Port Alberni residents came out hitting as they heard from 17 of 20 candidates vying for seats on city council during an all-candidates’ meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 3 at the Italian Hall Events Centre.
The first person up to the microphone to ask a question in the lottery draw put incumbent councillor Chris Alemany in the hot seat, asking him why he did not resign earlier in the year when it came to light that he used a fake Facebook account to make comments on a community site about himself and other councillors.
“Today I sit and stand here accountable to you,” Alemany answered, after saying he ran in the 2014 election on a platform of transparency and accountability.
The format for the event, hosted by the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Alberni District Labour Council, was different this year: instead of an open microphone where people line up for questions, each person was given a ticket when they came in the door. If their number was called, they were permitted to ask their question of one particular candidate, and another candidate chosen by the moderator would also have a chance to answer the same question.
Candidates faced nearly two dozen questions ranging from renewable energy to the opioid crisis, cruise ship visits to food security, amalgamation, the arts, a second route out of the Alberni Valley, housing, whether they support a duty-free port, and what councillors would do to create more tax base.
Mayoral candidate Gary Robertson asked former city councillor and 2018 council candidate Cindy Solda about the “brain drain” at city hall over the past four years and what she would do to reverse it.
“There is a poisonous environment among the workers,” Solda said. “The first thing would be to give them back their respect. They were well-educated and highly skilled and we needed them,” she said of the senior managers who have left—several of them to join the Comox Valley Regional District in Courtenay.
Candidate Todd Patola said “there’s no easy way to get them back.”
Someone else asked candidate Rick Ethier if he supports current staffing levels at the Port Alberni Fire Department, which has a paid staff. Ethier said he doesn’t see the number of firefighters changing or decreasing anytime soon. Solda said she believes in the fire department and that contract negotiations will have to be done behind closed doors because it is a labour issue.
Several questions had to do with housing, from seniors and affordable housing to examining alternatives such as secondary suites or carriage homes. “We’re in a severe crisis right now,” candidate Debbie Haggard said. There are different types of housing needed and “they’re all very different needs. But unfortunately we need all of them here in our city right now.
“It’s going to have to be a top priority for 100 percent of the council moving forward.”
The all-candidates meetings will be aired on Shaw TV starting Wednesday, Oct. 10.