focused once again on managing dramatic growth, similar to what we experienced in the late aughts and early teens. While this challenge is very much preferable to the ones we faced during the downturn of the last couple of years, if not managed properly, with an eye towards smart investing and collaboration, the influx of people and money that accompanies fast economic expansion has the potential to undermine many of the things which make Dawson Creek such an amazing place to live and raise a family.  

What are the three most important issues facing the City?

1) How to get those coming here temporarily for work to consider becoming residents and settling in Dawson Creek with their families.

2) How to address our budgetary constraints without undermining the vital investments we need to make in order to continue growing.

3) How to best attract and retain specialized professionals like doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers, tradespeople, etc…

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

Although health care and education fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial government, those of us aspiring to leadership roles in the rural north need to recognize that we often need to work that much harder to get our needs heard, as far as we are from the seat of power. City councillors should be advocates, conduits and champions of their community’s needs to other levels of government. We should also be doing our best to collaborate with local health care and education providers to understand what deficiencies exist and if there’s a way for us to shore those up at a local level.

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

Empanel a community roundtable made of up stakeholders drawn from our local RCMP detachment, harm reduction advocates, health professionals, business leaders, and other interested stakeholders to allow for more effective networking and communication. The number one deterrent to crime isn’t the threat of jail, it’s the fear of being caught, and if we as a community are aware, engaged and communicating with each other, our city will become a much less hospitable place for criminals to ply their trade.  

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

To begin with, I reject the premise that the two are inherently in opposition to one and other. Economic growth spurs technological innovation, provides capital for experimentation and drives efficiencies by fostering economies of scale, so it’s not a mutually exclusive, zero sum game. Dawson Creek has been ahead of the curve in pursuing energy efficiency in our buildings, curbside recycling, wastewater reclamation and other initiatives that have made us the envy of rural communities throughout BC. Environmental sustainability is an important subject for us to bear in mind as we continue to develop; at the same time, if people feel apprehensive about how they’re going to feed their families, they’re not going to prioritize the environment anyway.

 

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

The City of Dawson Creek should be doing what only the city can do, and then we need to trust our partners in industry, local business, and the non-profit sector to do their part. We have a vital role to play in creating an environment for other organizations to flourish, but we need to put our finite resources where they can do the most good and recognize our limitations. 

 

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

I think the downtown core could be improved upon, but overall, it’s trending in the right direction. There are some tremendous businesses downtown who, through creativity and perseverance, have managed to defy the significant geographic challenges we face as a border community and the retail and business leakage that comes along with it. I think the Calvin Kruk Centre for the Arts has been a fantastic asset, bringing a captive audience of children and their parents into the downtown core nightly; an asset that many businesses haven’t fully capitalized on. Likewise, I feel the city could be doing more to incentivize development through tax inducements, or at the very least, make it more costly for absentee owners to allow vacant properties to fall into disrepair, undermining the aesthetic appeal of our downtown core and driving away customers for those who manage their assets and businesses with pride.      

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

We currently have three routes on a staggered schedule that provide roughly 12 hours of service during the day, from 7-ish in the morning to 7-ish in the evening. The fees are very reasonable and the service is subsidized by the city to the tune of approximately $500,000 per year. Although I’ve heard it expressed that people would like to see longer service hours into the evening, especially in the winter months, until it’s justified by an increase in the rates of ridership, I don’t really see a convincing case there. I’d be interested to see how ride sharing impacts our local transportation market if it’s ever allowed in BC, but for the moment, I’d argue that our public transportation service provides better value than many communities of a comparable size.

 

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?

Over the last couple of years, the city has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars annually by pursuing energy efficiency initiatives in their buildings, most prominently at the South Peace Community Multiplex. They’ve also adjusted user fees for some public amenities to align more closely with the true cost of providing services around water, sewer, and recreation. While there’s still a ways to go, I feel that cutting too deeply, or raising fees and taxes too drastically, at a time where many households and businesses are still trying to keep their head above water or gain back the ground they lost in the downturn isn’t necessarily helpful over the long term. It’s much easier to address budget concerns from a position of strength, so as our economy continues to pick up steam, and as LNG becomes a reality, council should have more room to navigate a way forward. One last thing I’d highlight that has been a resounding success is the water reclamation facility that that the city partnered with Shell on almost 10 years ago. The facility, whose capital costs were almost completely covered by Shell, is now a revenue generator for the city, on top of helping to reduce industry’s reliance on potable water. As a councillor, I would support and advocate for similar private-public partnerships.

