Norman Wells 2018 mayoral election interview: Frank Pope
Frank Pope has served on town council for 25 years – with one term as mayor – and said he’s stepping back up because the community needs someone with experience.
“Let’s get on with doing some of the work, let’s start cleaning up our town, let’s start revitalizing our community,” he said as he talked through his platform, which focuses on maintaining infrastructure, developing a long-term economic plan, sharing his experience with brand-new town councillors, and regaining the respect of the town.
Pope is running against experienced councillor Tim Melnyk and newcomer Harry Cassie.
While he retired last May, Pope may be quite busy again soon depending on the outcome of the October 15 election.
Sarah Pruys: Why did you decide to run for mayor this time around?
Frank Pope: I’ve lived here many years. Over the last couple of elections I’ve decided we need new blood, new people, and new ideas – and I don’t think it’s worked too well. We’ve hired some good people, and had some others that weren’t quite so capable.
I figured that this year in particular, it looks like 14 people running for council, none of whom have any previous council experience. So I thought maybe I could step up to the plate and with my experience on previous councils, work with the new people on council, help them get acclimatized and into the business of being councillors, and just use my experience and make it into a good, harmonious working group.
So 25 years on council – you’ve probably had some good experiences and some bad experiences. Can you talk about what all of those years have taught you?
The main issue I think over all the years on council was to be part of a team – don’t go off half-cocked if a decision doesn’t go your way. Any decision is a council decision no matter where the vote goes, and I think basically it’s just having a good, even demeanour and being able to answer questions that the public may have of you in the street – they’re always asking you things. Treat people fairly and honestly.
Can you talk more about how, if elected mayor, how you’ll teach all of these new councillors?
I think one of the very first stages we would have – if the council likes it and agrees with me – we’ll have a couple of workshops, explaining to people things like bylaws, rules of council, how to conduct yourself in a meeting, how to conduct yourself at debates, and just basically introduce them to what it means to be a councillor. [We’ll] talk about things like conflict of interest and make sure they are well aware of their role on council.
Basically just work them into it gradually, because what happens in your first month on council is you have to make a 2019 operating budget for the town, and a capital budget for the town. So as soon as they get in there they are going to be very busy, and so I think it’s just a case of working them into their role and making sure that they’re comfortable in what they’re doing.
You have a post on Facebook with your platform. Is there anything in particular you’d like to highlight about your platform or that you’d like to accomplish?
One of the things that was not in my initial poster – and I was sort-of saving it – was that one of my biggest concerns right now is the life and longevity of Norman Wells as a community. Currently we’re a tax-based community, but what has happened is Enbridge shut down the pipeline [the pipeline became operational again on Tuesday] and Imperial Oil shut down operations for over a year. The demeanour of our community has gone downhill. And I think it’s a case of getting it back up and understanding how long Imperial Oil intends to operate the oil field.
When they shut down a lot of families left town, a lot of people were gone. I think it’s a case of meeting with the new council and Imperial Oil to understand their plans, because they’re the lifeblood of our community. Remember, being a town, we’re also a tax-based community, so a major contributor, currently, to taxes, is Imperial Oil, and to a lesser extent, Enbridge.
So what I need to know is if Imperial Oil leaves town and taxes diminish, do we go back to village council status? Do we go back to hamlet council status? There’s an awful lot of things in there that we as a council have got to understand as to what our future is for our community.
You also mentioned that you’d like to “develop a harmonious working relationship with the Norman Wells Land Corporation.”
Can you speak to what that would look like? I haven’t heard anyone else say that yet.
Well, the Norman Wells Land Corporation is in the later stages, I believe, of completing a self-government agreement with the federal and territorial governments. And once the self-governance negotiations are completed, this could have, I assume, significant implications on the community and how the community operates. I’m just hoping we can go forward collectively so that the best for both parties is achieved, and we do this in a in a harmonious, working, meaningful relationship.
