Elkford mayoral candidate Mandy McGregor speaking at the 2022 all-candidate forum in Elkford on September 28. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Elkford mayoral candidate Mandy McGregor speaking at the 2022 all-candidate forum in Elkford on September 28. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Elkford candidates run the gauntlet of voter questions

All nine candidates turned out for the forum ahead of the October 15 election

Health care services in Elkford was a hot topic during a recent local government candidates forum.

When a question about what the district can do about improving healthcare came up, the first answer carried with it the frustration of an entire community.

“Bitching,” said incumbent council candidate Duncan McDonald to surprised laughs from the audience. “That’s all we are left with.”

“The council that is in right now has gone to the wall. There isn’t a person that we haven’t complained to, we just have to continue complaining. We have to be the loudest, noisiest complainer out there to try to get us some kind of semblance of healthcare out here.”

Concerns about healthcare are based on long-running difficulties in attracting doctors to Elkford, and the ongoing closure of the emergency department at the Elkford Health Centre.

Along with housing, healthcare dominated the Elkford Chamber of Commerce-organized forum at Teck Hall on Wednesday September 28. Though there was only one question specifically about healthcare, each of the nine candidate referenced the issue multiple times through the evening.

The difference between them on healthcare appeared to be less their ideas, and more how much of a swing they wanted to take at Interior Health and the Provincial Government. Each candidate only had a minute to give their thoughts on the subject, and they all packed in a lot.

On one end of the scale, candidates Paul McGinnis and Tathlina Lovlin suggested Elkford take matters into its own hands by making its own destiny if Interior Health wasn’t helping, with McGinnis suggesting improving the attractiveness of the town itself to draw in healthcare workers, and Lovlin floating the idea of scholarships to support the education of young doctors and nurses with the proviso they return to Elkford to serve in the community.

On the other end of the scale, some candidates raged at the system that had failed them, and said there was more raging to do. Incumbent councillor Len Gostick recounted promises made to him and Elkford by Interior Health prior to the pandemic, which he said appeared to have become an excuse for a lack of improvement.

“I think its time all of council start banging on doors, start calling out the bureaucracy of ‘Inferior Health’, and we go after those people, and we threaten them. Whatever it takes,” he said, suggesting Elkford “stop sending money to Victoria to fund the rest of the province.

“We’re one of the richest communities in this province, we deserve the services.”

The rest of the candidates fell between the two ends of the scale, with incumbent councillor, and mayoral candidate Steve Fairbairn describing Interior Health as an “obnoxiously inefficient bureaucracy” and also talking about further advocacy, and enticing workers to the community. “We need to do it with money, with living space, and of course with our amenities.”

Fellow incumbent councillor and mayoral candidate, Mandy McGregor lamented the lack of change. “We all know council is fighting hard, and to date we all know everything council is doing isn’t making a difference. So I think we need to think outside of the box.”

She said that Elkford needed to plant itself at the table with the authorities higher up and not leave until they had a solution.

“Somebody has to look at them and say ‘I’m not leaving until I get an answer.’ … I’m angry, and I want it to change.”

Council candidates Jason Meldrum, Bert Schalekamp and Shawna Bryant all acknowledged the need to continue advocating for Elkford with Interior Health.

“It’s hard to get blood from a stone, but we need to keep trying,” said Meldrum. “You can throw all the money you want at a doctor, but to a certain point council and the district’s hands are tied. All we can do is push Interior Health … and keep on the good fight.”

Schalekamp concurred that more discourse with Interior Health was needed.

“We also need to support health workers and nurses – everyone in that industry that are also feeling the pressure. They’re not having a good time at the moment.”

While Bryant talked up the strength of the Elkford economy in its contribution to the province thanks to the presence of Teck.

“We’re a strong town to be able to advocate for what we need.”

Besides healthcare, candidates were also asked questions about their vision for Elkford’s green spaces, support for recreational services, what their three primary focuses would be (all of them included healthcare), housing, tourism, and the diversity of the economy.

The two mayoral candidates were asked about how they’d support local business, and councillor candidates were asked what traits they’d bring to the table.

The election for Elkford council will be held on October 15. The community will have a new mayor after that, with long-time mayor Dean McKerracher retiring. Incumbent councillors Steve Fairbairn and Mandy McGregor are angling for the job, while two other incumbent councillors are running for their seats again, and there are five newcomers running.

READ MORE: Elkford has two mayoral candidates and seven councillor candidates to choose from

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