Q&A with the candidates running for Fire Trustee on June 16

Sounder News

Wednesday, June 9 2021

There are four candidates running for two Trustee positions on the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District Board.

Voting will take place starting at 3pm on June 16 at the Albert Reed Memorial Fire Hall #1 on Church Street.

Due to the ongoing COVID restrictions, candidates will not be able to stand and address voters on election night as they have in the past.

As a result, the Sounder has provided each of the four candidates with some questions.

As of Wednesday, June 9,all four candidates had returned their answers: Fred Apstein, Todd McNicoll, Dan Backe, and Chris Windess.

Due to an email glitch, candidate Chris Windess’ answers had not arrived in time for the print edition of the Sounder, but are included here with the digital edition.

Question 1. Why are you running for Fire Board Trustee?

Apstein: In about 1996, when Oscar Reeves had the Coffee Bug, he asked me, over a cup of coffee in the ferry line up, to be on the Fire Board. I think Oscar was on the Board at the time. The idea has been in the back of my mind since. I’ve followed the about the Fire Department, and spoken to Volunteers, and staff, over the years. I got involved in other community groups. I was one of the five founders of the Gabriola Arts Council (Festival Gabrioa originally), Chair of the Gabriola - BC Ferries Advisory Committee, and the Islands Trust Transportation Advisory Committee. Bob Wyche and I started the Silva Bay Shipyard School. I’ve taken a few years off from community involvement on Gabriola. I’m ready to get involved again.

Backe: I was a member of the Gabriola Fire Department for a couple of years, until it became unworkable owing to my schedule with the ferry. I have a good relationship with the great people who volunteer to keep us safe in our little tinderbox, and would really love a chance to be able to give back to my community again, while helping out an awesome organization like the GVFD at the same time!

McNicoll: My wife and I are newly retired and have made Gabriola our home. I believe that the position of Fire Board Trustee will provide an excellent means for me to connect with the community. It will provide an opportunity for me to share my expertise and experiences and will allow me to give back to the community in a positive way.

Windess: My wife and I moved to Gabriola full time, nine years ago after retirement. I was a schoolteacher in the UK for 34 years, the first seven in the Larkhill Garrison of the Royal School of Artillery, then 27 years in Middle and Elementary schools in the county/province of Hampshire, both as a Class Teacher and a Year Leader.

I became a Foster Parent in 2011 for CLSBC and a Canadian Citizen in 2017.

During my career, I have tried to involve myself fully in the local community of the location of where I have lived.

Living here on Gabriola has given me the opportunity to meet a number of the GVFD. It is my sincere wish to support this great group of people. I have seen them in action close up, as ten days ago they responded to the suspected arson incidents which affected one of our neighbors and ourselves.


Question 2. What makes you an ideal Fire Board candidate?

Apstein: I don’t think there is an ideal Fire Board candidate. The people who put our names forward are all just regular folks who want to contribute to our community. What I bring to the table is an interest, long experience, and education, in how groups work, and the ability to listen. I don’t have an agenda. The Fire Department is a group of good, dedicated people. If I become a Fire Board member, I will take my time, listen to the people who are there, and look at how things work. I would try to be available and willing, and take it from there.

Backe: I’ve run several organizations, including a couple of non-profits, and have a pretty good understanding of the structure of the department already. I also have a really good understanding of the existing physical infrastructure of the department, and how it is run. This will help me to better understand the needs put forward by the firefighters when deciding on important matters like the allocation of funds.

McNicoll: My leadership experiences will provide the Fire Board an ideal candidate for the position. For example, as an underground electrical utility foreman, I managed a construction crew and was committed to the understanding of safety protocols that were designed for worker health and safety. From 1985 – 1991 I was a member of the Edmonton Power Safety Committee. My leadership experiences as high school department head and teacher makes me an ideal candidate. I valued the dedication to the learning and understanding needed for the safety of staff and students. Regular safety meetings with administrators and departments heads provided critical insight into the need of clear and concise safety measures. 

Windess: Being retired has one advantage in that more time can be spent on various things. I have time to think and consider a lot more carefully than when working 12hours+ per day. I have served on a number of committees, boards and panels in the UK. 

• Wiltshire delegate for the National Young Farmers Union 5 Years

• Wiltshire County Council Provincial Panel for IT in schools. 

• Co leader for Southern Wiltshire Region for BBC Education Software Transmission into schools. 6 Years

• Provincial Science and Technology Board for Hampshire County Council 14 Years.