 

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

I don’t think there’s a silver bullet or any single solution to maintaining a healthy balance sheet. A couple steps I would take is to: i) encourage city administration to allow those employees who have the ability to work remotely from home, and whose job and schedule allow for it, to do so. The less space we as a city are using to unnecessarily warehouse employees, the less money we’re spending maintaining that space. Also, ii) the city needs to make another effort to get local hoteliers on board in support of a destination marketing fee, particularly as industry begins to ramp up again. Such a fee would help to alleviate some of the demands placed on the city’s Recreation and Cultural Services, which is currently the single largest line item expense in our budget. 

 

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?

Right now, people feel like they’re being squeezed by all levels of government, so piling on by raising taxes wouldn’t be my first choice. However, not having a crystal ball, it would be irresponsible to promise to never raise taxes under any circumstances. Moreover, I’d argue that foregoing necessary investments also comes at a cost in the form of missed opportunities. This past year the City of Dawson Creek cut some services while also introducing a modest tax increase. Until the benefits of LNG begin to percolate through our local economy and allow us a bit more breathing room to get a firmer handle on things, the combination of modest tax and fee increases and precision cuts is likely going to be how we do business for the time being. 

 

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).

There seems to be considerable desire among the public to see the amenity returned to its former glory, and I can respect that. It’s not as simple as turning on a faucet however, and people need to respect that there is a process underway to fully flesh out the city’s options moving forward. If the Health Authority is willing to reinstate Rotary Lake as a ‘lake’, then it’s a fairly straightforward decision around a one-time capital spend with marginal operating costs around preventative maintenance. If not, and it can only be reopened as a ‘pool’ the lifecycle cost of the project increases exponentially and our choices become much less obvious and appealing. 

 

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).

We have disc golf, skate parks, playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, soccer and baseball fields, hiking/skiing trails, music and cultural festivals, car shows, and a myriad of other low cost options available to those who care to seek them out. Some of these services and activities have been provided by the city, some are done by other organizations on their own, or in cooperation with government and private sector sponsors. Perhaps the city has a role to play in better communicating how to take advantage of these options. But, as someone with a young family, I would respectfully disagree with those who claim there’s a lack of low cost recreational options for families and youth.   

 

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

I’m a reserved yes on this issue. Our local airport is a vital piece of infrastructure that presents some challenges, most of which aren’t of our making. Right off the bat, I wholeheartedly think that for any community aspiring to growth an airport is something we can’t do without, like rail access or a hospital. I also recognize that being an hour from GP and FSJ on either side puts us at a significant disadvantage with respect to consumer flights and that there’s no quick fix for that. While I ultimately support the city’s recent steps to begin capital upgrades, it’s my hope that these investments are accompanied by a more consistent and comprehensive marketing plan on the city’s behalf and a more competitive flight schedule on the part of the airlines. I think to cut bait and give up on our local airport in order to save some money in the near term is short sighted, as it disregards how important our airport is for business development with respect to accommodating charter flights and freight. In addition, a functional airport is essential for providing medivac services, which is vital to the continued health of our citizenry.

 

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

Overall I’ve been pleased with how the issue has progressed. As a citizen, I took part in both the online survey the city put out and attended the public forum they hosted. Given that we’re entering into somewhat uncharted territory, it wouldn’t surprise me if some adjustments had to be made to the regulations in place once the rubber hits the road. But, I think we’re on fairly firm footing, all things considered. 

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?

I think that is up to each councillor to decide for themselves and to ultimately justify to their constituents during an election. As someone who’s done a lot of stakeholder engagement and networking, I realize the immediate return on investment can sometimes be very hard to quantify. However, in my experience, there is value in being in the room and sitting at the table when important discussions are taking place. Especially here in the north, where we are often challenged in having our priorities acknowledged by other levels of government in other parts of the province or country. The ability of our elected representatives to build strong, collaborative networks with their counterparts and present a united front gives us more clout than we would otherwise enjoy.

With respect to the Mayor, although he chairs council meetings and is responsible for representing the will of council to the public, he is, at the end of the day, just one vote on council. Presuming that he’s the only one that needs to be present at conferences and events for good representation to occur is, to my mind, a mistake.
 

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

To fund economic development incentives in the downtown core which would include: matching funds for storefront and fascia upgrades, funding special events like night markets, trade shows, providing professional coaching and support to help grow existing events being put on by local non-profits, and for underwriting tax incentives for capital investments as it pertains to the refurbishing of dilapidated buildings and new developments on vacant lots.  
 

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

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