Citizens in the Elk Valley turned out to vote today (Oct. 15) to make their voices heard about who will represent them and lead their communities for the next four years.
The Free Press spoke with people from Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford as they were leaving local polling stations to get a sense of what inspired them to get out and exercise their civic rights.
Here is what some of them had to say.
Voters in Fernie are choosing between two mayor candidates and a record 14 council candidates.
Sam Sedlowsky, a Fernie resident of 10 years, spoke about the importance of voting.
“It’s our job as citizens to exercise our legal right and our opportunity to choose our leaders. They represent us, so if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain,” she said.
Sedlowsky thinks people are pretty polarized at the moment, and doesn’t believe a lot of people understand the process of local government.
“People have a lot to say without understanding the difficulties of what it means to be an elected official in our community, and it’s been quite unfair in my opinion.
“It’s important to make sure that we’re not voting out of anger, that we’re not voting out of spite.
“We are voting for what’s best for our community, so hopefully people chose well.”
Pauly Roberts, a Fernie resident of 18 years, said he likes seeing improvements made to the community, and that “sometimes it just needs a different mix.”
“I’m hoping to see the skate park get developed and a couple more, maybe like a paved pump track, like more recreation stuff. A bit more infrastructure.”
He added that he would also like to see another elementary school.
Stephen Kelleher of Fernie said “I like the direction council has been taking and I wanted to support the current council.”
He said the most important issue is housing availability.
In Sparwood, voters choose between two mayor candidates, nine council candidates, and are also voting on two referendum questions on borrowing.
Mandy Lee has been a resident of Sparwood for about a year and a half.
“I’m new to the town, and so I wanted to have my voice heard.”
When asked by The Free Press if there was an issue that brought her to the booth, she said the new the recreation centre.
“I definitely voted yes for that. Because I think it’s a good conversation to have and we need more things like that to bring Sparwood back on the map, make it a more desirable place to live.”
She said she loves the town and wants what’s best for it, which is another reason she voted.
“The more things that can bring people to this town and make it thrive is, it’s what it needs.”
Jeremy Wheeler, a resident of Sparwood for about eight years, said he’s interested in the kids in the community, and making sure they have plans for them in the future.
“I do like the idea of a multi-purpose facility. That was on the ballot for the referendum this year. And more facilities for the kids, and increasing access to sport.”
He also spoke about the importance of health care, and about the notion of 24-hour care in town.
“Difficult to have in a small community, but you know, that would be great for other citizens as well.”
John Baker, a Sparwood resident for 12 years, said he voted because he think’s it’s a duty.
“I feel like you can’t complain about anything that’s happening in your government or otherwise if you don’t actually vote for anybody.”
Speaking to what issue was important for him, he said “I think the amount of money that Sparwood wants to borrow for the rec-plex here, and I think it’s a little ridiculous actually.
“I think there’s a better alternative, I wouldn’t object to some renovations, but borrowing $15 million in the District of Sparwood to build this? I think is absolutely silly.”
James Anthony Lund, a resident of Sparwood since about 2007, said he votes every year because he wants to have a voice in who represents him on council, and that the school district trustee is important to him as he is a teacher in town.
“This year, especially, I’m voting to borrow money for the rec centre expansion and the fire hall expansion.”
In Elkford, the long-serving mayor is stepping down, so the community will have a new mayor after October 15, with two incumbent councillors running. For council, there’s seven candidates for six seats, making it a tight race.
Lorrie Ingham, a resident of Elkford for 40 years, said it’s important to vote, otherwise she can’t complain.
“It’s a civic duty, you should do it.”
“I went to the forum, I listened to all the candidates, and I was impressed by quite a few of them, so my vote was kind of hard this time, cause they all, most of them really impressed me.”
Rick Hillier, a resident of Elkford for 10 years, said he voted because the town needs a new mayor.
“That was something that I wanted to make sure that I had a say in.”
He said there are some things in town he would like to see a little bit changed.
“Hopefully we can, through voting and new people in there, we can get some change happening here.”
Speaking to what he thinks needs to change, he said “I just think the management of the money in Elkford right now, and where it’s going and where it’s allotted to.”
Dave and Connie Baines, residents of Elkford for three years, were at the polling station together.
Dave, who voted a few days earlier, spoke about the all-candidates forum, and said the candidates were all worried about housing and medical services in town, and that there wasn’t a lot of disagreement on that. The differences between the candidates were more in their approaches to the issues rather than the issues themselves, he said.
He also spoke about the two mayoral candidates (Steve Fairbairn and Mandy McGregor), saying “we have two very different personalities running for mayor, but both of them are, I think, interested in helping the community, and I think either one that wins will be good for the town.”
Connie also spoke about the two mayoral candidates, pointing to their time spent on council, and that they’ve lived in Elkford for long periods of time.
“Either one of them will be fantastic for leading the community.”
Tim Lowen has lived in Elkford for about 40 years.
“Just come out to vote, lived here over 40 years, so want to make sure that life’s good, and don’t get stupid people in for council and mayor.”