• IT Co-ordinator (Schools) for one of the large New Forest IT Pyramids. 14 Years

• Health and Safety Representative 10 years

The successful board member needs to be able to listen carefully and understand the needs of a department that is growing, as our island sees increasing development. I feel that I can contribute my leadership experiences to the existing board.


Question 3. While operations falls to the Chief and firefighters to conduct, what kind of role do you think the Board should be filling in answering to the public taxpayers when it comes to the Fire District on Gabriola? What do you think can be improved in terms of the Board being involved with the public?

Apstein: Any organization that spends public money must be transparent. I don’t think there’s been any reluctance to share information with the public. I do think informaton about how the Fire Board operates, and financial reports, can be presented in a format that makes it easier for the ordinary person to understand. Simple graphice or pie charts for income, and expenses, for different years, maybe on the web site, to show cash flow, in and out. The Fire Department is a good story, and people in our community are interested, want to hear the story. I think the Board can facilitate that.

Backe: I actually think that the board is doing a pretty good job already in this regard. In my experience, very few people actually show up to the meetings for the GVFD, unless there is some particularly contentious or expensive issue at hand. While every trustee has their own opinions, decisions are only reached as a group. For the most part, boards of this nature allow public comment on contentious policy decisions via a communications officer, and as I know the GVFD has such a person on staff, I would prefer that official policy positions be primarily communicated through them. Aside from that, all decisions at the board level happen at board meetings. It’s just a matter of folks showing up to see it, or taking the time to read about it in the Sounder!

McNicoll: I believe that it is imperative that the board provides a clear, comprehensive approach to public safety. To provide proactive guild lines for personal and public safety as a means of educating the people of Gabriola on such topics.

Windess: When the budget for the Fire Department is one of the largest on the island, then that organization has to be transparent in the way that information is shared with the island population, information wise and financial accountability. The internet is a great tool for the majority of us. Having a web site that easily navigated is a great help but there are other ways that we can share out information to a wider audience eg a hard copy of up-to-date minutes of meetings might be kept in the Library perhaps for all to peruse. The Board has managed to do a lot during these very difficult times and have completed their duties admirably but there is always room for new views to be expressed in any organization.


Question 4. What can local governments like Improvement Districts do to work towards the goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Report, beyond doing land acknowledgements at the start of meetings?

Apstein: First and foremost, we can listen. We have connections with the Snuneymuxw People. We can respectfully sit down, and listen to their stories and ideas about how we can work together. With land and treaty settlements under discussion, there is a good chance that we will see more Snuneymuxw People on Gabriola, and that there will be opportunities to share knowledge about fire safety and prevention related to land development. There will be opportunities to build good, respectful relationships. We can investigate grants, and other funding, to add images and carvings to Fire Department properties, that tell Indigenous stories, and show respect and inclusion in our community. When our firefighters and Board do outreach, in the schools, and in the community, we can find ways to include recognition and respect of Aboriginal rights in the presentations.

If governments make education available to public servants as described in goal 57, from the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We can facilitate Fire Department staff, and perhaps Board members, if they are interested, to take the training. As a volunteer with Island Health, I have taken some cultural sensitivity courses, in the history of Indigenous peoples in BC and Canada, including residential schools. It was valuable to my understanding of current events, and will help me to understand issues as they come up.

Backe: Being open to the review of bylaws if they are contested for being in any way discriminatory, and examining any future bylaws for implicit bias and being sure to consult with the Snuneymuxw First Nation would be the first step. Further, ensuring proper consultation with the Snuneymuxw First Nation prior to any development (ie installation of hydrants) or road/trail building (for fire control access) in the crown lands or anywhere near existing Reserve lands would also be imperative.

McNicoll: I believe that it is imperative that local governments provide for all people the opportunity to become equal stakeholders in the community. Local governments need to acknowledge the need for everyone to take on the challenge to make our communities stronger and to provide an inclusive environment where all lives matter.

Windess: I have been fortunate to experience contact with First Nations members since visiting and then moving full time to Canada. My brother-in-law is First Nations. I have been a Foster Parent for two First Nations girls, both disabled and seen the way in which discriminatory actions and bias have affected their lives in relation to how they have been treated by some people. Consultation with the Snuneymuxw People about the use of land, fire prevention and safety, will be needed in the future decisions of the Board, as our island’s land development pushes forward. The indigenous peoples are the original custodians of this country that surround us and should be shown the courtesy and respect that they deserve. Truly listening to their suggestions and concerns, and endeavouring to do something about them, with no token nodding, will be paramount in the way that First Nations peoples will see how our decisions are being made.