Like I said, the new council will meet to understand where the Land Corporation is going, and it will be a case of understanding their initiatives and their aspirations, and hopefully we can work together, the municipal council and the Land Corporation, collectively.
You’ve talked about working with different corporations and companies. I’ve heard lots of people say it’s also very important to engage the community in Norman Wells since they’ve been left out recently. Can you speak to how you would engage the community in municipal decisions?
One of the things that we did on previous councils is we had committees of council. These committees engaged the public in participation. Town planning and land use was one where we had public members give advice to council; recreation was a major one where we had members of the community give input and offer advice to council on programs we should be looking at. Through the recreation committee, [we could] include members of the youth of the community to represent the student council at the school. I think basically recreation is the lifeblood of some of our communities, and we have a lot of people that are involved in sport, gymnasiums, and ice hockey. I think that’s one of the big things as far as engagement goes.
I did mention loss of families from Imperial Oil when they had their shutdown. We also during that period lost a lot of our volunteers – people who worked at Imperial Oil who, for example, volunteered at the ice rink teaching kids hockey and figure skating and other sports.
We’ve got a big job ahead of us, but engaging the public, to me, is one positive way to go about it.
Just going back to Enbridge and Imperial Oil, if they were to leave the community, do you have plans for diversifying the economy?
I’m assuming – and this is why we have to meet with Imperial – I’d estimate 10 years for that [oil] field. So that gives us as a community collectively, with people like the chamber of commerce, to look at diversifying our economy and working with team effort to see what’s next. We’ll work with government and we’ll work with other people, but I think it’s a case, first of all, of understanding what is ahead of us and plan, I would say a 10-year plan, or a longer or shorter plan, all depending on what information we receive from Imperial Oil.
You also mentioned infrastructure, and how you’d like to develop a multi-year replacement plan [in the Facebook post].
I think that over several previous councils, there was a lot of work done: reports, studies done on our dump, for example, and getting rid of a lot of contaminants that are in there, or looking at relocating the dump. We have properties that are a mess. We have a lot of old vehicles lying around the community – we need a plan to crush them and ship the steel out, or do whatever we can do clean up our community.
The aging infrastructure includes some of our buildings. It’s a case of taking a look at studies that have already been done on our buildings – our inspections. I don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel on a lot of this stuff, I believe a lot of the work may already have been done. It’s just a case of figuring out these old reports and studies and fine-tuning them instead of more studies and reports. Let’s get on with doing some of the work, let’s start cleaning up our town, let’s start revitalizing our community.
Some of our buildings may be old. In fact, the council chambers – a lot of people won’t realize this – the council chambers where we meet used to be the fire hall at one time. So I think it’s a case of looking at our infrastructure and making sure that it is sound, and what the longevity of a lot of our buildings will be.
And in addition to that, our roads: we did a lot of good work in the community chip-sealing our community roads. Maybe it’s time to look at expanding some of that work and improving our roads out towards the [Float Plane Base] subdivision.
Now you’re running again Tim [Melnyk], who also has quite a bit of experience on council…
…and Harry Cassie, who’s newer to the race. How do you plan to stand out and differentiate yourself from them?
I believe that to stand up and be seen as the person that can do the job, the person with the experience, and willingness to work in a team concept. I don’t know Harry very well but I certainly know Tim, we’ve worked together for many years, and I think it’s just a case of stepping up and being able to prove you can do the job and getting the community back in place after the dissolution of the previous council.
And also, we’ve had some issues with staffing over the last few years. It will be a case of getting a new SAO, that’s another critical piece of the puzzle to running an efficient community. The new council will hire a town manager very soon into their term.
We’ve got to regain the respect of the public towards our government and towards our staff. And that means you’ve got to be honest with people and be seen doing the job that they expect of you.
Anything else you’d like to add or say?
No, just that I’m looking forward to the election. The last community government was acclaimed; this time we’ve got three people running for mayor and 14 people running for council and there’s a lot of talking in town about it. People are excited, so I look forward to the 15th of October.