David Wilks has declared his candidacy for another term as Sparwood’s mayor.
Wilks has served as mayor since 2018, and before that for two terms between 2005 and 2011. Between then, he served as Conservative MP for Kootenay-Columbia between 2011-2015, and sought the BC Liberal nomination for Kootenay East in 2016. He also currently serves as the chair of the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District Board.
“I’ve had a taste of just about every level of politics, and municipal politics for me is the most gratifying. It’s where you get to deal with local issues (and) have an impact on your municipality,” he said.
“This is where I want to be – I’m happy here.”
The District of Sparwood has achieved a lot with the current mayor and council, said Wilks, including the Centennial Square revitalization (which is under construction now), Red Cedar Hill road rehabilitation, a new chicken bylaw, a community garden and more items on the to-do list that voters will see on the ballot in a referendum in October, such as the Sparwood Fire Hall #2 redevelopment and the multi-purpose indoor facility.
Wilks will be pushing for the community to support a new fire hall in Sparwood Heights to provide coverage of a growing part of Sparwood. Plans to redevelop the second fire hall for the community came with a price-tag of $4.6 million, which saw enough people in the community mobilise in opposition to the cost to request the matter go to a referendum at the election.
Wilks said that while costs could be less by limiting works to upgrades or mitigation works, “our job is to have a vision for 40 to 50 years out, not for today.”
Another item that residents will see on the ballot is the multi-purpose indoor facility envisaged for the district as a way to provide more indoor space for events and meet demand that the community has voiced.
“The price (for a new multi-purpose facility) is between $15 – $20 million. It’s not cheap, that’s for sure,” said Wilks.
Final designs for the facility are being drawn up, with the community to see them before July 2022. Once further community feedback has been baked in, voters will be able to give the district a yes or no on whether to proceed. The district will seek funding through grants and borrowing.
Looking forward, Wilks said he wanted to work on issues like reducing human-bear conflict with better attractant mitigation, and also increase the district’s supply of housing through additional apartments rather than more single-family housing.
He also shared some ideas with a much wider scope, such as increasing the district’s supply of industrial land in order to lean into its ‘niche’ as the industrial hub of the valley as the centre of mining operations and auxiliary operators.
A bigger idea on his mind is to approach the province over enlarging the District of Sparwood’s borders to take in popular backcountry land to the west, known as the Wilson Draw.
“It’s a place where tonnes of people go hiking and biking. It goes all the way back to the Wilson Glaciers, and right now its crown land,” said Wilks, who suggests turning it into a park along the same lines as the Cranbrook Community Forest.
“If it’s possible, I think it would be really cool to protect that land forever, so its a place people can go and enjoy the outdoors without it getting wrecked in the future.”
Asked why voters should consider giving him another term as mayor, Wilks said that while he didn’t consider it a popularity contest, residents should weigh up the results of the last term.
“We said we were going to plan and develop Centennial Square, we did it. We said we were going to plan and deal with Red Cedar Hill, we did it. People came forward and said they wanted chickens, we did the bylaw. People came forward and said they wanted a community garden, we got the garden.
”We listen to the people.”
He added – in his famously candid way – that no matter what, everyone should get involved and use their vote.
“It’s the old adage – if you don’t vote, don’t bitch. You have every right to determine who you did or didn’t want to become your mayor or councillor.”
In 2018, when Wilks was last elected, turnout was 41.6 percent with only 1,150 of 2,763 eligable voters casting a ballot. In the mayoral race, Wilks secured 54.96 percent of the votes against two other challengers.
The 2022 election will be held on October 15, with residents voting for mayor and six councillors.
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