For the final time before the upcoming municipal byelection, the six candidates vying for the vacant seat on Merritt’s council met at the Country Music Hall of Fame for a roundtable discussion.

Five of the six candidates attended with only Linda Baird absent due to work commitments.

Recent backlash over Merritt’s newly approved branding, revitalizing the downtown core,  infrastructure and heavy industry were amongst the issues discussed.
The candidates were asked if the city should be actively pursuing development of heavy industry within the city limits to lower the tax base.
Neil Menard, Noreen Cross, Julie Van Koll and Ginny Prowal said they would support heavy industry developing within the city limits to increase the tax base.
Van Koll pointed out that development should be done with the city’s infrastructure in mind as added heavy industry would put a strain on Merritt’s infrastructure.
Cross said Merritt was built on heavy industry and that many people deliberately built there homes close to the mills.
“We’ve got existing heavy industry in this town. There needs to be more of it, but it needs to be strategically placed away from where the schools and the homes are,” Cross said.
Mike Jolly said he thinks there should be no M2 heavy industry within the city limits.
“We don’t need any more [heavy] industry. What we need to do is change it to M1, light industry,” Jolly said.
M2 zoning includes uses for manufacturing, processing and finishing products such as auto wrecking and storage and processing of wood products, asphalt, gravel, rock, sand and concrete products.
When asked about the recent backlash surrounding the new branding “Country with attitude” Cross said she’s only heard negatives about the branding, and thus it might not be right for Merritt.
“I think it’s too soon to  make a full decision as to whether it’s going to be a good brand,” she said.
Her biggest concern regarding the new branding is what the cost will be to replace it with a new slogan.
“It’s no the greatest of slogans, but  what’s it going to cost us to change it again,” Cross said.
Council has already spent $8,000 on the new branding so far.
Jolly said he thinks that council should go back to the drawing board with the new branding as it will be thrown out anyway, noting a petition that has been circulating against the new branding.
Van Koll said she thinks the backlash has shown the public wants to be heard before the branding moves ahead.
She also said she doesn’t think anyone has enough background on the branding and encouraged people to attend the open house on it come March 12.
Menard said he’s against the branding and none of the people he’s talked with were in favour of it.
“It needs to be changed and we should involve the entire community in some way to get that done,” Menard said.
Candidates were asked what ideas they thought could revitalize the downtown core.
Noreen Cross said tax incentives for businesses could be one option council takes.
“I also believe that we should be looking at events. Something to attract people to the downtown core, a reason to be down here,” Cross said.
Van Koll said she thought Merritt’s downtown looks dirty, needs to have a facelift and cleanup.
“I think it’s quite dirty downtown with litter and dirty storefronts. That is a key, to have that presentation so that people feel welcome to come down and want to shop here,” Van Koll said.
She said growth within Merritt is essential to keeping the downtown core alive.
“If we start building around Merritt, and having some bigger box stores come in, we have to have a reason for people to come downtown and shop,” she said.
Prowal said Merritt doesn’t have enough signage, pointing out that the Merritt library doesn’t have a sign that informs people it used to be a railway station.
Prowal also said the city needs to attract people to the downtown in order to revitalize it.
She said she wanted to know if all the hotels, and gas stations had information about Merritt’s downtown.
She also questioned if there was any information on what to see in Merritt on the tour buses that come through town.
Neil Menard said Merritt’s small businesses and council need to work together to attract new small businesses, and not big box stores.
Improving infrastructure is key to improving Merritt’s downtown, Jolly said.
“When our roads and streets and business core are up to snuff the people will come. I think we spend too much time figuring out how to get people to Merritt versus creating a product that they can come to,” Jolly said.
Jolly also said infrastructure is the biggest issue facing Merritt.
Van Koll said it was branding and Prowal said the biggest issue was dust and maintaining their population of young people.
Ensuring council works as a cohesive unit was also discussed by the candidates.
Cross said she feels she can be impartial, unbiased and help them look at issues from a new perspective.
Menard said there’s nothing wrong with disagreeing, but those issues need to be kept within in-camera sessions and worked out.
“And I hope that I can assist in this,” Menard said.
Van Koll said her leadership skills and training in conflict management can help develop constructive communication amongst council.
The roundtable discussion was held by Q101 and about 10 people attended the hall of fame to listen to the candidates.
General voting takes places on February 22 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at city hall.
Visit for the results of the byelection.