Nelson Municipal Election 2011: Marg Stacey asking the simple questions that people want asked
By Marg Stacey
I took a circuitous route across Canada before finding my home Nelson.
Born in Montreal, I graduated from McGill University and Macdonald College, and attended Laval University, Sir George Williams University and St. Andrews University, Scotland, for various shorter programs in literature and art.
I later lived in Vancouver, Kamloops and Cranbrook prior to Nelson, where I have lived for 30 years. After I arrived, I spent 17 years as the Capitol Theatre manager from 1988 to 2005, and am particularly proud of the youth theatre program which has been going strong now for 23 years, developing theatre production and teamwork skills in over 3,000 young people of Nelson.
Some career highlights include serving on the provincial arts boards like Theatre BC, BC Festival of the Arts and the BC touring Council for the Arts, being president of the Cranbrook Community Theatre and Nelson Little Theatre. In 2000 I was Nelson’s Citizen of the Year.
My arts and event management training has sometimes been useful in City work, such as the Torch Relay show — a great regional showcase of our local performers — the BC Seniors Games theatre component, and work with our sister city Baie-Saint-Paul.
The facility management experience at the theatre has been good background for participation in City committees, consensus and strategy building.
Nelson United Church and the Nelson Rotary Club have also been ethical and management training grounds for me over the years, as I have served as church treasurer and facility manager, as well as Rotary Club president — the precepts of both organizations have given me a broad overview in global thinking.
What brought you here?
We came when my husband got a job as senior Crown counsel in 1981.
What is it about Nelson that you like?
It was a great place to raise our kids, and the opportunity for me to get involved in theatre was a bonus. I like the fact that people come from everywhere (just listen to languages on the street), and that Nelson has a high level of awareness and sophistication. I like its interesting history and even discovered I had some previously unknown roots here at the turn of the century. I really found out about community empathy when one of our children was seriously ill.
What do you do for a living?
I’m actually trained as an English teacher and did a few years of that, then managed the Capitol Theatre for 17 years. I’m also a bookkeeper. My greatest achievement, however, was raising four great children with my husband.
Do you have any political or other organizational experience?
I have been a Rotary president, treasurer of Nelson United Church, and I’ve sat on various provincial arts boards like Theatre BC, the BC Festival of the Arts and the BC Touring Council.
What made you personally decide to run again?
There are some things in the last two terms of office that have really been interesting and I would like to be around to move them along – like the Downtown and Waterfront sustainability plan. Pretty much the same answers as the next question.
What did you see happening in the city that made you want to become involved in municipal politics?
I had no complaints, but rather, liked the city’s approach to things, and wanted to get more involved. I had some glimpse of it while managing the theatre. The city has been good for our family — I wanted to give something back, put some skills into serving the community.
What do you think you bring to the municipal table as a politician?
I ask the simple questions that people want asked: is this true, is this fair, is it good for everybody, will it build relationships — which all happen to be the four-way test questions of Rotary.
I like a civilized non-partisan debate, I like to do beneficial things, I like to research a lot, and I work hard. Working as a councilor is rewarding because good things can be done.
Sometimes I get to do special events management jobs because of my theatre background — for example, the Olympic Torch show, the BC Seniors Games, a pretty awesome showcase of local talent for a regional conference, and I did do some sister city events with Baie Saint Paul last term.
I also happen to love budgeting. And keeping to it.
List a few characteristics that you feel embody a Nelson municipal politician?
A Nelson politician should be down-to-earth and straightforward, because people here are pretty good at detecting insincerity.
A politician should also do good homework, because there are several sides to many questions, and seat warming at the council table will certainly get noticed!
What one issue has really been ignored in the last years (or years) in Nelson?
Oh there are several; a parks plan is one that has come up lately, a civic complex plan would be a favourite of mine, a composting plan and yard waste pickup too.
What do you see as one of the biggest problems Nelson has to deal with next?
Diversity is one of Nelson’s charms and its downside, lack of cohesion, is its biggest problem.
When something goes amiss in Trail, the whole community seems to rise in unity to strategize. We as a community tend to discuss in separate huddles, and propose endless options. But it makes for good letters to the editor!
The only fix to this is availability of forums where folks can find common ground. Lots of public engagement is the answer, and it’s hard to achieve.
Communication is another problem, in spite of the good work done by the local media. I’ve noticed that word of mouth is the most effective communication in this town, and how on earth can a City ensure that everybody is in the loop with that challenge?
Social media is another avenue that needs work, and we have on contract tap a communication consultant who has just the right stuff to get us on the screens of the generations who have them.
Do you see Nelson as a special case in terms of community, or are we dealing with the same issues as everyone else in B.C.?
In some ways this place is quite unique, and in better shape than other places because of the forward thinking and planning that’s been done.
We are also unusual in that we have the hydro business and a City police force. However, we do see so many commonalities when we meet with the other regional cities and again at the provincial conference.
What is one thing you would change in the city or at City Hall?
