Muskrat Falls, cost of living key issues heading into 2014
© Bonnie Learning photo
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Jamie Snook is looking forward to a successful, full year as Mayor heading into 2014.
The Labradorian recently spoke with Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Jamie Snook about his thoughts on being elected mayor this past fall, how things have shaped up thus far, and the road ahead for Council and the Town heading into a new year.
Q: Refresh my memory as to some of the main issues residents brought to your attention while on the campaign trail.....have any of those been tackled and resolved since September? What issues are on the radar for you heading into new year?
A: In the campaign, I was sure that affordability was the number one issue. Whether it is groceries, gas, hydro rates, transportation, rent, or the price of land, or the cost to buy or build a house, the theme is the same — the general affordability of our town has gone up while the average wage earner's income has stayed the same. This is affecting nearly everyone in town. Families with a mortgage and double income; single income homes; kids trying to move out; professionals trying to move to Goose Bay; low income families and on and on. From a policy level, Council needs to keep this in mind as we move forward and seek strategies that don't leave people behind.
One issue on the radar for the new year, as an example, is the Nalcor rate increase application that is before the Public Utilities Board. A 25% rate increase to the people of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is morally wrong at this time and from a municipal perspective, represents over $100,000 annually that Nalcor would be taking away from our budget through increased charges. I can't help but feel that is wrong at this time when we are paying 100% of the environmental cost for Canadians in relation to the Muskrat Falls project, the construction is going to have a major and real impact on our infrastructure, its impacting our town operations, and it is driving the cost of living up in town. When Nalcor decided to communicate this decision the way they did, I really wish they had given corporate citizenship more of a consideration because if this application is successful everyone one of us are going to pay the price.
Q: What do you feel will be the single biggest issue/concern for council in the coming year? Why?
A: Muskrat Falls is going to be the biggest issue. The project is sanctioned, financed, and started, however Nalcor has yet to do anything meaningful with the Environmental Assessment Panel recommendations in relation to the municipality. In the new year, we will be communicating with Nalcor and hoping to start a much bigger picture discussion with them. To date, there has not been much respect shown for the town concerns, but that is the good thing about new years — we all get to put in our resolutions and let's see what 2014 will bring us. They will want their project managed well, and on budget, and we need our town to be managed well and on budget, so I can only surmise that a new relationship would be helpful with that.
Q: What have been some of the highlights of your term thus far?
A; The Sportsplex Plunge was a highlight. It will be hard to forget that dip in Lake Melville but on a more serious note, I have a very good feeling that our early work on this file is going to start paying dividends in the New Year.
The level of communication that the Council has engaged in has been a highlight as well in my view. We are really trying to raise the bar in terms of transparency, pro-active communications, and public engagement. Social media has been a big part of this, but attending as many meetings and social functions with stakeholder groups has really kept us connected to the issues.
Hopefully, the message is starting to get through that the 11th Council will put the town and its people first and foremost in its decision making. In our inaugural Council meeting, this was a key highlight from a unanimous Council. In the years ahead I hope that this continues to be a key message and highlight for sure.
Q: Looking back on the run up to the election in September, how do you feel about it all now? Would you have done anything differently with regards to your style, approach to voters, etc?
A: I would not have done anything differently. The campaign was a blend of traditional door knocking, social media, and a whole lot of hard work. For a long time I have felt that the same level of effort should go into municipal elections as other Government elections, given that the council is entirely local, its the closest to the people, and can have such an impact on daily living in town; so the 60% voter turnout was very satisfying, and evidence that people did care about the results. In 2017, I think we need to raise the bar and make sure the voter turnout is equally impressive once again.
Q: Who have been your biggest supports/mentors/fans since your win?
A: I have spent more time with the 11th Council of Happy Valley-Goose Bay than any other group since the election. We have punched a lot of hours together and there is a strong support network developing. I committed to being a team-building Mayor and I want to see each of the councillors be successful. For that to happen, we do have to support each other as new councillors. That sort of environment will make sure the entire council is productive over the remaining term.
Outside of Council, Holly (my wife) has certainly been my biggest supporter and has helped me balance this new role with everything else going on in our lives. Jonah and Jaiden (my children) have a way of keeping us both on our toes and busy. We have had to make some adjustments to make it all work but it is going very well. It has actually been very satisfying connecting with the future of our town at birthday parties, hockey games, at school, and play dates, and I'd suggest people would be surprised how much kids do know about municipal elections. I've been getting a lot of "Hey Mr. Mayor!", high fives, and some very pointed and clear comments on what would make the kids happy. In future municipal elections, I sincerely hope more family people take the plunge so that perspective stays prevalent at the municipal government level.
I should also add that the whole community has been great. The feedback and positive comments give you a lot of motivation and confidence that we must be doing something right.
Q: What are the goals you are setting for yourself as Mayor?
A: I really do care about community health and would like to see a Wellness Centre under construction before 2015. The people here deserve modern recreational facilities and if all goes well, this new infrastructure will be a nice centrepiece that we can all be proud of. There is goal number one, and when you think about preventative healthcare, active citizens, and good health, this is an initiative that will pay dividends for decades to come.
When the Muskrat Falls project is complete I really hope that Happy Valley-Goose Bay looks and feels much better when it’s all done. What I mean by that is, I'd prefer community revitalization over the next four years as apposed to community trauma. We can accomplish this by cleaning up our neighbourhoods, putting new life into areas such as Kinsmen Park, and ensuring the new Goose Bay Centre Development evolves into a popular downtown area of town.
For me, a vision of a healthy, active, and revitalizing town is very motivating and at the same time for us to be able to enjoy it we can't lose sight of the rising cost of living. Happy Valley-Goose Bay has to be affordable for everyone to enjoy the quality of life we can offer. Given our geography and the development at our doorsteps this is not going to be an easy balancing act but this balance is certainly a goal I have.
Balance is a big thing and personally it remains my goal to balance my health, family, my career, and council over the next four years. Qualifying for the Boston Marathon would be a bonus!
Q: How do you plan on accomplishing those goals?
A: Council can accomplish these things with old-fashioned hard work and by staying focused. None of us have forgotten the inaugural speech at our first council meeting, and if we stay the course we will meet our goals. The council also has full control over how it conducts itself, and I am adamant that this is one area that we cannot lose sight of. The council needs to continue team building, supporting each other, being professional, and applying itself to the challenges in our community. Margaret Meade was a great systems thinker who said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."