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Williams Lake mayor Kerry Cook overlooks the Stampede grounds. (Globe files/Globe files)
Williams Lake mayor Kerry Cook overlooks the Stampede grounds. (Globe files/Globe files)

Municipal Politics

Williams Lake mayor focuses on resurgence in mining Add to ...

It took Kerry Cook four tries to become mayor of Williams Lake.

But now that she has the job, Ms. Cook – who was elected in 2008 – wants to hang on to it. She is running a campaign that focuses on the region’s resurgent mining sector as well as issues such as crime reduction.

“Economic development is definitely a key issue,” says Ms. Cook, a Thompson Rivers University instructor who served on city council before becoming mayor.

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One of the key pieces in the economic picture for Williams Lake is the proposed $1-billion Prosperity mine, a copper-gold project that the federal government declined to approve last year but that proponents have re-jigged in the hopes of getting a green light.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Authority is expected to announce on Nov. 7 whether the Prosperity project will require an environmental review and, if so, what type of study would be carried out.

Whatever the agency decides, the fate of Williams Lake is not hanging in the balance, Ms. Cook maintains.

“Prosperity is an ‘addition to’ – not a lifeline ... we will be continuing whether or not that happens,” she says.

Ms. Cook, along with many other politicians and business interests in the region, supports the mine as a project that would create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars’ worth of economic activity.

The Tsilhqot’in National Government, representing six area bands, has waged a fierce campaign against Prosperity over environmental concerns and is backed by other native groups, including the Assembly of First Nations.

But Prosperity is not the only mine in the works. As the Williams Lake forestry industry has struggled, hit by B.C.’s mountain pine beetle infestation and sluggish markets, mining has moved to fill the gap. Taseko’s Gibraltar copper mine has been expanded to the tune of $300-million over the past few years. Imperial Metals is also planning to expand its Mount Polley copper-gold mine

Other projects are in the wings, including the Spanish Mountain gold project about 70 kilometres northeast of Williams Lake.

As mining activity ramps up, Ms. Cook envisions a corresponding increase in local knowledge and expertise that could help the city weather future cyclical downturns.

“We don’t want to only have those mining jobs – we want to be a mining service centre,” she says.

It’s a three-horse mayoral race in the rodeo town, with Ms. Cook up against Walt Cobb and Scott Nelson, both of whom have served previously as mayor.

Mr. Nelson, who served from 2005 to 2008, in 2009 sought the Liberal candidacy for Cariboo-Chilcotin but lost to current MLA Donna Barnett.

He is now back on the municipal scene, challenging Ms. Cook on issues including the condition of some local roads and municipal finances. With Williams Lake carrying close to $20-million in debt, Mr. Nelson is campaigning on a promise of tax increases over the next three years.

Candidate Walt Cobb, meanwhile, is pitching budget control, saying in a campaign video that “we can no longer spend money willy-nilly like it’s a bottomless pit.”

Ms. Cook, meanwhile, has said infrastructure grants, increased city revenue and some cost savings at city hall, along with a focused long-term spending plan, would be part of her debt-reduction plan.

On the crime front, Williams Lake has recorded steep drops in property and other crime since 2008, when the city become one of six chosen for a provincial pilot project targeting repeat prolific offenders.

Ms. Cook also credits a collaborative approach at city hall, including bringing together representatives from police, native bands, schools and businesses to work on crime-related issues, as playing a role in crime reduction.

And, adding that she has no political ambitions outside her own community, she says she wants to bring that same approach to business, citing a recently struck business task force as an example.

“We have invested so much time in building those relationships and those partnerships and now three years later, we’re seeing the results.”

Follow on Twitter: @wendy_stueck

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