With the 2022 Civic Elections quickly approaching, it is important for voters to become familiar with the people running for Mayor in the City of Merritt. The Herald sent out some questions to the four candidates running for Mayor: Mike Bhangu, Tony Luck, Mike Goetz, and Linda Brown. We will be sharing their answers individually with you each week, leading up to the elections on October 15. 

Why do you want to become Mayor?

“Merritt is the community I grew up in.  I wish to serve this community, to provide good leadership, and to plan and build for the future.    I plan to work with this community to rebuild post flood and to bring a message of hope and recovery.  We still have a long way to go, but it is my expectation that we can work together to restore our community.  My desire for our citizens is to come out of this flood disaster more successful and better than we ever were before.  This flood has connected us in a positive way.  Let’s continue to rebuild together.  

I am proud to have served this community, first as a Councillor, and now as Mayor.  Being Mayor has been an incredible, yet humbling experience.  Under my leadership, we have achieved some remarkable things.  All of us entered the last term with a vision that we would get a lot of things done.  And we got those things done and more, despite our record number of disasters.”

What makes you the best fit for the job?

“I have the experience, the academic credentials, and the relationships necessary to lead this community through our next phase of recovery.  This community needs a strong leader with both vision and purpose.  I am a consensus builder.  As your leader, I encourage decisions that help this community to move ahead. 

There has been a lot of negativity in our politics and social media lately, but surely it does not have to be that way.   We are better than that!  I want to encourage and facilitate positive conversations that produce meaningful results.  

We can always do better!   I constantly strive to improve on a personal level and to challenge the status quo.  However, I choose to work together with both Council and staff in a positive, constructive way to produce outcomes that benefit us all – to help business thrive and to make life attractive so that residents want to live here.   I am passionate about making our community stronger.  I believe we all want a better future for our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren.     

It is extremely important for the Mayor and Council to be respectful and maintain integrity in every situation.  I strive to maintain those standards, notwithstanding challenges from both within and outside Council chambers.

This term has been difficult, to say the least.  No other Mayor in the city’s history has been tested in this same manner.  While I am humbled by that experience, I am proud of the manner in which I have, with the help of our staff, made Merritt the envy of similarly stricken communities.  

I am not a quitter.  My record proves that.  When the going got tough, I adapted.   I am courageous, dedicated, and committed.  My word is my word.   I work hard on your behalf.”  

Give an example of a situation where you demonstrated leadership abilities.

“I have established relationships with senior levels of Government, with staff, with First Nations and the community at large, so that our city moves towards recovery and beyond.    

Following the devastating flood of November 2021, I spearheaded Council’s efforts in obtaining funding for our recovery.  While this is an ongoing process, Treasury Board has committed to $24 million for housing and infrastructure replacement.  Over $11 million of these funds will be spent on housing for displaced residents.  The remaining $13 million will be dedicated to unfinished flood-affected projects, such as bridge and road repair. 

One of the best things we ever did was to hire a Chief Administrator Officer who has purpose, vision, and connection with his staff to mobilize and empower them.   Staff works as a team to manage and to implement projects in this city in a way this community has not seen in decades.

This Council oversaw the complete revamping of our zoning bylaws and our Official Community Plan, setting the stage for the next 20-25 years.  As a direct result of this effort, we attracted, in 2021, over $30 million in development permits, the most of any City of Merritt Council in our history.   

I initiated a culture shift within City Hall that has resulted in a significant improvement in productivity.  Maintaining respect and integrity among and between staff and council has been and will continue to be a priority.  

We had several climate-change events that required a lot of time and effort from both staff and Council. Under my leadership, we were able to bring back residents within 18 days of the flood.   I continue to make every effort toward returning our remaining displaced residents to our community.”

What issue should the City prioritize in addressing?

“I believe the city’s greatest test is to provide housing, first for our displaced residents, but also housing for our low-income residents, subsidized housing, and housing for our homeless population.  To deal with our housing shortage, I will seek grants for our current residents to build basement suites, and carriage houses, whatever it may take to solve the housing problem.  

Protecting our city with an effective diking system on both rivers is an urgent and pressing matter.  We must address this threat as an absolute top priority.  

Council must be aware of the sacrifice each of our staff has made towards our evacuations and how the past year has literally turned their world upside down.  We need to ensure their needs are taken care of as well.   It is our responsibility to ensure that staff have a safe environment to do their work.  Staff turnover is higher than normal and is partly the result of the negativity and abuse in the social media world.   We must find a way to curb that trend!”  

What is a goal you want to accomplish as Mayor by the end of your term?

“My most obvious goal is that all our displaced residents have a place to call their own.  I want all residents to be able to live affordably in their home.  I want our homeless to be housed, despite what caused them to be homeless in the first place.  Housing first, for everyone.  

Clearly it is essential that we have diking around both rivers.  The plan and installation of these systems will take up to four years and beyond.   We also need to acquire the promised $165 million from the federal government.  We have already secured the province’s help to achieve that goal.   With ingenuity, we may be able to also utilize these dikes for a walking trail around both banks of the river.   

I want the citizens of Merritt to be able to lay their heads down at night and sleep … a deep sleep where they do not have to worry about water overtaking their homes while they sleep.  

The city must develop in such a way that there are jobs for our kids … jobs that pay more than just minimum wage.   Our citizens’ lives should be fulfilling and rewarding, so that we all feel valued and worthy.  

So, post flood recovery efforts, followed by development for our city … if we are lucky, both at the same time.  

This term has been a challenge, to say the least!  I am proud of how Council and staff have managed to cope with these events, and I found the experience humbling.  Despite the difficulties of the past couple of years, I pledge to continue to lead the city to develop and prosper.”