I would like to see Selkirk College become a university. I saw an article recently that described Nelson as “a university town (without one)”.
And, in fact, all things that we hold special here would be enhanced by its presence, and would make the facility a bigger economic driver than it already is.
Any other issues you see happening in the city, or at City Hall, that need to be addressed?
Some of the media folks think this a really lackluster political campaign and we have only presented reports in the last term, which is certainly not the case.
We aren’t here to entertain, or create dramatic council meetings. That being said, I’d like to point to a long list of bylaws that need to be updated or addressed in the next term. Councils everywhere say to themselves, “We have to update our bylaws” — well, we are actually achieving that systematically right now.
We’ve also got a bunch of policies in the queue that need to be addressed too, from backyard poultry to housing.
What is your view on …
… the City having its own police force?
- I wouldn’t like to replace it with the RCMP as there are a host of long negotiations with those contracts right now. I think we have a good force, and I like the skills of the new chief. We often have to field questions about the cost of the NPD versus the cost of the RCMP in delivering services, and it’s a hard one to answer because of the different structures of the two forces. After studying it for a few years, I think it would actually be about even, if the RCMP actually delivered all the facets of the muni-police service, and I don’t think they would.
… Sunday bus service?
- This is hard on a few folks who want to get out on Sundays but the ridership was really low. We may have continued the Sunday service if that had been the ultimate plan for the region. Right now it’s not in the big plan. Perhaps we will look at it again when the next phase comes up in transit.
… waterfront development?
- I was on the advisory team for the Downtown and Waterfront Sustainability Plan, and with the architects, land planners and creative citizens, I got really excited about what Nelson could look like in the future. We have now got a clear idea of what will go where on the waterfront, and the new rail town area (parks, light industrial, commercial, residential) and our zoning is now ready for it. The process was really good and I believe the end products will reflect that.
… development in general?
- The concept of civic development was hard for me to get my head around. In my world of theatre and non-profits, it meant the creation of long-term funding relationships and partnerships. In City-ese, it means what goes where and how. But in both worlds, in fact, development has to do with planning comfortable and profitable good fits for the future, creating win-win outcomes. I loved the community and consultant process of delivering the Sustainable Waterfront and Downtown Master Plan. It seemed to bring together all that was possible for Nelson and we now have a framework for the future that makes sense, even if some of it feels not-so-do-able right now. I also believe that if the process is right, a good end-product will follow, and in that regard, the Nelson Landing development process, although it seems long, will eventually deliver a really good result, as the community has played a large part in directing it.
… the Civic Centre and its (lack of) theatre?
- Oh I miss that theatre! But don’t despair, there are proponents in the hopper who are interested in it. We just had to get a good fix on the building’s problems before going ahead. The whole of the rest of the centre is currently managed by separate sports interests like gymnastics, indoor soccer, and the Sports Council; it’s a pretty busy place.
… allowing dogs on Baker Street?
- When I was working at the Capitol I stumbled over doggie-do every day. It broke my heart to see dogs chained to posts or barking in trucks. I don’t miss any of it. Every line of every bylaw exists because of some abuse, and we actually had a serious lot of abuse. We also have the best dog walk on the planet at the waterfront! And good dog daycare and walking businesses downtown.
… making Nelson more of a tourist destination?
- If we are going to be a tourist destination, we really need to get on it while it’s still a commodity (I’m actually interested in the future — or non-future — of tourism when peak oil hits us, and haven’t yet heard any viable conjectures). The Cultural Development Commission knows we have a long way to go in being tourist-ready, by a clear list of standards which most cultural organizations in the city can’t meet. However during the past three years that I’ve been on the Advisory Board of the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership, a milestone event happened: a destination marketing organization. With hotelier-dollars, this can go a long way to coordinating the attractions in the area and professionally putting us on the map.
… water rates for downtown business?
- I think this question relates to people wanting metering on businesses regarding water usage, instead of tying the rates to numbers of fixtures. What everybody needs to know is that the biggest cost of the water we pay for is the infrastructure to deliver it, and not the usage. The other cost often forgotten is the maintenance of the hydrants and the care taken to provide significant water for firefighting in the downtown core. Counting the fixtures gets closer to the size of the building’s water demand and fire-suppression needs. All that being said, we are monitoring a few really heavy user businesses.
… eliminating parking on Baker Street?
- I think we need to keep parking on Baker Street and having it as a driving thoroughfare. Some blocks have hardly any parking anyway. The need for driving-customer access is essential for many businesses, and remember, we also have the needs of the less-mobile folks to consider.
… the Canucks chance of getting back to the Stanley Cup final?
- A perfectly good political question. I happened to be in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on the night of the last game, witnessing the mess below, and it kind of left a bad taste about hockeymania. And, though I may never get elected in the City of Nelson for saying so, since this 99 per cent thing started, I’m a little put off by the outrageous pay cheques that the players get. But sure, I’ll give the Canucks a better than even chance of getting there!