Ongoing division is going to hurt businesses, says Fernie Mayor Ange Qualizza during remarks delivered to the Fernie Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting on Thursday (April 20).
Getting out of conflicts that have arisen over the last two years is a major topic on the mind of municipalities across the province, Qualizza said, noting examples of local governments being targeted by irate residents.
“Because you want to know whats going to happen, is that hatred is going to cost you all money, because uncertainty in our communities and that ill attitude is not good for business, it’s not good for any of us,” Qualizza warned.
“Across the province, local governments for the first time ever are installing security cameras and creating safety plans. All of this has just happened in two years and we need to acknowledge that because its important that when we speak about each other in the community we use good language. We sometimes don’t agree all the time, but making sure that that online energy is managed, and you don’t fall into those habits of using that inflammatory language.”
Qualizza encouraged the business community to avoid venting concerns online or sending emails, but instead communicate directly with the city over the phone.
The City of Fernie turned off Facebook comments on its own Facebook page in 2021, while Qualizza has publicly backed away from social media due to ‘sharp edges’, without completely disengaging from it.
“We can’t complain to Facebook and think we’re going to get good information coming back. I’m surrounded by a team of bright people – we’re the most accessible local government ever.
“Call us, call your councillors, call your mayor, call me. If you want clarification on something call me, don’t call someone that’s going to interpret what happened.”
Qualizza stressed the successes of the City of Fernie, “despite what some guy on Facebook is saying”.
“When I was in Vancouver last week, people were asking me ‘how are you guys being so successful … the grants you’re pulling in and the investments in your community…’, and I said it was because we’re a team.”
The unity of the council was something she held up as a perk Fernie had over other communities.
“I do not have a council that is going behind each others back, back-talking – those councils that are split councils, and at odds with each other, don’t get a lot of work done. The mayor and CAO partnership at the City of Fernie right now is the strongest it’s ever been, we’re in alignment, we support each other all the time.”
Over the last four years, the City of Fernie has pulled in $14 million worth of investment in the form of grants – most recently a $1.3 million grant for a new ‘destination skate park’ in downtown Fernie.
Some other grants include $3.5 million for flood protection upgrades, millions for transportation upgrades and works, a curbside organics plan funded through grants and $86K for a local government development approvals upgrade.
“You guys have been really well-served by this leadership team. We don’t really have the opportunity to celebrate our success enough, and its not just the (skate park) project.
“I wish people would jump up and down about the other investment we’ve got because that $14 million that isn’t coming off of residential taxpayers is huge.”
In a call-back to comments made at the Business Excellence Awards in Fernie in October 2021, Qualizza said that everyone needed to show more appreciation for city staff and city councillors.
“When you see these folks around, give them a high five.”
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