Regional District of Nanaimo candidates Rick Ethier

RDN candidates, trustee hopefuls debate in Coombs

Farm school, transit and French Creek school site were hot topics

Regional district candidate Rick Ethier’s raison d’être came under fire at last week’s all-candidates debate.

The forum was hosted by the Arrowsmith Community Recreation Association on Wednesday night at the Bradley Centre, where roughly 50 residents came to see regional district and school board candidates fight for the chance to represent Coombs/Errington. The floor was open to questions from the audience and the evening was moderated by ACRA vice chair Stephen Stahley.

Ethier’s entire political platform seems to be focussed on developing single-family farms, something he said he plans to do by introducing a non-profit school educating students on organic nutrition and later offering graduates an opportunity to purchase a single family farm.

“We need to grow way more food to supply even our district,” Ethier told the crowd, adding that it would be beneficial if residents produced their own food.

“We need to create avenues where we can cut down on energy and food costs,” he said. “I’ve tried to set a platform on sustainability.”

“That’s not in the regional district’s jurisdiction,” said incumbent Julian Fell. “There’s plenty of people who want to grow and sell food — there’s no shortage of that — the problem is the land and all the government regulations that prevent the sale of food.”

Fell said that type of change needs to happen in Victoria, not on the local level at the RDN.

Two concerned residents brought up the lack of public transpiration in Coombs/Errington.

Both Fell and Ethier agreed it was too costly for the area to get transit through the RDN via B.C. Transit, but noted that a private company may be a viable option in the future.

While most questions were directed at RDN candidates, residents voiced concern over the old French Creek Community School site to trustee candidates.

Incumbent Julie Austin said “the hope, the desire, is that it remains a community asset and it remains a benefit for the community.”

Austin encouraged residents to “lend (their) voice to that discussion” by attending a meeting this week regarding the future of the site.

“It’s difficult to move forward and say this is a community plan if there’s no community there,” she said. “So please come out.”

Vying for Austin’s school board position, John Hildebrant said “part of my promise is to be open, available and honest, and honestly I can’t speak on the French Creek school at this point, I have no knowledge about it.”

Ethier said the old French Creek Community School would be a great site for the start of his organic school.

“I’m not sure if that’s feasible or not,” he admitted. “But we’ve got to try something, we can’t just do nothing.”

Ethier said he’s tried contacting School District 69 superintendent Rollie Koop, but noted Koop’s “been busy with the school strike and all that.”

Fell said there is no intension of selling the school site as it may be “reactivated one day.”

He said the bulk of the property is 11 acres and part of that will be loaned to the RDN as a community park.

“This will be a great asset to Coombs,” said Fell, noting the area lacks a community park. “The intent of the regional district is to maintain it and keep it as a park.”

Additionally, trustee candidates were asked about a looming private-public partnership resulting in an international school.

Austin said “conceptually and theoretically it sounds like a really wonderful idea.”

Hildebrant echoed Austin saying “I do support the international school, I see it as a win-win.”

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