The two candidates running for chief of Tsi Del Del (Alexis Creek) in the upcoming Jan. 9 election say while creating opportunity for youth in the community is the most important issue, looming large over the election is the New Prosperity mine project.
“One of the big ticket items is the mining issue and how that’s going to play and how it’s going to impact the election,” says present Chief Percy Guichon, adding his opponent, former chief Ervin Charleyboy, has come out publicly in favour of the project.
“He’s been meeting with Taseko on his own and that’s his opinion. Everyone has the right to their opinion. But you have one candidate that’s against the project as it is and one candidate that’s in favour and I think that’s really going to determine the outcome of the election,” Guichon says, adding he doesn’t think it’s the number one determining issue, but with recent media coverage it’s certainly been highlighted.
He says other issues in the community need the chief and council’s focus and attention, and Guichon argues the community can’t just focus on the mine issue.
“Having said that, I’m sure it’s on the voters’ minds. Are we voting for someone that’s going to be in favour of the mine and how that’s going to play out? A lot of people like their fish and depend on their fish and are very adamant about saving the environment to save the fish that they’ve relied on for many generations,” Guichon says.
The present chief and council, he adds, aren’t saying no to every mine and have worked with exploration companies in their traditional territory.
“We’ve said it over and over again that we’d work with exploration companies as long as they abide by our rules and our expectations. The current mine that’s being proposed has too many ifs and big potential for an environmental catastrophe,” Guichon says.
Charleyboy says he wants to keep focused on the New Prosperity project because when he looks at the life span of the mine, it offers youth in his community a future.
“In speaking with Taseko’s vice president and president they’ve told me they are willing to train young people, even starting right now they want to train so when the mine goes ahead they’ve got a job. So I’m looking at that,” Charleyboy says, adding the new mine would be a few kilometres away from Fish Lake and he doesn’t think it would hurt the fish.
“Look at Mount Polley Mine and Gibraltar Mine. Mount Polley is only half a mile from Bootjack Lake. Everything flows into that and into the Fraser. Gibraltar Mine is the same. How many years has that been there? It’s not hurting the people eating the salmon from the Fraser so I don’t think it’s going to do any harm,” Charleyboy says, adding there are other mines that are 40 years old that aren’t harming the local fish.
“I think these chiefs are listening to the environmentalists that say otherwise,” Charleyboy suggests.
Guichon says when he was elected two years ago, one of his platform issues was creating opportunities for youth. While some strides have been made, there’s much more to be done to develop educational opportunities that are long term and short term.
“Welding or carpentry training programs, or trying to create long-term employment for youth in our community, is important,” Guichon says, adding he’s on the board of directors for a logging company in his community that has hired two local youth and they are still employed.
Another priority for Guichon and the present council has been to create a stable foundation in regards to governance and policies that are accountable to the people the council is serving. Guichon adds the council has made strides.
“For the first time ever, last spring we had performance evaluations for all the staff. We’re continuing to build on that and re-evaluating our organization so we can better serve the band membership.
I think once you have a good solid foundation then that enables you to perform better when you’re working with youth and dealing with other social issues that need your attention,” Guichon explains.
After a two-year hiatus from politics, Charleyboy says he was motivated to run again because he can’t sit back and watch any longer. He’s also put his name in for councillor.
“Our youth have nothing right now and I want them to have a future. I’d like to see the Punky Lake Wilderness Camp Society keep going. We have a big new house up there that needs to be finished. I’d like to focus on that so we can work with problem kids and do things with them to keep them out of trouble,” Charleyboy says.
While he has not attended any of the general meetings held during the last two years, he says he receives feedback regularly from people who do.
If elected, he will focus on the younger generation and create an elders council with four or five respected elders from different families.
“I would ask the elders for feedback to see where they want the community to go,” Charleyboy says.
The polls will be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Jan. 9 at the Redstone Cultural Centre. Guichon says more than 29 people, including the incumbents, are running for council. The terms are for two years.
Mail-in votes must be received by Monday.