Candidates for Port Alberni’s upcoming municipal election faced the tough questions from local high school students during an all-candidates meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 3.
One of Anne Ostwald’s social justice classes at Alberni District Secondary School hosted the meeting, with students moderating and time-keeping in front of a theatre full of other students and members of the public. Katie Sara and Komal Hayre acted as emcees, while Cooper Cardinal-Smith, Justin MacFadden and Sarah Higginson asked questions of the candidates for city council and mayor.
The meeting started out with each candidate giving a 45-second summary of their platform. This was followed by a few rapid-fire questions: What is your biggest weakness working on a team? Which council/mayoral candidate would you like to work with? What is one main thing you want to see changed in Port Alberni? ADSS students Tiffany Volk and Jacqueline Whitson were quick to pull the microphones away if answers drew on for too long.
Issues that came up often were affordable housing, job creation and community-building. City council candidate Michael Moore said he would like to see “better branding” of Port Alberni and “more inclusiveness.” Fellow candidate Rick Ethier said “showing a total respect for the taxpayer dollars” was his main priority, while Aaron Brevick pushed for “responsible spending” and a reduction of the bylaw department. Debbie Haggard said she would like everyone to “let go of their negativity and see the potential of Port Alberni.”
Others offered some creative ideas: “I’d like to see a streetcar that goes from Harbour Quay to Johnston [Road] three times an hour for two bucks,” said council candidate Matthew Pearson.
The forum ended with a series of yes or no questions, where candidates were invited to stand if their answer was “yes” and stay seated if their answer was “no.” Will you commit to starting a plan for the new pool? Will you advocate for expanding senior housing? Do you plan to address reconciliation?
The question, “Do you support keeping the steam engine running?” caused mayoral candidate Gary Robertson to drop to the floor in protest.
Questions had been submitted by the public ahead of the meeting, but the social justice class also came up with some of their own. Students confirmed afterwards that they picked questions that would put candidates on the spot—and make them “squirm” a little.
“It’s very important when deciding who’s going to run our town,” said MacFadden. “There were a couple answers that were quite revealing.”
Ostwald’s other social justice class is holding a student vote this week, allowing ADSS students to make their own decisions about who gets elected. Cardinal-Smith admitted that he had changed his decision about who to vote for after watching the all-candidates meeting.
Higginson agreed. “Seeing these people in person and how they react to the questions made up my mind,” she said. “They’re important questions to be asked.”
Many candidates highlighted the importance of youth in Port Alberni. Denis Sauvé, running for mayor, promised that he would bring back the city’s Youth Advisory Committee to give youth “a voice in our community.”
Former mayor and current mayoral candidate John Douglas also pointed out that there is a liaison between the city and School District 70 that was “very poorly used” this term, and advocated for “more involvement of young people in our decision-making.” Mayoral incumbent Mike Ruttan said “reducing child poverty” is one of his top priorities.
While Robertson argued that School District 70 does not need to be involved in city council decisions, because students have access to city council themselves, other mayoral candidates pushed for more collaboration between council and the school board.
The full all-candidates meeting can be watched on YouTube.